The desire that Ben Wagner showed as a teenager has led him to within one run of baseball’s big time.
Wagner, 32, just finished his sixth season as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
The road that led Wagner to this point started in 1997 when he was a Fairfield High School student who convinced then-WWAC-FM sports director Jason Samuels and owner Bill Dixon that he was eager to learn all about sports broadcasting.
“Ben always had the passion,” says Samuels, who is now Assistant Professor of Communications and General Manager at WGCS-FM at Goshen College. “That goes a long way in this industry. Because he was passionate, he worked for it and made himself good.”
In those early years, Samuels phased Wagner in and gave him his first on-air experience, calling area high school basketball and football.
Wagner grew as a young broadcaster and played baseball at Fairfield for head coaches Rollie Schultz and Tim Fritz and graduated in 1999.
When it came time to look for a college, the lifelong fan of Indiana University basketball and IU broadcaster Don Fishcer decided to go to a school — Indiana State University — where he would get a chance to be on the air as a freshmen.
It also helped Wagner that he chose to do baseball and women’s basketball, two sports that at the time were neglected by other ISU students in favor of football and men’s basketball.
Wagner would go on to work football for the Sycamores, but he got the chance to do many more games and did all women’s hoops games — home and away — for four years.
“It’s a numbers game.” says Samuels. “If you really want to learn a craft and do it well, you have to do it a lot.”
After graduating from ISU in 2003, Wagner went to the Baseball Winter Meetings in New Orleans and landed a job with the Single-A Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws, where he learned the ropes of minor league baseball operations while calling games for three seasons.
In 2007, Wagner became the “Voice of the Bisons,” then an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The Bisons then went on to be tied to the New York Mets. Recently, Buffalo aligned itself with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Wagner does all Bisons games on the radio and many on television. The in-season pace is pretty hectic.
“In the minor leagues, you play every day,” says Wagner. “We have 144 games in 152 days, including the All-Star Break.
“I tell people that I’ve got two speeds — 0 and 10. When you are in the baseball season, you are at 10 the entire time.”
One of his favorite road trips is to Indianapolis, where he gets to meet up with family and friends. His wife, Megan, is also an Indiana State graduate.
When not on the air, Wagner is doing his homework, learning about player moves, lineups, pitching rotations and reads many stories and blogs to stay up with players in the majors and at Double-A.
Being in the state and affiliated with the Mets, Wagner got a exposure to the New York media, where nine daily newspapers plus many other outlets cover the team full-time. Gameday notes typically totaled close to 100 pages.
He sees many similarities to Toronto and the New York market.
“(Toronto) has a huge fan base,” says Wagner. “Now that the Expos aren’t there, Canada only has one team. Its proximity to Buffalo allows us a luxury that New York didn’t. I’ve already been to Toronto a couple of times since the affiliation announcement was made.
“It’s exciting to be on the cusp of that.”
During the baseball off-season to stay versed and visible in the market, Wagner works for Time Warner Sports Channnel and calls football and basketball involving Buffalo, Niagra, St. Bonaventure and Canisius.
To track and provide information for fans, Wagner is also on social media. His Twitter handle is @benwag247.