Nate Wilks grew up listening to Pittsburgh Pirates games on the radio during the glory years of the early 1990s, when players like Andy Van Slyke and Barry Bonds were perennial all-stars.
But to Wilks, the real star of the show was Lanny Frattare, the legendary voice of the Pirates on KDKA radio.
The 22-year-old West Virginia native is doing his best to follow in his hero's footsteps, and his quest to make it as a big-league broadcaster begins this season as the radio voice of the Augusta GreenJackets.
"I'm not much of an athlete but I love sports, so it was a natural progression for me to do something like this," said Wilks, who is handling the play-by-play duties for the Jackets this season, broadcasting all 70 road games. "My favorite by far is Lanny Frattare. I grew up listening to him and felt he always painted a great picture of the action. I've idolized his style. If I could have half the skill that he has, I think I'd be doing all right for myself."
Much like Frattare, who began his broadcasting career in 1968 calling Class A games for the Geneva (N.Y.) Senators, Wilks has landed with the Jackets with the hopes of launching a successful career of his own.
After broadcasting football and basketball games the past three years at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., Wilks stumbled upon an opportunity to break into pro baseball last winter.
Wilks got his foot in the door last summer working as the P.A. announcer with the Piedmont Boll Weevils, the South Atlantic League team now known as the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators.
When Piedmont assistant general manager Eric Altman took a similar job with the Jackets this past winter, he recommended Wilks for the Augusta play-by-play job when the team decided to broadcast road games this season.
"I knew I wanted to get a job in baseball this winter, and luckily a door opened for me," Wilks said. "I had looked into a lot of teams and knew Augusta was one of the top organizations in the league. This is a great opportunity for me coming into a team right out of college. It's an opportunity I didn't necessarily expect, but the chips fell in the right place for me."
Wilks cut his teeth in the radio business in unconventional fashion. He helped set up a small radio station with one of his childhood buddies at their high school in Teays Valley, W.Va., and together they worked as DJs playing Christian music.
During his sophomore year at Geneva College, when no one else at the school showed an interest in broadcasting games, he took over the school's basketball and football play-by-play duties.
Calling Jackets games is his first experience with baseball, but listening to Frattare all those years no doubt has paid off.
"Being on the air has been an awesome experience for me," Wilks said. "I think I'm learning a lot as I go on and making a lot of mistakes as I go, but I spend a lot of my time looking back at the broadcast after games evaluating how I did and focusing on what I need to change. I know I have a long way to go, but it's been a great experience so far."
When he got the job with the Jackets, one of the first things Wilks did was contact his mentor.
During his days at Geneva, located about 40 miles from Pittsburgh, Wilks got the chance to meet with Frattare and picked his brain on several occasions.
"I've had the privilege to talk to him a few times, and he's given me a ton of advice," Wilks said. "I would ask him one or two questions, and he would go on for an hour just offering me tips and ideas on how to structure a broadcast."
The Red Sox assigned infielder Jon Anderson and pitcher Joe Troilo to the Jackets on Friday, while placing reliever Franklin Francisco on the 15-day disabled list with a sore shoulder and reassigning infielder Mike Gambino to short-season Class A Lowell.
Anderson, who began the season with high-Class A Sarasota, spent the entire 2000 season with the Jackets, batting .240 with no home runs, 35 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 87 games.
Troilo, a right-hander who spent most of the 2000 season with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Red Sox before a late-season promotion to Augusta, began the 2001 season in extended spring training.
Gambino will report to extended spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., and likely will head to Lowell when the New York-Penn League season opens in June.
Starter Luis Perez, who landed in the hospital last week with tonsillitis, rejoined the club on Monday and made his scheduled start Wednesday in Charleston, S.C. Perez (2-0) pitched five shutout innings to get the victory in an 8-1 win over the RiverDogs.
Catcher/outfielder Andrew Riepe hit safely in his first six starts this season before going 0-for-3 in a 2-0 loss to Charleston on Thursday. Riepe is batting .393 in 28 at-bats this season. ... Center fielder Rick Asadoorian, the Red Sox's first-round pick in 1999, belted his first home run of the season in a 5-4 win at Charleston on Friday. ... The Jackets lead the SAL in ERA at 2.26, nearly 40 better than second-place Capital City (2.64).
Former Evans High star Todd Greene signed a Triple-A contract last week with the Columbus Clippers, the New York Yankees' top farm club. Greene, who was released by the Anaheim Angels in March 2000 after seven seasons with the organization, batted .235 in 85 at-bats with the Jays in 2000, but was not offered a contract for 2001.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org