Ryan Wagner watched the first round of the Masters from his computer Thursday afternoon, briefly interjecting cheers for Tiger Woods during a phone call.
"Come on, Tiger!," Wagner yelled occasionally.
In many ways, his actions on the eve of his first day at a new job are indicative of the reasons why he landed the gig—his passion for sports and his effervescent personality.
Wagner—a Baltimore native and a 2003 graduate of Edgewood High School—is the new voice of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a job he earned ahead of a group of hundreds of hopefuls during a tryout period in January.
His voice is a combination of a broadcaster, thespian and of a 26-year-old who gets it: he's not a DJ, he's the voice of a hallowed ballpark that harkens back to baseball's golden ages.
One of the stars of the MLB FanCave during the 2011 season, Wagner is serving as just the third public address announcer in the ballpark's 20-year history. He replaces Dave McGowan, who stepped down following the 2011 season after 14 years as the voice of the Orioles.
With the history surrounding him, Wagner understands that he's not playing pop disc jockey when introducing the Orioles and their opponents, and making announcements to the ballpark crowd.
"The team has always been upfront about the fact that the ballpark transcends a traditional delivery," Wagner said. "Dave McGowan was more of that traditional voice. I’d love to be as much of a part of the team and the city as Rex Barney was. And you can’t talk about PA announcing in baseball without talking about [former Yankee Stadium announcer] Bob Sheppard. He was flashy without being flashy. There were no catch phrases."
Wagner said he'd lean on his experience in theater and broadcasting. Many baseball fans will remember the lifelong Orioles fan as one of the members of the MLB FanCave during the 2011 season.
Wagner and another fan spent the entire season at a New York studio, watching 2,450-plus games on TV.
He even got out to a few games. One, in particular, stood out.
"Game 6 of the World Series last year was and probably will be the most memorable game I’ve been to in person," Wagner said. "For that to be the second-to-last game I watched, I don’t know if I ever stood and cheered, it was just so awe inspiring."
Wagner recalled a number of unforgettable moments from last year—most of them away from the game itself.
Orioles Hall of Famer and current Yankees broadcaster Ken Singleton sought out Wagner during the postseason, chatted with him about Baltimore, and took Wagner's phone to call Wagner's mother—a huge Singy fan during the 70s and 80s.
He recalled one time when members of Boys II Men visited: "They were a huge part of my youth. Meeting them was pretty bad ass.
Wagner said during the All-Star game, Rays starter James Shields introduced him to his family.
Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie visited the FanCave and left Wagner in awe.
"Guthrie came up unannounced with some gloves, and threw pitches to me. He made me get in catchers gear and threw pitches to me," Wagner said.
It helped that Wagner was a catcher growing up. But bad knees from innings behind the plate—coupled with his growing interest in theater—left Wagner to give up the game while growing up in Abingdon.
His fandom of the Orioles, though, never waned.
He hesitated when asked about his favorite current and all-time Orioles.
"Its really funny because people assume that given my age, they assume it's Cal. It's not that I don’t like Cal, its just that he was never my favorite player because he transcended that argument. He was everybody’s favorite player, so I always felt compelled to have another favorite."
Wagner spent his early years living "a 10-minute walk to Memorial Stadium," and even while living in Harford County, spent a great deal of his time in Baltimore with family and friends.
This year, he'll spend 81 games seated behind home plate in the front row of the press box, taking in the highs and lows of the Orioles season.
"You're supposed to be a homer," Wagner said of his fandom.
But it's been anything but easy.
The Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1997—when Wagner was still that kid with a youth baseball card listing a favorite Oriole on the back. Baseball analysts are unanimous in picking them to finish dead last in the American League East yet again.
"It's been difficult to be a fan," Wagner said. "But I also believe that when you decide to be a sports fan, you enter into a contract. Its just an understanding that you realize that you love your team. When you proclaim yourself as a fan, you will have amazing times where you wear your jersey and your hat proudly. But you also understand that to enjoy those times, you’ll also go through some down times. You cant be a sports fan if you’re not willing to go through those down times. … my expectations for this year is my expectation is every April. I want the team to do well. This team is capable of doing well."
While he's taxed with delivering the public address announcements at the ballpark, Wagner's not immune to cliche.
"The other thing I’ll say is: the night is always darkest before the dawn. I’ve never seen lesser expectations for an Orioles team. … this year, look at 1989, the 'Why Not' year. Nobody expected the Orioles to do anything because it was on the heels of 1988, when they started, what, 0-21? This year, why not? They added an extra wild card just for us. Let's go get it."
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