Anneslie resident vying to be 'the voice' of the Orioles

Matthew Byars' voice is well-known to his students and colleagues at St. Paul's School. It may be recognized by a much larger audience soon.

On Feb. 11, Byars was one of 25 semifinalists who participated in an open competition to determine the new public address announcer for the Baltimore Orioles.

The 43-year old Towson resident made the trip to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to compete against the likes of Lutherville's Chris Ely, a well-known Baltimore broadcaster who worked at WJZ-TV and WBAL-TV, and Chris Panzarella, a Cockeysville resident and graduate student at Loyola University, for the honor of being the Orioles' new voice.

The task may seem to be a departure for Byars, who teaches sixth-grade English at St. Paul's School.

But he brought significant announcing experience to Saturday's audition. He began his career in high school, working as the basketball public address announcer for his alma mater, Tates Creek High in Lexington, Ky.

Byars was an on-air radio talent during his time as an undergraduate at the College of Wooster in Ohio, and also worked at WFRL in Lexington. During his nine years at St. Paul's, he has served as the Crusaders' public address announcer for basketball, baseball and lacrosse.

"It was kind of a lark," Byars said of his application for the Orioles' position. "I'm an experienced announcer, and feel like I'm good at it. So I put my name in and was confident about my chances."

Byars has a soft spot for baseball. Born in Lansing, Mich., he grew up a Detroit Tigers fan during the 1970s era of Ron LeFlore and Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. He was 12 when his family moved to Lexington, where he rooted for the Cincinnati Reds.

When he moved to Baltimore, Byars became an Oriole fan.

"We came here in 1994, and we love the feel of the city and the neighborhoods," said Byars, who lives in Anneslie with his wife, Melissa, and children Jonas and Audrey, both students at Dumbarton Middle School. "We've been really happy in Baltimore."

While change has been the perpetual theme of the modern-day Orioles, there hasn't been much movement behind the public address microphone.

The legendary Rex Barney was one of the best in the business for nearly a quarter-century, from 1974 until his death in August 1997. Dave McGowan became the Orioles' voice in the spring of 1998, and kept the job through the 2011 campaign. McGowan resigned in December, and the team decided to hold an open competition to replace him.

Byars sent an audio recording to Orioles Productions. From an original field of 670 applicants, he was chosen as one of the 25 semifinalists by Orioles' officials and asked to come to the 20-year old ballpark for Saturday's formal audition.

"I sat for an hour and 15 minutes before I got called," Byars said. "It was like going from zero to 60 miles an hour. The adrenaline really flows when you realize you're talking to the whole stadium."

Byars was pleased with his performance.

"I thought it went OK," he said. "They gave you a formal script, and then threw you a few curveballs by having you pronounce some unfamiliar names. There were some baseball names in there, like (Angels' manager) Mike Scioscia and (veteran outfielder) Bobby Abreu, that might throw you off. But being an English teacher, the enunciation comes pretty easily."

Finalists were expected to be notified early this week and brought in for interviews. If Byars gets the call, he will be following two of the game's premier public address announcers. Barney, a former major leaguer with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was noted for his signature "Thank Youuuu" greeting to generations of Oriole fans. McGowan was the positive, consummate professional during the most trying years in the team's 57-year existence.

"They're definitely looking for that authoritative voice, like Rex Barney and Dave McGowan," said Byars. "Plus, you have to be available all the time."

The Orioles play 81 home games each season, a schedule that would take up a lot of Byars' free time with his family.

For Byars, though, the significant commitment didn't diminish the attractiveness of the position.

"It would be an absolute thrill to get it," he said. "I'm excited to have gotten this far (in the process). But I wouldn't be crushed if it didn't work out."

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