Blindness isn't slowing down Oliu
Spanish analyst provides insight and analysis to Rays games
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay Spanish radio broadcaster Enrique Oliu has been a witness to almost every great play his beloved Devil Rays have turned at Tropicana Field since he joined the broadcast crew in 1999.
He's just never seen them. Oliu, a native of Nicaragua, has been blind since birth.
"The biggest challenge, in a sense, is proving every day that you belong so you keep going out making believers out of people," said Oliu, 42. "The rest takes care of itself. I feel confident, and I'm prepared. I'm sure people have said things about me, but I don't let that bother me."
As the color analyst, Oliu teams with play-by-play man Jose Rafael Colmenares, a native of Venezuela, and provides insight and analysis to Colmenares' calls. He prepares daily on a specially designed computer by reading stories online, researching current stats and trends, and simply talking baseball with players and managers from the home and visiting teams. He is an expert on Devil Rays history and is jokingly referred to as "a walking baseball encyclopedia."
"He is what being a professional is all about," Colmenares said. "The first time I found out I was working with a blind person, I was curious, but after five minutes, you don't think about it. I am really comfortable with him, because he's a great man and he has a lot of love for game and for people."
He's also a marvel. Oliu's uncanny ability to recognize where a pitched ball has been hit because of the sound it makes coming off the bat has surprised many. Call it a sixth sense combined with his second nature -- baseball.
Oliu knows the sport because he played it.
Oliu fell in love with baseball as a child and followed games via his small transistor radio. He moved to Florida at the age of 10 to attend the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He became a student of the game along the way by studying the theories of sport and playing baseball -- hitting off a rubber tee -- during gym class.
He is said to be a kickball legend and a can drop a mean bunt.
"I don't know about that," he said.
After high school, Oliu enrolled at Florida College and later called his first game as the public address announcer. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in communications in 1987 and took a job as a sports-talk radio host shortly after.
After doing a testimonial at the opening of the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, he said he was thrust into the spotlight. Buoyed by the exposure, he got his first chance to call a game when he landed a gig with the Minor League Jacksonville Expos, calling one inning of play-by-play and three innings of color commentary in 1989. He also worked 20 games as the color analyst for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball League.
"I know the game," he said. "It's about proving you can do it. That's all."
Before the 1999 season, the Devil Rays gave Oliu an audition as a Spanish radio broadcaster. He nailed it, landing the job and keeping it ever since. His wife, Debbie, helps him when necessary. Oliu rides the bus to the stadium.
"The advantage is you get to meet people and maybe get the interview a little faster than another person normally would," Oliu said. "These players can say, 'I don't want to talk to a blind guy,' but once they get past that, they get inspired and we make good friends. My life is not so bad. You can really make a difference in people and inspire them to achieve their potential."
He gets plenty of opportunities per season. Oliu and Colmenares call all 162 games, the 81 home games at Tropicana Field and the 81 games away games from a studio. The Tampa Bay Spanish broadcast is part of the Spanish Beisbol Network, a group that also produces the Boston Red Sox's and Philadelphia Phillies' Spanish broadcasts.
"It's like we are having a party every night on the air, a great time," Colmenares said. "Yes, it's very unique, but not because one of the broadcasters is blind. You don't think like you are working with a disabled person. You think you are working in a booth with people who know and love the game."
Oliu makes no excuses. He knows he is visually impaired and uses his story and achievements to help others who are facing or have faced similar challenges. That doesn't mean he doesn't feel good on the inside when somebody does not remember he cannot see anything on the outside.
"When somebody hands you things, and they don't hand it out far out enough because they forgot you are blind," Oliu said, "that's pretty good."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.