ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Enrique Oliu, the Tampa Bay Rays Spanish color commentator, starts talking and doesn’t stop.
“I’ll talk to the wall if you let me,” said Oliu.
He’s been with the Rays since their first pitch in 1998. But he’s never seen a game.
“I can see light,” said Oliu. “I can see shadow contrasts. That’s all.”
He has been blind since birth.
“I’ve played it enough, I’ve touched it enough,” he said. “One thing about going through blind school in St. Augustine, for P.E., we’ve played every game there was, sure adaptable.”
Oliu came to the United States from Nicaragua when he was 10 to get a better education at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, but that love of radio came many years before.
“I love the radio and I listen to people dramatize things,” said Oliu. “(Los Angeles Dodgers announcer) Vin Scully said that when he fell in love with sports he had that old radio that he could hear in 1930 – something. He heard the roar of the crowd. Same with me, I heard the roar of the crowd. I thought it was pretty neat. “
Baseball has a symphony of sounds. During a pandemic, he cannot rely on the noise of the crowd to get his job done. He’s had to adapt more than anyone this season.
“It’s pretty hard. The energy level is pretty tough. You don’t have the expectation of the crowd. It’s pretty hard. The house runs, sometimes you get a big ride because you hear it right away. Often times, the home runs that are just over go the wall, “said Oliu.” You think they’ll get caught on the warning lane or something. It’s hard to get emotional because you don’t know if the home run is around until it is there. “
In addition to the broadcast partner Ricardo Taveras and the engineer Marc Miller, Oliu searches for clues.
“Sometimes you get the noises,” he said. “Our team is at Yankee Stadium, they are still whistling the opposition. You get the foghorn here when the home run takes place. “
He only knows some players through the crack of the club.
“Yandy (Diaz). Yandy is the guy who really explodes. “
“The most amazing thing is that he can’t see the game so he is listening to it,” said Miller. “He doesn’t translate what he hears. He tells his own story based on what he hears. Think about that.”
Oliu gets help at the booth from his very understanding wife Debbie Perry, whom he met two decades ago on a blind date.
“We went to the Lightning (game) against the Chicago Blackhawks.”
Did you win?
“No, Tony Almonte put it in extra time.”
Before the game, Debbie goes through the line-ups of both teams so he can imagine the players on the field.
Oliu, an encyclopedia of baseball knowledge that adds color when sent in the dark.
“People would say, ‘You can’t do things on the radio,” Perry said. “He just never gave up and got through. He lives a dream and anyone can live a dream.”