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Inside the Bisons: From bat boy to broadcast booth, the grind pays off for Malacaro

When Pat Malacaro was a freshman at Canisius High School, he was looking for a summer job. He found one as a substitute bat boy for the Buffalo Bisons.

Nineteen years later, he is now the Voice of the Bisons, earning the gig as the team's play-by-play announcer after Ben Wagner earned his own promotion to the Toronto Blue Jays broadcast team after 11 years in Buffalo.

Malacaro, a South Buffalo native, went from being a bat boy to the broadcast booth. It's a great story, but not as simple as the alliteration suggestions. Much like the athletes he talks about on the air, Malacaro had to grind it out to get his opportunity. He made strategic choices, faced plenty of doubts, and wondered if his turn at getting a full-time opportunity would ever come along.

"Because I knew what I was signing up for by staying in Buffalo, I tried my best to not get frustrated with each season that passed, but it was only natural that after a few years went by and my situation didn’t change the questioning and doubt started to creep in," Malacaro said.

Before the doubts crept in, there was the pure joy of listening to Buffalo sports broadcasts. Typical of many Buffalo natives, Malacaro grew up listening to Pete Weber and Rick Jeanneret, then mimicking their calls at home.

As he moved into high school, he applied to the Buffalo Bisons for a seasonal job, getting a call to be a substitute bat boy. That turned into a four-year gig and the opportunity to be around the clubhouse, to watch players go about their preparation and process, solidified his desire to work in baseball.

He took that aspiration to Syracuse University, studying broadcasting and returning to the Bisons in the summers of 2004 and 2005 to work as a radio intern with Jim Rosenhaus. In 2009 he got his first major break, calling the games of the Batavia Muckdogs, a short-season Class-A team in the New York-Penn League. It was a break that was two years in the making and helped along by his time spent working in the Bisons clubhouse.

"I got the job in Batavia because I cold-called the team in 2006 asking if they needed a play-by-play broadcaster," Malacaro said. "The general manager at the time said they didn’t have a plan yet, but if I wanted to send a demo CD he would add it to the pile they were collecting. I never heard back from him, but fast forward two years later and new GM Dave Wellenzohn used to work for the Bisons and knew Scott Lesher. He saw my CD and resume in a pile of papers and asked Scott if he knew me.

Lesher, the Bisons clubhouse manager, knew Malacaro well from his years working as a bat boy. The positive recommendation led to an internship in 2008, working with Batavia's main broadcaster, Wayne Fuller. In 2009 and 2010, Malacro took over as the lead play-by-play voice.

Malacaro received more than resume fodder with the Muckdogs. It was a chance to learn from Fuller, a broadcasting veteran with 40 years in the business, how to be a caretaker of the game.

"We would drive to road trips to places like Auburn, Jamestown, and State College, Pa., always talking broadcasting or baseball," Malacaro said. "Just listening to Wayne’s anecdotes, that still helps me today. I think part of why I feel like a custodian of the game is because Wayne treated the broadcasts that way as well. Not only do I feel the sense of history and connection to the Bisons because I am a Buffalo kid, but I saw a lot of myself in what Wayne did on the broadcasts. He had a great knowledge base to pull from and would use it to weave stories into the broadcasts."

Eager to put his new skills to work, Malacaro still had years of the grind ahead of him. He returned to Buffalo after graduating from Syracuse, working part-time at WGR Sportsradio 550 AM in a number of roles, including reporter, game host and producer. Most recently, he has assisted with the station's postgame coverage of the Buffalo Sabres.

He continued to work, part-time, on the Bisons radio broadcasts in the summer with Wagner, helping with calls both on the radio network and on televised games. All the while, Malacaro was working his full-time job at Rich Products, the parent company of the Bisons, most recently serving as a customer service associate in the Foodservice Division.

That made for long days and personal sacrifices. That made for years of living in the grind, trusting that the hard work would eventually pay off.

"When we worked together, Pat was always willing, even if it jammed him up on his end," Wagner said. "If he needed to take off to do a road trip or had to hustle form the office to get to the ballpark for a 7 o'clock game, he did it. He was doing all the little things to make sure he was to ready to go as soon as his butt hit the on-air chair. He went the extra mile to make sure he was doing the job the right way and he was always willing to learn."

Both Wagner and Malacaro were going through the process – putting in the work at the lower levels, trusting that there would be a payoff at the end. But Buffalo sports fans know that the process is frustrating. It's not straightforward. The journey is littered with dead ends and long, winding roads, that tests patience and faith.

Wagner was waiting for his opportunity to move into a Major League role while Malacaro was waiting for his chance to be a full-time broadcaster in his hometown.

"I began to wonder if my turn was ever going to come," Malacaro said. "I made a strategic decision early on in my broadcasting career that because I could call Bisons and work Sabres broadcasts part-time, I did not need to look for jobs in Single-A or Double-A to build up a resume reel. I had no safety net, so to speak. If for whatever reason it did not work out, at least I gave it my best shot in the town I grew up in. That said, it was taxing the last couple of seasons.

"I have no complaints, however. Seeing the sacrifices both of my parents made when I was a kid growing up – my Dad worked two jobs, as a letter carrier for the USPS during the day and then would go work for a liquor distributor loading trucks and my Mom balancing night classes along with taking care of my brother and myself – it was not as hard as what they did for us."

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