As anyone who knows me understands, I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like. With that in mind, I recently started doing podcasts, where I’ve met some very interesting people. The one who stands out the most is Don Wordlow, who invited me to be a guest on his show: The Baseball Lifer.
As you can probably guess, baseball is Don’s passion, and as I spent 25 years umpiring amateur baseball and covered all levels of the sport as reporter, we had a lot to talk about. Like me, Don was in the media end of the game, spending 12 years as a color commentator.
The thing is…Don is blind. From birth.
“I discovered the game at the age of eight listening to it on the radio,” he said. “I went to my first game when I was nine. The magical part was Dad arranged for what we now call a meet-and-greet with the Mets three broadcasters, all of whom are now enshrined at Cooperstown: Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy. Dad knew that meeting the broadcasters would be even more exciting than meeting any of the players.”
Something sparked in Don’s young brain. He decided that he too would be a baseball broadcaster, which early on had his parents perplexed.
“Mom wanted me to be the next Ray Charles and said listening to baseball games would get me nowhere. When it mattered though my parents believed in me when I wanted to become a communications major.”
Though his peers viewed the idea differently.
“My friends…thought I was a nut for wanting to be on the radio.”
As you might expect, there were a lot of naysayers along the way, those who couldn’t wrap their brains around a blind man as a baseball broadcaster.
“I was a particularly stubborn…I kept pushing until I ran into Jim Lucas, who worked with me in college and later as a pro.”
The pair spent four years in AA ball in New Britain Connecticut from 1993-96, a time during which there were few technological advances to assist the blind. Don didn’t even have a computer.
“When the team was at home, Jim—or somebody else who could see—would read the daily stats into a tape recorder,” Don said. “I would then braille them. I was expected to have all my braille notes written before I got to the park. I would spend time preparing “all-time gems” because (we) were sponsored by a local jeweler. These gems were recordings of great moments in baseball from the 30s to the 90s. We ran them during pitching changes. When we started in AA, five gems might last two games. As the number of pitching changes proliferated during the 90s…I had to have ten or more ready.”
Don, who said the braille transcriptions took the most time, also prepared pre-game features of highlights from the game that happened the night before.
Over the years, Don was known to lean out of the press box and lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. He said there were a lot of memorable moments along the way, including the time he and Jim were invited to work part of a Major League game on June 23, 1994 between the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs.
“It was a whirlwind, a fairytale blur,” Don said. “Double A games required me to have between 25 and 50 pages of braille stats in my lap. Quickly, we found it would take more than that to prepare for three half-innings of a single game.”
Don had close to 200 pages to juggle that day. Don and Jim were treated like celebrities, riding in limousines provided by the Marlins. They also appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America.
“Having my mom and my brother at the Major League game where we broadcast was a huge thrill,” he said.
Today, thanks to advances in technology, those with disabilities have an easier time integrating into society, still those journeys can be difficult. Like everyone, Don has suffered setbacks. A divorce. A severe back injury. Bouts of depression. Still, his sense of humor shines through. Don is working on a book about his life, one he says will be filled with funny stories. In the meantime, he has some advise.
“Professionally, persist in your search for an education and the right job,” he said. “Read both for work and pleasure. In your personal life, follow your heart.”
Listen to Don’s Major League broadcast here.
Listen to my visit with Don here
Find Don’s podcast here.
Anne Montgomery’s novels can be found wherever books are sold.