By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Pat Malacaro is the Voice of Summer in Western New York.
Malacaro became the lead play-by-play announcer for the Buffalo Bisons baseball team when Ben Wagner was “called up” to the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2018 season. Malacaro has become a comfortable fit in the job, moving up from occasional work on the Bisons’ broadcast in the previous few years.
He took some time before a recent game to talk about his career to date. A small amount of editing was done for clarity.
Buffalo Sports Page: When Greg Brown moved from the Bisons’ job to the same spot with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he said he had always been the kid in the neighborhood that loved to do play-by-play of his games as they happened. Were you like that?
Pat Malacaro: A little bit. It’s funny – I’m a pretty quiet person. Within my group of friends it was always an inside joke that I would want to be the next Rick Jeanneret. In fifth or sixth grade we all got awards, and one was “most likely to be a hockey announcer.” That was me. When we were playing, I was quiet and reserved. When I’m asked if something about me would surprise people that don’t know me well, that would be it.
BSP: Did you love sports growing up?
PM: I grew up on the ice in South Buffalo. My dad wasn’t a hockey player, but he built a rink in our backyard when I was two. I’d skate on that all the time. I was a second baseman in baseball. By the time I got to high school, I only ran cross country. I loved to play baseball growing up. I did a little basketball in the winter. I always wanted to be doing something.
BSP: Not too many announcers were regulars in a professional baseball clubhouse, but you were. That’s an unusual path to this job.
PM: It started in 1999 when I was a bat boy for the team. I did it for four years. I wanted a summer job. My aunt worked in the team’s front office. I knew all the guys who were ticket-takers and ushers at the Aud and Rich Stadium. We’d go to games and say hi to guys who were friends of my parents or neighbors. I was too young to be a ticket-taker, because of how late the games went. But I was able to be a bat boy because I’d be able to get in early enough and get out early enough.
I started as a backup bat boy in ’99. There are only two bat boys and a fill-in. They don’t rotate like they do now. The home bat boy went to college, and I started on the visiting side. Then I moved to the home side. I loved being around sports. I always watched SportsCenter, always read the box scores. I went to as many games as I could. So working in this environment was something I always wanted to do. The question was – what are the avenues to do that? I didn’t want to be a “clubbie” – work in the clubhouse. The hours and the responsibilities are difficult. Our guy is awesome, but it wasn’t a job I wanted to do. I didn’t want to unpack gear at three in the morning. Broadcasting was an area where I could interact with the players, and tell stories. I thought that was a cool thing. That’s where I focused during high school, and I decided to go to journalism.
BSP: Where did you go to college?
PM: I went to Syracuse. My parents told me, you want to be the best. You have to put the work and the effort in, but you want to be the best. I’ll never be Bob Costas, but I always tried to put my best foot forward. So why not go to the school where famous guys came from them. I wanted to learn from the people who helped mold those people from the past.
There was a college radio station – WAER. I was not a traditional guy in the school. That’s where you called the football and basketball games for the student station. I didn’t get involved early enough to get in that mix. So I had to find different ways to learn how to become a broadcaster. There were talk shows. I did a little of writing for the Daily Orange, but I did feature stuff. I wasn’t involved in it right away. Covering the basketball team wasn’t going to happen. I found different ways to become a better writer. There’s so much more information that there was before. I had to figure out how to find the information before social media was around. It helped me what I am today.
BSP: What was your plan at graduation?
PM: I graduated a semester early. Matt Park (the current play-by-play announcer for Syracuse football and basketball) ran the sports journalism class. He graduated a semester early because it helped him get a job in baseball in Auburn. I was pretty close on credits, so I took a couple of summer classes so I could graduate in December. I thought, maybe I could get a jump on those who were graduating in May.
It didn’t work out. I talked to a couple of places, sent out some resumes, cold-called every team in the New York-Penn League. In doing that, I sent my stuff to Batavia. A guy there said, “We think we have somebody for the coming season. But send me your stuff, and we’ll see what happens.” Two years went by I didn’t hear anything.
Then my uncle got me an interview at Entercom. That’s how I started at WGR – nights and weekends there. I always wanted to be on the air. Andy Roth, the boss, had me write updates. He’d say, this was good, that was bad, fix this, fix that. It toughened me up. Then I got a call from the GM in Batavia, who used to work for the Bisons. … So in 2008, I got to be an unpaid intern in Batavia and got to call games for the first time.
I did that for three years. I worked with Wayne Fuller, at WBTA. He was getting sick, and had to step away from the play-by-play duties. I stepped in there. In 2009 and 2010 I was the No. 1 guy there. In 2010 I also did a little work in Buffalo. They needed a fill-in guy because Ben Wagner and Duke McGuire did about 30 TV games a year. I did 10-15 games in 2010. In 2011, they needed those TV games plus some road games. So I’ve been here on an off since 2010. But I worked part-time here until 2017.
BSP: What was it like to get the call and be told, “You’re the new Bisons’ play-by-play announcer”?
PM: It was great. In 2010, when I started in Triple-A, you got stat packs. You got rosters. You got lineups. In Single-A, you have to scratch out things and copy them. With the Bisons, we weren’t working in a trailer. We had actual broadcast booths for games. Batavia was a great experience, but there are definite advantages to being in Triple-A.
BSP: Every baseball announcer has his favorites. Who are the ones who had an influence on your on-air style?
PM: Honestly, Jim Rosenhaus had a big impact on me. I interned with him in 2004 and 2005. My home run call, it sounds like Rosey’s. You are with someone for so long, you pick it up. I’m sure there are things from Ben that I picked up. I would never steal a catch-phrase from someone. You try to hear things that you know are good, and make them your own. I don’t want to sound like Vin Scully. I don’t want to try to copy him, because he was the best. But I want to do it the best I can.
BSP: Most people don’t like listening to their own voices on recordings, but it comes with the job.
PM: You have to be critical of yourself. You are your own worst enemy because you hate the sound of your own voice. To hear myself is not fun. If I were going on a road trip or walking for ice cream, I would make sure I had a headset on and listen to one of my games. I would listen to a bad game, because I wanted to figure out what I didn’t like. I can listen to a call that was good, but it is important to listen to the ones where I wasn’t good. That has helped me progressed.
BSP: What did the change to full-time status with the Bisons do to your life?
PM: That was one of the nice things. From 2011 to 2017, I got to go on road trips when Duke (McGuire, his broadcast partner) wasn’t traveling. I was doing things for WGR like following the Sabres. I wouldn’t take flights, so I would stay away from Durham and Charlotte. I would go to cities like Pawtucket, Syracuse, and Scranton. I rode the bus a lot. By the end of my part-time work here, I was at every home game and at 20 road games. I was also working a full-time job at Rich Products. Sometimes I used vacation time to make it work. If I was in Pawtucket and got back at 1 a.m. on Sunday, I wasn’t taking Monday off. I was getting up at 6:30 and going to work.
I had the realization on our first road trip last year that when I got home after our first road trip, that when I woke up the next morning, I was going to the ballpark. I was not getting up early to go into an office. That was as big an adjustment as anything. It finally hit me, I guess.
BSP: Since you go to all of the games now, you spend a lot of time with the players. Does that help you?
PM: I think that helps our broadcast. Being with the players all the time, getting to know them – there’s a comfort level there. It’s something that I don’t take for granted, and I don’t take advantage of it. The other day, Bo Bichette talked to a reporter who asked an honest question. Bo gave an honest answer. The reporter did a great job with the story, but people like to pick out quotes. I talked to Bo, and he’s a matter-of-fact person. Maybe I can get more out of him because I’m around him so much. There’s a comfort level there. You can connect because you’re around so much. There’s a mutual respect.
BSP: Many minor-league announcers have to work in sales positions for the team during offseasons. What do you do from September to March?
PM: It’s a great question. For the first time last winter, I got to experience that. In the old job, I’d work 9 to 5 and then part-time with the Sabres. I still do Sabres stuff for WGR, but now there are other duties with the Bisons. I work on the media guide and the recap book with all of the stats from the year. … I had the chance to go to spring training this year. But it’s a lot of relaxation. There’s a sprint within a marathon, so I get to relax a bit in the offseason.
BSP: Everyone in the minor leagues wants to be called up to The Show, as the majors are called, and I’m sure you’re no exception. Ever think about that?
PM: Getting to call some spring training games was awesome, and I’d love to do that again. I’d love to be able to call big league games. But if this is my final landing spot, what’s the harm of being here forever? There are guys in this league that have been around forever. Charter flights are awesome, and I’d love to be doing that instead of taking a seven-hour bus ride. But this is where I want to be right now. If I have the chance to go to the big league, great.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)