Late last month, Pat Malacaro was announced as the new voice of the Buffalo Bisons. To the team and its fans, however, Malacaro is anything but new. His latest role with the team marks the culmination of a nearly two-decade journey, from batboy to broadcaster.
Malacaro, 34, became the Bisons' primary play-by-play voice after Ben Wagner was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays. Wagner replaced Jerry Howarth, who announced his retirement after 36 seasons behind the microphone. Malacaro, a native of South Buffalo, is in a position he scarcely could have dreamed of when he first became acquainted with the Bisons.
"I remember sitting in the old aluminum bleacher seats in right field, in what is now a party deck," Malacaro said of Coca-Cola Field, which opened in 1988 as Pilot Field. "Sitting out there, running around, my friends were there; 20,000 people always used to be here. At that point, [Buffalo was] hoping to have an MLB team and the Bisons were drawing over 1 million a season. It felt like a Major League park."
Malacaro went from Bisons fan to Bisons employee in 1999.
"My aunt [JoAnn] worked in the front office and I wanted to do something in the summer so that I could buy video games and other random things," he said. "My dad called her up, told her I was looking for a part-time job."
He was hired as a batboy, working as a fill-in in 1999, in the visiting clubhouse in 2000 and in the home clubhouse in 2001-02. During this time, the Bisons were a Cleveland Indians affiliate.
"I had my name on the jersey, it was the coolest thing ever," Malacaro said. "Those last two seasons I was in the Bisons clubhouse with those Indians players. The one guy I think of is [current Los Angeles Dodgers manager] Dave Roberts -- he was a better person than he was a player, just the best guy. He always took the time. We'd be eating postgame meals and having conversations like one of the guys. I'm 16, 17 years old and he'd had a handful of games in the big leagues by then."
As for broadcasting, Malacaro said he "always seemed to gravitate toward it from a young age."
"I've seen some family friends around recently and they told me they always knew I'd be doing this. When I was a kid, I'd do play by play of Wiffle ball games in the backyard. In Buffalo, you had Van Miller doing football, Rick Jeanneret doing hockey and Pete Weber doing baseball -- it covered three seasons with a great announcer. I'd listen to them and want to go down that road."
Pat Malacaro interviews wrestling impresario Eric Bischoff during a Buffalo Bisons game.
He took his first significant steps down that road in 2004 and 2005, when he worked as a Bisons intern. The batboy was now in the press box.
"My family is a big reason why I'm here. My dad would stress that if you want to do this, you have to prepare for it and do it well," said Malacaro, a graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications. "I did an internship in 2004 with [former Bisons and current Cleveland Indians broadcaster] Jim Rosenhaus. That summer, my dad asked me, 'What does Rosie use to record his interviews?' I told him it was a a mini-disc recorder. 'Well, how much is one of those?' Then, with no hesitation, 'Here's $200, go buy one.'
"And my mom, she realized that I better start thinking about sports. It's funny now with all the talk about pace of play, but I remember watching Outside the Lines one Sunday afternoon when I was in college and my mom asks me, 'What do you think about how baseball can shorten its game times?' Little things like that, it was her way of helping me prepare, to get mentally invested and always be ready for a broadcast.'"
In 2006, Malacaro cold-called every team in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League in the hopes of landing a broadcasting job. He found no takers, but the Batavia Muckdogs kept his resume and offered him a job for the 2008 season. After three seasons in Batavia, he returned to the Bisons.
"Since 2011, I've worked the majority of [Bisons] home games and I've been with WGR in Buffalo doing work on Sabres broadcasts," said Malacaro, who describes his broadcasting style as "straightforward, with a dry sense of humor."
"I've always been involved with some type of broadcast, whether it's hockey or baseball, winter or summer."
Over the past seven seasons, Malacaro worked extensively with Wagner.
"Ben was only a few years older than me. He was learning on the fly and I was learning as well. We're more friends than colleagues," he said. "I was so happy for him getting [a job with the Blue Jays], regardless of what it meant for me. He earned it."
Wagner's departure, which didn't become official until the end of March, opened the door for Malacaro to become the Bisons' lead voice. He'll work alongside color man Duke McGuire, a member of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame who began working for the Bisons in 1979.
"I was prepared for this to happen, but at the same time, when it finally came it was just crazy, that all that work was paying off," Malacaro said. "I grew up watching games here in the bleachers. ... It's a big responsibility taking it on because being from here I've known so many season-ticket holders and booster club members for so long, and I don't want to let them down."
Of course, the next step for Malacaro would be to land a Major League job himself.
"I can honestly tell you I haven't thought about that," he said. "Because of how much of a Major League push there was here, this still feels like the big leagues. I reached the goal of working for the team I loved all my life."