Ryan Wagner (left) and Mike O'Hara meet with Paul DiMeo,… (Jeff Zelevansky, Major…)
If you run into Walt Wagner, don't be surprised if he tells you right away, that his son — HIS SON!! — is one of two guys Major League Baseball is paying — PAYING!! — to hole up and watch every last inning of every last ball game.
His boy, born in Baltimore and raised on the Orioles, beat out 10,000 people for the chance to "eat, sleep and live baseball" for the entire season — albeit behind glass in a Manhattan storefront.
"I still get the shakes when I talk about it," gushes Wagner, a retired city cop. "That's my son."
Ryan Wagner, who's 25, is spending the next seven months with fellow winner Mike O'Hara, lazing on a sofa, sipping Budweisers and fixing his attention on what will turn out to be 2,430 games — a head-spinning number of pitches, countless fly balls, who knows how many stolen bases. He'll also be blogging, Tweeting, posting videos and otherwise doing anything he can to earn baseball some online street cred.
It's all baseball's attempt to hook the go-go-go, frenetic social media generation on a languid, mellow game where no one is tackled, nothing is slam-dunked and where the definition of multitasking is guarding the outfield while chewing tobacco.
Wagner, who as a kid spent hours outside the Orioles' parking lot hoping for a glimpse of Cal Ripken Jr., says he's the man for the job.
"Baseball has been such a part of my life," he says. "It's just a great game. There's definitely something magical about sitting in Oriole Park on a sunny afternoon and getting a Boog's barbeque sandwich."
Alas, no Boog's for Wagner (@rwags614 on Twitter) this year. Through October, he's a resident of New York, specifically of a 15,000 square foot storefront in Greenwich Village.
The spot that they're calling the "fan cave," and where Wagner is spending most of his waking hours, is the site of a former Tower Records at 4th Street and Broadway.
Officials considered Times Square and Columbus Circle but when it came to "hipsters" per capita, this site, sandwiched between SoHo, New York University and Union Square, couldn't be beat.
Tim Brosnan, Major League Baseball's vice president for business, hired one of the designers from ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" to turn the vacant corner into what he calls "Mr. Rogers hipster neighborhood with baseball running through it."
The result is what a frat boy would dream if he dreamed of interior design — a wall heavy with 15 televisions, a pool table, another wall that visiting celebrities are encouraged to sign, a fridge filled entirely with Pepsi products.
During the thick of the season, Wagner and O'Hara will be there from the day's first pitch at noon until the ninth inning winds up on the West Coast — which can happen as late as 1 a.m. The two don't sleep on-site — Major League Baseball has been putting them up at a hotel and soon they'll move into a nearby apartment.
The cave's key design element is, of course, the 32, 14-foot windows that passers-by can push their nose against to watch Wagner and O'Hara's every move.
Though he admits it can feel a bit like a "fishbowl," Wagner with his theater degree and sports broadcasting background, isn't one to shy away from the spotlight.
"It seemed to be the perfect blend of my joking, my laughing and my comfort in front of crowd but also my love of sports," Wagner said of his gig. "I never in a million years thought I'd be able to find that."
Wagner is a bearded fellow with black-rimmed geek glasses and an easy manner, despite his habit of talking a mile a minute. You'll often find him in an Orioles hat and baggy clothes that don't quite disguise a body that suggests he's not one to turn down a beer.
Commentators on MLB.com recently called him "thickish," before they asked him if he'd prefer a Dodger dog or a Philly cheese steak. He asked if he could have the dog on a cheese steak.
Despite his natural inclinations — and his ability to get essentially anything he wants delivered to the cave — Wagner swears he and O'Hara have vowed to eat salad every day for lunch.
Wagner grew up in north Baltimore, near Herring Run park, the son of a cop and a hospital administrator. When his parents split up and eventually divorced, he moved with his mother to Harford County and graduated from Edgewood High School in 2003. As a boy, he played not only baseball, lacrosse and soccer, but also gymnastics and bowling.
His grandfather encouraged his affection for baseball. Grand pop Ed, who taught Wagner how to keep score, was known for sitting down before an Orioles game and not moving until the seventh-inning stretch. He'd hop up, get a drink, and then settle in for the rest of the action.
It might have been degrees in theater from Frostburg State and sports broadcasting from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland that gave Wagner the edge in his bid to enter the "fan cave."