Orioles radio broadcaster Fred Manfra started his baseball announcing career about 40 years ago on the streets of Baltimore. As he played "curb ball" and "whiffle ball" with some neighborhood friends while dodging cars, Manfra also delivered the play-by-play.
"I had two goals growing up," Manfra said. "To play for the Orioles and be a sports broadcaster."
Although Manfra, 48, never made it to the big leagues, he did hit a double off the left-field wall at Memorial Stadium in an American Legion game. Manfra said he learned the game by playing catcher from an early age through Patterson High School.
"As a catcher, you are always involved in the game," said Manfra, who in his youth pretended to be Orioles catcher Gus Triandos. "You have to know how to pitch because you call the pitches. You positioned the infielders. The catcher was always the take-charge guy and ran the ballgame."
When he wasn't behind the plate, Manfra played out different scenarios with his baseball cards. Manfra used to create and announce a game by laying out the cards of his favorite players on the floor of his basement.
He also had to use his imagination to hear the games on radio.
When he was young, Manfra's curfew was 10 p.m. and his parents wouldn't let him stay up for the end of the games. Manfra went to bed, but always found a way to sneak in a radio tuned into the Orioles game.
He listened to the likes of Ernie Harwell and Chuck Thompson describing the action. Now he's in his third season as an Orioles broadcaster and teams with Jon Miller on a regular basis and Thompson on Sundays.
"Working and listening with Chuck is one of the big thrills of this job," Manfra said. "And Jon is astonishing with his command of facts and stories. I've learned a lot from both of them."
Manfra learned early that getting a job for the Orioles would take hard work. He started his career in a small station in Corona, Calif., as a disc jockey and engineer in the early 1970s. Manfra then worked six days a week as the news and sports director for a station in Ventura, Calif. Before airing the California Angels game, Manfra initiated his own pre-game show from Anaheim Stadium.
After that job, Manfra continued to work primarily in sports.
Several radio and television stations later, Manfra couldn't resist an Orioles broadcasting job. And from this experience, Manfra ,, has gained a better respect for radio.
"Doing radio play-by-play gives me self-satisfaction," Manfra said. "You are the audience's eyes and ears. In my estimation, you augment the color man in television. In radio, you create the game."