Visual impairment : Blind since birth
Enrique Oliu, excels at a job that most people would assume is impossible for a blind man. He describes a game he cannot see. Enrique is blind.
He grew up listening to baseball on the radio in his native country of Nicaragua in South America. Baseball is Nicaragua’s national sport and Enrique’s father was an avid fan.
Not only did Enrique follow the game as a child, at his blind schools in neighbouring Costa Rica and in Florida. He played it too. Hitting a kick ball (large rubber ball) and making plays with verbal pointers from the coaches, Enrique learnt how to visualise what was happening around him.
In Enrique’s words “The biggest challenge, in a sense, is proving every day that you belong so you keep going out making believers out of people. The rest takes care of itself. I feel confident, and I'm prepared. I'm sure people have said things about me, but I don't let that bother me." This winning attitude has led him to his job as a baseball commentator. For several seasons he has been the colour analyst for Spanish radio broadcasts of games played by Tampa’s baseball team the Devil Rays, in the US state of Florida. Enrique works with commentator Jose Rafael Colmenares, a native of Venezuela. He provides insight and analysis to Jose’s descriptions of the action on the playing field.
He prepares daily on a computer installed with software called Jaws, which is used by people with visual impairment/low vision. He reads stories online, researches current statistics and trends. Enrique says that simply talking baseball with players and managers from the home and visiting teams is also important to keep informed of current events.
According to Jose, Enrique is a good example of what being a professional is all about. Enrique is an expert on Devil Rays’ history and is jokingly referred to as "a walking baseball encyclopaedia".
This is not all. Enrique has a wonderful wife, Debbie, who stands by him in his work. She reads out articles from the sports section of the newspaper to him and helps him study an assortment of media guides and magazines. Enrique’s almost photographic memory captures all the information. Once the game begins, Debbie sits behind Enrique and describes to him what is happening down on the playing field, known as the diamond.
A few years ago fans listening to the Rays' Spanish broadcast were astonished when Enrique caught a foul ball in his radio booth, twice during the same game. He explains saying that the first one just landed on his lap and the second hit the wall behind him and came into his hand when he turned around. He says he had never come close to catching a foul ball and it was strange because he always ducked when a foul ball headed his way.
Recalling the people who kindled his interest in sport, he fondly talks about his maths teacher Tuck Tensley and Marvin Sandford his physical education teacher. Both worked at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine where Enrique was enrolled.
After high school, Enrique went on to college. This is where he got his first break: the chance to announce a baseball game as the public address announcer for the home games. He also graduated with a communications degree from the University of South Florida. After building an impressive network of baseball connections, including former major leaguer Orestes Destrade and Devil Rays’ vice-president of communications, Rick Vaughn, he climbed his way in to the Tropicana Field press box.
Enrique is the first blind person to announce major league baseball games on a regular basis. He says much of his achievement would not have been possible without his Jaws screen reader. It allowed him to realise his childhood dream of announcing sports on the radio. Enrique’s winner attitude and of course the support of Debbie, his wife, have made Enrique what he is today.
Enrique’s professional attitude is at par with all his sighted colleagues. His confidence and light-hearted nature makes him an amiable person to work with. Besides his love for sport, Enrique exhibits his love for people by always inspiring them to achieve their potential. He uses his story and achievements to help those who are facing or have faced similar challenges.
Enrique lives a happy and a fulfilled life. He has not let his blindness stop him from doing most of the things that he wants to do. Certainly it isn’t slowing him down.