"It makes me feel old, and I know that's crazy coming from a 26-year-old," Wagner said. "But I remember watching that at home. It's been 20 years since Oriole Park opened, and it is still a gem and, in my mind, still the greatest place to watch a baseball game."
It is indeed a big anniversary in 2012 for The Ballpark That Forever Changed Baseball, and when Baltimore opens its season at home on April 6 against Minnesota, fans will have a fresh and yet familiar person to greet them as the brand-new voice of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles announced on Tuesday that Wagner -- who last season watched all 2,429 regular-season games in the MLB Fan Cave in New York -- was chosen from among 670 applicants as the club's new public-address announcer.
"From a vast and diverse field of well-qualified applicants, Ryan distinguished himself as the clear choice to be the new voice of Oriole Park," said Orioles director of communications Greg Bader. "Ryan's traditional delivery is a style familiar to Orioles fans, and he brings an energy and freshness that we know people attending a game at Camden Yards will enjoy. The authenticity of Ryan's voice and his smooth delivery are what stood out the most to us."
Wagner not only has parlayed his Fan Cave gig into a job of a lifetime, but he also just gave further inspiration to those finalists who are vying to be part of a group that will open the 2012 MLB season at Fan Cave. Voting for the 50 finalists closes late Wednesday at MLBFanCave.com, and then 30 finalists will be sent by MLB to Arizona for a three-day boot camp to prove themselves in hopes of an Opening Day assignment.
"I thought the coolest thing was being able to tell my family I was an employee of MLB," Wagner said. "This is a little extra sense of meaning now that I can tell them I am an employee of the Baltimore Orioles. I'm a lifelong fan of the Orioles, and Camden Yards is where I grew up watching games.
"On a professional level, you know me -- I dream big. I hope 30 or 40 years from now, people are putting me in the category of a Rex Barney or a Bob Sheppard. I want to be part of a stadium, part of a town. It's amazing to me -- it hasn't sunk in yet. When people go to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I'm going to be part of that experience for them. I'm going to be part of that experience that makes it the best ballpark in the country. It leaves me a little speechless. I can't begin to express what that means to me."
"Thank youuuuuu" were the last words to be uttered at Memorial Stadium -- Barney's famous expression. Those words were recorded and played there on Oct. 6, 1991, as he was in the hospital at the time. Barney was the Orioles' P.A. announcer from 1974 until his death in 1997 at the age of 72. Dave McGowan was Barney's successor through last season, announcing in December that he would step down due to a change in his availability.
|"[The Orioles] said they wanted a voice that was a match for the ballpark, someone who was traditional and energetic and could really handle being the voice of a ballpark that is so iconic. That was something I really felt I could do, and I guess they agreed."|
|-- Ryan Wagner|
April 6 will mark Wagner's first appearance at Camden Yards since September 2010. An actor by trade, he performed as the Cowardly Lion understudy in a 2009-11 national tour of "The Wizard of Oz." He was selected last spring to be wingman for Mike O'Hara in the new Fan Cave at 4th Street and Broadway in Greenwich Village, so there was literally no opportunity to go to a Baltimore home game. Wagner was sent to Phoenix for All-Star Week and then traveled to each postseason series right through the World Series clincher, but otherwise he was holed up.
Now he will welcome Orioles fans to their own beautiful place.
After being two of 11,000, Wagner is now one of 670. He says his luck "has no end," but in truth it was a lot of work to get this, and though the Fan Cave gig helped, it was just a part.
"As much as I hope people will know I earned this, I'm sure there will still be people around that just say, 'He got hired because he was a Fan Cave guy, and it's still a gimmick,'" Wagner said. "I expect to put up with some of that. At the end of the day, people I respect and admire, they say, 'I really respect what you guys did and all the good stuff you put up last season.' There always will be people out there who don't get it or for whatever reason don't appreciate it. This job would not be possible if it weren't for my time at the Fan Cave. I have a lot of friends now in the game of baseball, and two years ago, I would have said that's not possible."
Social media is at the heart of the Fan Cave experience, and perhaps fittingly, that is how Wagner found out about the opening.
"Somebody posted something on Facebook of all things, saying the Orioles were going to hire a new P.A. announcer," Wagner said. "That's one of those things in a million years I never would have set out to do, because it doesn't happen often that teams look for one. The Cubs did it last year [hiring Andrew Belleson], and now the Orioles. They made it public. They wanted an audition tape sent in. I had a mic and audio equipment at home, so I put together a tape with the script from their site, felt good about it and sent it away. I mentioned I was one of the Fan Cave hosts from last season, that I was an Orioles fan from Baltimore and how much it would mean. The deadline for entries passed, and two days later I got a call that I was in the top 25 and I would be invited to Oriole Park to audition."
Wagner said he was comfortable at the audition by meeting media he had encountered during his Fan Cave work, but he said it was "a crazy day."
"We were called down there at 3 in the afternoon, and then it was 4:30 or 5 when I got to audition. There was snow blowing, wind blowing hard, it was getting a little dark," he said. "During mic check, it was all I could do to not say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Lambeau Field.' I was really close to saying it. I felt that audition went well. It was bizarre, because I attacked the script using my theater training. I don't know how anybody else was working, but that was what I knew. I went in [feeling] totally good about it, and the next day got called to come in on Valentine's Day for an interview. That went well, the next day another in-stadium audition, then a few days later I got the call and was unbelievably lucky enough to get offered the job.
"They said they wanted a voice that was a match for the ballpark, someone who was traditional and energetic and could really handle being the voice of a ballpark that is so iconic. That was something I really felt I could do, and I guess they agreed."
Wagner said he was given well wishes during the Orioles' search by O'Hara, who will be married in October and will be making the East Coast his permanent base again while hoping to land acting gigs.
"Mike is supremely talented and I consider him one of my best friends," Wagner said. "Something big is going to happen for him."
As they move on, the Fan Cave morphs into a new approach, with a batch of people starting together and then gradually being voted off all summer by fans online, until one winner is left standing before the World Series clincher. The goal is still to watch every game.
"I'm excited for them," Wagner said. "I have nothing but good things to say for the Fan Cave. I hope whoever they do pick reaches out to me and Mike. Nobody has the perspective we do; we have some pointers we can give them.
"The best compliment we could get is that they brought it back for 2012. If we hadn't been successful, they wouldn't have brought it back for the second year. I've seen all the videos, talked to them on Twitter, seems like a great group. They'll put the right people in the Cave."
And meanwhile, they just put a touch of the Cave in Camden Yards.
"As a lifelong Orioles fan, being named the voice of Oriole Park at Camden Yards is indescribably amazing," Wagner said. "I spent my childhood attending games at Camden Yards. ... I will never forget the happiness and excitement I felt when I became a member of the Orioles' organization, and I promise every Oriole fan that they will hear my very best effort, every time they come to the greatest ballpark in professional baseball."