Enrique Oliu: Knockin' It Out of the Park!

Picture of Enrique talking
Enrique Oliu, 2012. Photo by Katie Carpenter, APH.

This past Saturday, July 28, the Museum ofthe American Printing House for the Blind held the first installment of its Bards and Storytellers series for summer 2012. This program celebrates entertainment industry traditions in the blind community. For centuries before the increased literacy and employment opportunities, one of the very few ways blind and visually impaired people could earn a living was to sing, play music, tell stories, or generally entertain others. Although there are more opportunities for blind people today, these traditions still carry on. Bards and Storytellers seeks to honor these traditions.

This month, APH welcomed Enrique "Henry" Oliu, the color commentator on the Spanish-language Tampa Bay Rays radio broadcasts. He spoke with Dr. Douglas Boyd, Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky, about how he became a broadcaster. He also delighted the audience with a little taste of his Spanish-language commentating.
Henry was born in Nicaragua in 1962. The nuns tried to teach him what an "A" looked like in the absence of braille, which was not very effective. Soon, Henry's parents sent him to a school for the blind in Costa Rica; however, this school only went up to sixth grade. At age 10, Enrique and his parents moved to the United States, where he began attending the Florida School for the Blind. He had to learn English braille, which he explained was quite different from Spanish braille. Oliu attended Florida College and then the University of Southern Florida.
Henry was the color commentator for various sports at several professional levels before becoming the Spanish-language commentator for the Rays when they came to Tampa Bay in 1998. Before this, he had only worked as an English commentator. In 2009, the documentary Henry O! was made about Henry and his career. This is Oliu's 14th season with the Rays.
Henry talked about the difference between play-by-play commentating and color commentating. A play-by-play commentator tells the audience what is going on in the game, the plays being made. For instance, "Matt Kemp is up to bat…and the first pitch is fouled off. Strike. And a fly ball to center!" A color commentator, according to Henry, explains why what's happening is happening. Why did Kemp swing at nothing? What's going on with the pitcher? Was there something about the way Kemp's bat hit the ball that made the play a single and not a home run? One of the characteristics that sets the two types of commentators apart is the color commentator's ability to add a little "flavor" to the broadcast. The facts are important, yes, but the facts are meaningless unless you understand them.
You might wonder how a blind man could know what was going on, not to mention do his job so well that a documentary and countless news stories were made about him. To be successful, he has to do a great deal of background research on all the players and coaches on both teams. He also has to read the pages upon pages of game notes for each game, with the assistance of his wife Deb. He also possesses an extraordinary ability gained from relying on his hearing his whole life: if he is on the field, Henry can differentiate between types of pitches by listening to the sounds they make as they hit the catcher's mitt. He can also tell when a pitcher is warming up in the bullpen because there is a rhythmic sound of a ball hitting a mitt at even intervals.
During a broadcast, Henry can hear the play-by-play commentator, his wife Deb, engineers, and others in his headset. He has to synthesize all the information coming at him plus all of his research simultaneously and immediately. This requires incredible focus and skill, not to mention a lot of practice.
When asked what advice he would give to a youngster, blind or sighted, wishing to pursue a career as a color commentator one day, Henry said that the single most important thing to do is play the games. It is hard to talk about something intelligently if you have never tried it yourself. Henry has played many sports, especially baseball, with both sighted and blind players.  
Henry Oliu is very humble and seems to take all the publicity in stride. To him, he is simply doing what he loves to do, which is telling his audience interesting and fun information about baseball during the games.  


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