Ben Youngerman, aka “The Utility Man”

A few years ago, my oldest and best friend from the Internet, Brian Youngerman, started bragging about his nephew, Ben Youngerman.

Hoping to follow in Bob's footsteps
Ben was in high school in Pennsylvania then. He acted in the school plays, sang in the glee club, played baseball and basketball, and got excellent grades as well.

Mind you, every uncle knows his duty is to brag unceasingly about how incredible his nephew or niece is compared with everyone else’s. I know because I brag about Megan, Mike, and Pete. However in my case, I’m right and everyone else is mistaken.

More than once, Brian told me that Ben’s ambition was to become a sports announcer. He attended that great sports broadcasting incubator, Syracuse University, alma mater of Bob Costas, Len Berman, and dozens of other household names.

(I knew a little bit about radio. Emphasis on the “little.” My BA is in Radio-TV-Film and I had a tiny bit of success creating and producing one of the first nationally syndicated technology radio programs for public radio. But I didn't have the fire in me that Ben did.)

During the academic year, he called Syracuse basketball, baseball, and football games. When he wasn't behind the mic, he was singing in the men’s acapella group or entertaining fans during the TV time-outs as Otto the Orange. My Instant Messenger window would pop up and the proud uncle would urge me: “Turn on ESPN NOW!”

AOL IM: “Turn on ESPN NOW!”
During the summers, he served internships to soak up as much experience as he could. Those internships gave way to paid gigs calling A-ball games in Pennsylvania and summer league games in Alaska, doing both the radio and TV play-by-play and pre- and post-game interviews. He even got to sing the National Anthem before some games!

This time the IM windows would have the link to the Internet radio stream from Alaska. He was a bit green, but I could hear the knowledge and passion he got from his father and uncle, and I knew with just a few seasons of polish, he'd be ready for the Show.

As he added lines to an already fat résumé, he learned to juggle, emcee events, and perform stand-up comedy. He's a natural entertainer, and his biggest dilemma is choosing which path to follow.

Along the way, Ben and Brian met Dave Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic. Inside that green pantomime character breathed the heart of a mensch, and several times over the years Dave gave Ben lots of encouragement and some very wise career advice.

In December, their paths crossed again at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings. Ben was there trying to score a couple of minor league residencies and to schmooze. This time, he surprised Dave with a new persona: “The Utility Man”, a jack-of-all-trades shtick as a vendor, groundskeeper, usher, bat boy, umpire, and some unconventional personas including the “The Phantom of the Ballpark.” Dave was surprised and encouraged Ben to call him if he could help.

Dave’s most recent advice was to be confident in his talent and not to sell himself cheaply. It was great, because when you're his age and still unsure of yourself, to get a pat on the back from one of the giants in the field washes away a lot of doubt.

This young man is on the brink of a wonderful and rich career. What shape his nascent career will take is not yet clear, but what is clear that his combination of talent and passion and ambition will take him to the top.


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