Blind announcer Enrique Oliu brings color to Rays games
By Eric Nunez
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Enrique Oliu breathes baseball. The crack of the bat and the cheers of the crowd run through his veins. He's also a human baseball encyclopedia, with an uncanny ability to make his listeners get a full feel for the game. Oh, one other thing about the color analyst for the Tampa Bay Rays' Spanish radio broadcasts: He's blind.
"I always run into skeptical people, but I've never had any problem doing my job," Oliu said during the World Series between the Rays and Philadelphia. "I'm a smart guy, and I've always wanted to be a leader, to be an example."
"As my father used to tell me when I was a kid, 'You've got to decide if you want the band to play your music, or if you want to play someone else's music,'" the 45-year-old native of Nicaragua said. Born blind, he was 10 when his parents sent him to the United States to attend the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. Oliu quickly showed interest in sports and later majored in communications at the University of South Florida. "I started knocking doors everywhere, trying to get a break. I covered for free a lot of stuff just to get into radio," he said.
His first job doing professional commentary was with a minor league affiliate of the Montreal Expos in 1989 in Jacksonville, Fla.
All his perseverance paid off in 1998 when Tampa Bay Devil Rays, about to make their debut in the major leagues, asked him to become the color analyst of the team. Several hours before each game at Tropicana Field, Oliu starts his routine of interviewing players, coaches and colleagues to gather every possible piece of information to help him in his broadcasts.
Oliu also fashions a mohawk haircut, the style of choice for these Rays. At the booth of the radio station, Genesis 680 AM, he works alongside his wife, Debbie. She whispers to him statistical data and descriptions about the game. "The rest is just intuition and instincts," he said. "You know I played this sport and a bunch of others, adapted, but I played. Blind or not blind, I have an opinion and I just state mine. That's what people want."
Oliu and broadcast partner Ricardo Taveras do all 81 home games. When the Rays are on the road, as they were in Philadelphia this week, Oliu and Taveras do their broadcast from a studio at Tropicana Field off a television feed. The one person who never stops marveling at Oliu's gift is Taveras, who has done play-by-play with him since 1999. "You never stop learning with him. He has such an amazing memory. He hates being called blind," Taveras said.
But what Taveras really considers remarkable is Oliu's "sixth sense" to guess plays ahead of time. "I will never forget when there was a roller toward second base and he goes to make the description, 'roller to second, the second baseman fields it, throw to first and he's out," Taveras said. "I was shocked. I didn't know what to say. I told him, 'Hey Enrique, how do you know that?' Nobody was telling him anything. "He just said that, 'I just heard the crack of the bat and I knew that the ball was headed to second base."
No doubt that Oliu's crowning achievement is getting to work the World Series with the Rays. He mentions spring training trips to Mexico and Venezuela as his most rewarding experiences. "As a blind person, it was something that gave me a lot of pride, to work in countries in which there are now laws to protect the rights of the handicapped," he said. "I was so proud of showing people that you can do it."
30 ottobre 2008
Il baseball, visto da Enrique
Che la radio potesse fare a meno di "immagini" è una banalità. Ma è possibile farne a meno anche per un radiocronista sportivo? Enrique Oliu il baseball riesce a commentarlo benissimo senza vederlo. Come scrive la Associated Press in questa corrispondenza Enrique questo sport lo "respira". Non vedente dalla nascita, Enrique Oliu è arrivato negli Stati Uniti dal Nicaragua per studiare in un istituto per ciechi e ha imparato tutto di uno sport dal corpus statistico particolarmente intricato. Non c'è dettaglio che gli sfugga sui complessi parametri che servono a valutare con precisione il rendimento stagionale di ciascun giocatore. Nel baseball non contano solo i punti segnati, ma le percentuali registrate sui tiri validi, le corse in base, insomma una miriade di dati che Enrique conosce a memoria. Il suo mestiere è molto delicato, per uno sport fatto di azioni molto rapide inframmezzate da lunghe pause. Oliu (ironia del linguaggio) è un "color analyst", la figura che affianca il radiocronista vero e proprio e suggerisce dati statistici e, per l'appunto, cronaca di colore. Di solito questo ruolo viene svolto da ex giocatori o allenatori, gente del mestiere. I suoi commenti riguardano il campionato dei Tampa Bay Rays, la squadra della Florida che la stazione ispanica WGES "Genesis" 680 segue per 81 incontri. Il suo compagno di microfono, Ricardo Taveras racconta del giorno in cui Enrique intervenne durante una fase di gioco per descrivere esattamente quello che era appena successo sul campo (l'eliminazione di un battitore avversario in seconda base). Per tutta spiegazione il color analyst disse che dopo aver ascoltato il suono prodotto dalla mazza del battitore era sicuro che la palla fosse diretta in seconda.