- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Slouched behind the press-box table, Don Wardlow adjusts his sunglasses and leans into his microphone. "L-L-L-i-i-ive from New Britain Stadium," he exclaims, "R-R-R-ock Cats R-R-R-a-a-adio is on the air!"
On the field below, the starting pitcher for the Double A farm team of the Minnesota Twins jogs to the mound and begins warming up. Wardlow, however, can't see him. In fact, as he announces the starting lineups for today's Eastern League game between the hometown Hardware City Rock Cats and the visiting Portland Sea Dogs, Wardlow can't see any of the players. Or any of the 2,500 New Britain, Conn., fans filing into their seats. For that matter, Wardlow can't even see the seats. But that doesn't stop him from describing the scene for his radio listeners.
"It's a bea-ooooo-tiful day for baseball," he says, beaming. Then, turning to his broadcast partner, play-by-play announcer Jim Lucas, he whispers, "Sun's still out, right?"
As the first blind radio announcer in professional baseball history, Wardlow relies on instinct, wit, razor-sharp hearing, his partner's exhaustive preparation and his faithful guide dog, Gizmo, to perform his duties as color commentator with Lucas. The two men have been the official voice of the Eastern League franchise for four seasons. During that time they have established their own regional baseball radio network, buying the airtime and selling all of the commercials, which they produce themselves. "What they've accomplished is unique in baseball," says Andy Young, announcer for the rival Sea Dogs.
"If this is a dream, please don't wake me until the season's over," adds Wardlow. "I'm having too much fun."
For Wardlow the dream began with a nightmare 33 years ago in Metuchen, N.J. The youngest of five children, he was born without eyes, a condition that occurs in roughly one of every 100,000 births. "You're never prepared for a shock like this," says Don's mother, Peg Wardlow. "The doctors couldn't explain it."
Wardlow's introduction to baseball came eight years later, when he listened for the first time to a New York Mets game on the radio. A year later his father took him to a game at Shea Stadium. "I still remember the sounds—the crack of the bat, the pop of the catcher's mitt, the roar of the crowd," says Wardlow, who was introduced to Mets announcer Bob Murphy that day.
"From that moment on, I was hooked," says Wardlow. "While the players were gods to all the other kids, my idols were the broadcasters." Wardlow began recording games from the radio and listening to them over and over again.
Not far away, in Skillman, N.J., another youngster was also dreaming of becoming a big league radio broadcaster. Lucas, a year older, says, "I was fanatical about announcing, even going so far as to narrate our trips to the supermarket." (Mom is now passing the broccoli in aisle 2.)
Lucas eventually enrolled as a communications major at Glassboro State College in southern New Jersey, and while he was announcing a game, another student approached him. "Are you up for a challenge?" asked Wardlow as he introduced himself. "Would you announce baseball games with a blind guy?"