Bill Jensen’s love affair with baseball probably started out just like yours or mine – somebody he loved took him to a game, and he was hooked.
The College World Series (CWS) PA announcer, who is entering his 13th year in that post, was influenced by his two "bachelor uncles," Eli and Frank, who took him to his first game at Omaha Municipal Stadium in 1952 or ’53, when he was six or seven years old.
In that era Omaha was an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, so his first baseball experience was an Omaha Cardinals game, and the stadium was still called Omaha Municipal Stadium. It wouldn’t become known as Rosenblatt Stadium until 1964.
For Jensen, getting the opportunity to attend a baseball game was a real treat.
"Back in those days, they didn’t have baseball on TV every night so minor league ball was a pretty big attraction," Jensen told me this week in a phone interview. "When you would walk out of Municipal, there would be like six or seven city buses waiting to take people home."
His uncles gently tried to persuade him to become a Cardinals fan and he even remembers wearing an Omaha Cardinals t-shirt he got from Phillips Department Store (a South Omaha landmark), but through the influence of a cousin, he became partial to the Milwaukee Braves.
"His favorite player was Eddie Mathews, mine was Hank Aaron," Jensen said. "In fact, his email address today has the number 57 in it because that was the last year they played together."
Once Jensen had a favorite team, he did what most boys of his era did – he pretended he played for them.
"I had a buddy and we played the 1957 World Series in his driveway with a golf ball sized-Wiffle ball," Jensen said. "He was the Yankees, I was the Braves."
"Well, we played it so many times I lost track."
Jensen represented the Braves well because Milwaukee won the real life World Series in seven games that year. No word on whether he taunted his friend or not.
Long before Jensen became the PA announcer for the CWS, he held various jobs at the Series, including taking tickets, an usher supervisor, a scoreboard operator and he worked security for the Hall of Fame Room at Rosenblatt Stadium, among others. The 66-year-old has been working at the CWS in one capacity or another for 31 years.
"I was kind of a jack of all trades down there," he said.
He has been a jack of all trades for most of his life.
Jensen got into radio in 1967, working for KLIN in Lincoln, Neb. He took a break from radio to serve in the Air Force for four years. After he returned he worked at various radio stations in Nebraska until Omaha mayor Al Veys asked him to serve as an assistant. He did so for three years and then returned to radio, where he eventually landed at KFAB in Omaha. He retired from there last year. He has also been the PA announcer for the Triple-A Omaha Royals, now Storm Chasers, for the past 23 seasons.
In all his years of calling the CWS, he says his first one, 2001, stands out the most in his mind.
"President Bush threw out the first pitch," Jensen said. "I remember vividly going through all of the security with the president there."
Did he have a chance to meet him?
"No, but he was next door in the ESPN booth."
Another event that left an impression on him was when Lou Spry, the longtime CWS scorekeeper, retired last season.
"I worked with Lou as a PA announcer," Jensen said. "But back at Rosenblatt he sat next to Jack Payne [the legendary PA announcer who preceded Jensen and one of Jensen’s idols] and the scoreboard operator, when I was doing that, sat right behind Lou. So I got to know him quite well. He and I and our wives got together for dinner once in a while, so it was an emotional moment for me to say goodbye to him after he did his last game last year."
I asked Jensen to describe a typical day at TD Ameritrade Park and he walked me through an average first or second day of the CWS.
For a 2:00 p.m. game he shows up at 10:00 a.m. to look over the scripts he’ll be reading. Then he attends a production meeting to coordinate the in-house video production which you will see on the big screen in the stadium. After the meeting, he looks over his notes for the first game, he completes his own scorecard (saying it’s easier for him to read) and he looks over the pronunciation guide. Finally, one hour before game time he begins to read public address announcements that are interspersed with videos.
He begins preliminary work for the second game of the day during breaks and then jumps right into full blown preparation as soon as the first game is over.
"Everything is timed down to the second," Jensen said. "So I’ve got to have everything prepared and ready to go."
After the second game, he begins to look through his material for the next day.
So, is there time to enjoy the game?
"You enjoy moments in the game," Jensen said. "But because you are working, at the end of the game, if everything went fine and you didn’t have any problems with what you have to do, then that’s a great game."
He says he won’t need to step away from the microphone though to fully appreciate how much fun he is having.
"You’ve got to have your game on when you are doing this, but that’s part of the fun – doing it as well as you can."
I interviewed Jensen at the 2010 CWS, the last year it was held at Rosenblatt Stadium, and at that time he was hoping to continue as the PA announcer for another ten years. But he’s enjoying it so much now that he’s amended his position.
"I’m going to try to do it as long as I can – as long as my mind and voice hold out, and as long as they still want me," Jensen says now. "I’ve abolished any sort of time limit I set on myself."
His wife, Deanna, has grown accustomed to not seeing her husband for a couple of weeks at this time of year, but she’ll take in a few games with friends and relatives.
After the CWS is over, Jensen will return to his normal life – filling in at KFAB on occasion, calling Storm Chasers games and spending time with his four grandchildren (ages 13, 11, 8 and 5). The three oldest play baseball or softball and he enjoys sitting in his lawn chair next to the field and cheering them on.
"It’s fun to watch them play," Jensen said. "I don’t get to watch much ball as a fan because I’m usually working the game."
In a way, he’s come full circle. Now he’s the one cheering on the next generation, building memories with them that they will be telling their grandchildren some day.