In 2009, a Roanoke-based radio deejay named Travis Jenkins was looking to pick up some additional employment. He had a business degree and experience in the field of marketing and promotions and thought that this background might make him a good candidate to find employment with the nearby Salem Red Sox.
And why not? After all, Opening Day was right around the corner.
"I found the director of media [Dave Cawley] and shot him an email, asking 'Can I help?'" recalled Jenkins. "He wrote back and said that they were looking for a PA guy if I was interested. I came in, had a short interview and was hired on the spot. I thought he was crazy."
Jenkins laughs when he tells this story, but there was good reason to think that Cawley was crazy. Jenkins is legally blind -- not the kind of handicap that seems compatible with a job that requires close supervision of a professional sports event on a nightly basis. But Cawley was unfazed.
"His resume was really good and he interviewed really well, but to be completely honest, I didn't know that he was as quite as blind as he is," said Cawley, with a laugh. "But he showed up and, really, from Day One, went above and beyond what was expected."
Indeed, he has. In fact, when Cawley made that statement he was sitting next to Jenkins at Boston's Logan International Airport. The two co-workers (and now, friends) were preparing to fly back to Virginia after experiencing a most significant professional first: on Tuesday, Jenkins served as the public address announcer for that evening's contest between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park.
Learning the ropes
Before he made it to Fenway, Jenkins had to prove that he could do his job within the Carolina League confines of Salem's LewisGale Field.
"I was so nervous that first game [in 2009]," Jenkins said. "I'd never done anything like that before, I was used to radio where you're in complete control of everything that's going on... It definitely took some getting used to, but within the first month, I was flying."
It is important to note that, though Jenkins is legally blind, he still retains some vision. Specifically, he suffers from Stargardt disease, which he describes as "a juvenile form of macular degeneration. Basically, I have 20/400 vision in both eyes. It's the worst vision you can have without being blind."
Therefore, Jenkins has created customizable lineup sheets in which each team's starting lineup takes up an entire side of the page. And, as is so often the case in life, he gets by with a little help from his friends. To Jenkins' left during each ballgame is the videoboard operator, and in the last two years this has been a good friend of his, John Addington.
"[Addington] scores the game for me, and after everything that happens, he tells me when to go [on the microphone]. We've worked out a cool system," said Jenkins. "I've definitely said the wrong batter at times, and there have been moments when I've started to say [the next batter] when they were not quite ready. But that happened a bit more in the first couple of years -- the last couple have been really comfortable."
Operating at the highest level
Though certainly not a secret, Jenkins' blindness was not something that anyone with the Salem Red Sox felt the need to make public. His voice is well known to Salem fans, but simply as just that -- a voice. This all changed in the past week, starting with the local media attention he received after it was announced that he would man the mic at Tuesday's game in Boston.
"I've been hearing a lot from people I hadn't seen in several years, and some of them came to the ballpark on Saturday night after they saw the news articles about me," said Jenkins. "The reaction has been great -- Salem's a small town, where everyone knows everyone, and it's really cool the attention this has gotten."
The Fenway invite came as part of a larger initiative that the Boston Red Sox have implemented this season. Following the sudden death of long-time PA announcer Carl Beane in May, the team decided to offer the job on an interim basis to announcers within its Minor League system (in fact, Salem play-by-play man Evan Lepler will get his own opportunity later this month). The Red Sox extended the invitation to Jenkins before knowing of his blindness, and once they found out about it, they asked if he would like to handle PA duties during a scheduled "Disability Awareness" promotion.
Jenkins was happy to oblige.
"I told them that I thought it would be great; if I can inspire one person, then it will have been worthwhile," he said. "The day I found out I'd be doing this, I couldn't think for the rest of the day. I was on cloud nine."
But, soon enough, the jitters kicked in. Working in Fenway would be a long way from the friendly confines of LewisGale, its intimate press box environs replaced by Fenway's control room in which nearly two dozen people work together to bring an intricately scripted evening of Major League game entertainment to life. Fortunately, Jenkins was able to pre-record some of his longer introductory bits, and the team sent him a script ahead of time so that he could memorize portions of it (while also changing its font to one large enough that he could see).
Jenkins says that some of the unfamiliar in-game reads were "nerve-wracking," but adds that "once I got through that, it was so much fun." All in all, it was a night to remember and one that would have seemed unfathomable just a few years ago.
"If you think you can't do something, that's not exactly true," said Jenkins. "You just have to figure out what abilities you do have, and use those to do what you want to do."