“Bittersweet” is the word that Ben Wagner used to describe the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays season.
Wagner is in his third season of being the radio broadcaster on Sportsnet Canada for the Blue Jays, but due to the Canadian government’s COVID-19 restrictions not allowing the Blue Jays to play their season in Toronto, he is not in Buffalo as they play out their season at Sahlen Field,
Before getting the job with the Blue Jays, he had spent nearly a decade with the Canisius men’s basketball team as their radio broadcaster as well as broadcasting the Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ Triple-A minor league affiliate, from 2007-2017.
However, it’s bittersweet for Wagner because he is not in Buffalo broadcasting the games, but at Sportsnet’s studios calling the games virtually.
“It would be really cool for me, knowing how many days, how many hours, how many demo tapes I put together in that broadcast booth for me to accomplish my professional dreams and then to have an opportunity to perhaps go back to Buffalo and call a ballgame there as a Major League broadcaster would have really been something special,” Wagner said.
It’s not a huge change for Wagner as his day-to-day goes on a gameday. For a typical 7:05 p.m. start, he will start working around 9 a.m. and spend two to three hours looking at stats, video clips and trying to find interesting facts for the game that night.
He heads to the studio between 2 and 3 p.m. and has Zoom meetings with the Blue Jays’ coaching staff, front office or players about what is happening with the team that day. He will also work with his own sources to try to gain more information on those topics. Per Major League Baseball restrictions, no broadcasters or media are allowed to be face-to-face with players or coaches.
“I miss that ability to foster relationships with guys. There are a lot of new guys in that Blue Jays clubhouse this year that by this stage in the season we’d have really good relationships and they’d understand, hopefully, through the way I conduct myself to provide a professional broadcast for Blue Jays fans, but needing that insight too. You lose a lot of that human connection and ability to one, be seen, and two, hopefully craft a relationship where they trust you and you can get valuable insight,” he said.
When the studio clears before game time and the game starts, he calls the game off of a monitor in the studio. When the Blue Jays are playing in Toronto, he calls the game at Rogers Centre, where the Blue Jays usually play their home games. No broadcasters in the entire Major Leagues are calling road games on-site this season, instead calling them from their home stadiums, but Wagner is not in the stadium at all, calling the games from the Sportsnet studio in downtown Toronto.
It is not yet known if broadcasters will stop attending away games in the future, even after the pandemic ends.
“I think if it was up to corporations or broadcast entities that don’t understand the value of having their broadcasters on-site and look at it strictly in terms of financials, I can see that happening. It’s incredibly unfortunate if that starts to be a trend versus just doing this out of necessity,” Wagner said. “That’s where my job will shift significantly if that’s the case.”
While he misses calling the Blue Jays on-site, he credits Canisius and the Bisons for giving him great memories in his time in Buffalo.
“There were some really great games,” Wagner said. “I always felt welcome anytime I went to Canisius and that sticks out to me more than anything in the long run I had. The connections I had to the campus but also the fact of being tied into the broadcast entity, whether I was doing TV or radio, especially those last four or five years when I was more closely connected to everyone over there.”