Wagner gets the call to the bigs



Canisius men’s basketball radio play-by-play man Ben Wagner (right) announced a pair of games for the Toronto Blue Jays this past week. (Marshall Haim/The Griffin)

By Marshall Haim

Sports Editor

Major League Baseball. The level all kids that are exposed to the game of baseball aspire to reach. Some wish to play while others hope to be in the broadcast booth. For Ben Wagner this past week, that wish was granted.

Wagner, the play-by-play announcer for the Buffalo Bisons and Canisius men’s basketball team, earned the September call-up by the Bisons’ major league affiliate, the Toronto Blue Jays, to announce a pair of games this past Wednesday and Thursday. Wagner was filling in for Mike Wilner, the third man on the Blue Jays’ broadcast crew. Wilner was away from the crew to observe Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Wilner made the announcement that Wagner would take over for him for the two days on Tuesday via Twitter. Immediately following, Wagner was infiltrated with many congratulations from those near and far from the Blue Jays and Bisons organizations. Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the play-by-play announcer for the Blue Jays’ Single-A affiliate, Lansing Lugnuts, tweeted his kind wishes to Wagner.

Former major league pitcher CJ Nitkowski, currently a color analyst for the Texas Rangers, also sent Wagner his best regards prior to Wednesday’s MLB debut for the 37-year-old Indiana native.

Wagner joined legendary Blue Jays play-by-play man Jerry Howarth and color analyst Joe Siddall for his two-day stint with the big-league club. Siddall’s son, Brett, played baseball at Canisius from 2013 to 2015. The duties Wagner had included play-by-play of the third, fourth and seventh innings while also hosting the team’s postgame show, “Jays Talk”, which features many callers voicing opinions on the game and other aspects of the Blue Jays. Despite the Kansas City Royals’ 15-5 drubbing of the Blue Jays, Siddall gave Wagner high praise following his MLB debut tweeting:

Fellow members of the Bisons broadcast crew also tuned into the game to hear Wagner, including his broadcast partner, Pat Malacaro, who tweeted a 10-second video on Wednesday night during one of the three innings Wagner had play-by-play responsibilities.

Seeing Wagner make his MLB debut made me extremely happy, especially with him being a close friend of mine. I first met Ben when he joined the Bisons broadcast crew in 2007 when he took over for Jim Rosenhaus, who is now a broadcaster for the Cleveland Indians. Surprisingly, Wagner is only the third play-by-play man the Bisons have had since moving to Coca-Cola Field 25 years ago. Pete Weber, now the radio play-by-play man for the NHL’s Nashville Predators, was the other to have assumed the position.

To think Wagner and I first met 10 years ago is crazy. It definitely has felt much longer than that.

I first was able to get to know Wagner better during my middle school days. For an assignment for an English class, I had to interview someone in the field that I was interested in going into. That field was sports broadcasting. After a seven-minute long interview with Wagner in the broadcast booth following a game, his answers reeled me more than ever. Since that interview, I have tried to get as much experience within the field that I possibly can get.

Before landing a broadcast production internship with the Bisons the summer after my freshman year, I had the pleasure to work with Wagner at the University at Buffalo for men’s and women’s college basketball broadcasts. Working those games with Wagner, and former Canisius men’s basketball head coach Mike MacDonald, was an experience like none other.

I’ll still never forget taking a quick glance at my phone during a class in the early stages of the spring semester of my freshman year and seeing a text from an unknown number. The text was asking if I would be interested in helping out with basketball broadcasts. After class commenced, I was able to see who the text was from. It was Wagner. I undeniably accepted.

Upon arriving to the first game I worked for Wagner, he showed me under my contact information a note from the first time we met: “Wants to become a broadcaster,” with the date.

After working basketball games for Wagner, last fall I was able to work two football games for him; one at Buffalo State, the other at the University at Buffalo. Both opportunities were quite tough to decline.

This upcoming season will mark Wagner’s third season behind the microphone as the Griffs’ radio play-by-play man for the men’s basketball program. On Wednesday, the team’s Twitter account shared their congratulations to Wagner.

Not only did the men’s basketball Twitter account tweet their congratulations, so too did the Golden Griffin Network, but in a much more unique way.

The long-awaited opportunity arrived and everyone is extremely proud of Ben. Once again, congratulations on the opportunity and I look forward to hearing about the incredible experience sometime soon.


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