It’s quiet on the suite level at the Rogers Centre. The lights in the hallway leading to the media area aren’t even on yet. It’s about four hours until the first pitch will be thrown out at the Rogers Centre as the Blue Jays are taking on the Rangers and Ben Wagner is walking into work.
He shows up several hours before each game but the work starts the moment his feet hit the floor in his high-rise Toronto apartment.
“I am thinking about that game and doing the broadcast as best as I can,” said Wagner.
Wagner has been like this since he was in high school in Indiana.
“Anytime somebody succeeds in their professional career, it takes a lot of people to get you there and that’s exactly what happened with me.”
When Wagner was still in high school, he started sending out resumes to different radio stations.
“I thought, well how can I do this and who can I cover. I know these people well because I am going to class with them every day so why can’t I do radio about my classmates and tell stories about them on the radio?”
Jason Samuel at WAWC thought it was a great idea. He gave Wagner a gig at the station shadowing him.
“In the first few days and games and weeks which turned into years of interaction, he never turned me away and that’s how I got that early start and my love of broadcasting blossomed.”
Wagner went off to Indiana State University with a few years of broadcasting experience under his belt. In his first ten days on campus, he was offered the opportunity to call a high school football which was taking place in the collegiate stadium. He called some other sports but when baseball season rolled around, Wagner excelled on air.
Soon after graduating, he landed a play-by-play gig in New Jersey with Lakewood BlueClaws, the Single A Phillies affiliate.
After a few years there, he was called up to AAA – here in Buffalo.
“I get to go to not only Buffalo in a AAA market but really one of the premier jobs in AAA baseball where ownership and management care about the quality of the broadcast.”
And he credits the encouragement from management as one of the main reasons why he was able to do so well here and what made him realize his dreams of going bigger, to the majors, might be a reality.
“It just kind of fuels that drive; magnifies the opportunity and makes it that much more gratifying when it finally happens.”
And it did happen — after 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays called up Ben. He says it was an emotional moment.
“Buffalo played an enormous role in me being here. It was the accomplishment both of professional goals, personal goals, bus rides, networking, and a support system that gets you to this point.”
Wagner realizes how rare this opportunity is.
“It is literally a very small fraternity – people who get these jobs have incredible longevity. They’re endeared by organization, fan base. Here in Toronto, it goes beyond GTA – it’s the entire country that loves Blue Jays baseball.”
He doesn’t allow himself to think about all of the people across Canada who are dialing in to listen to him every game.
“If I did that, I would understand the gravity of this situation. I get anxious. I have a lot of anxiety to get to the first pitch, get that call out of the way, and get rolling.”
So he puts in his best effort every broadcast, arriving hours early to talk with the managers, other broadcasters, players.
“You want to have the pulse of the players. Baseball allows you, because of the pace of the game, to tell the story of the team, leagues, individuals every single day you’re on the air.”
And he hopes he’ll continue telling their stories for a very long time.
“I hope this is just scratching the surface of a really long broadcasting career.”