If you were to call Ronnie Wald the Vin Scully of high school baseball, he’d be flattered.
Wald has found his calling as a play-by-play man doing high school and junior college football, basketball and baseball. Those affiliated with West Ranch High know Wald well, as he has called all 28 Wildcat games this season, plus 16 other fall and winter ball games. West Ranch was scheduled to play at Foothill in the first-round of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division I playoffs on Thursday.
This is Wald’s sixth season behind the West Ranch mike. Fans know he’s the guy who has a “press box” on a scaffold above the bleachers behind the plate. It’s just him, sitting on a chair at a table, speaking into his microphone and broadcasting the game over the internet, usually on Facebook Live.
“A high school game being broadcast?” West Ranch coach Casey Burrill said. “He’s a topic of conversation. People ask who he is.”
Wald, 59, grew up in the San Fernando Valley and felt spoiled listening to Scully, Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg calling Dodgers, Lakers and Angels games. He went to Cal State Northridge and got a political science degree, but his love was broadcasting, and he later worked as a news reporter for KGIL-AM 1260.
At first, the idea of doing play-by-play scared him. “That was off the radar for me. It was the hardest thing to do,” he said. “I’d rather read a script.”
But he grew to love the drama of a live event. Now, 37 years later, he has done hundreds of games “that feel like hundreds of years,” he joked.
It wasn’t an easy gig. He had to contract with radio stations in which he would pay to broadcast the games, and then he would have to sell his own ads to make money.
Then came the internet and the ability to turn a telephone into a microphone. Suddenly, it was cheaper to broadcast.
What brought him to West Ranch was the Wildcats reaching the sectional semifinals in 2012. Wald had secured the rights from the Southern Section office to broadcast the semifinals and finals, so he called West Ranch’s game.
Ever the hustler, he contacted Burrill about possibly calling more Wildcat games. Burrill was interested but wasn’t sure how to pay for it. Nor was he sure a public high school could afford it. But in 2014, Wald started calling West Ranch games. At first, he only did audio broadcasts because, as Burrill discovered, the CIF charged nothing for audio but $150 for video of regular-season games (playoff games cost $150 for audio and $250 for video, Burrill and Wald said).
There also were some growing pains, Burrill said. Players complained they could hear Wald as they batted. Burrill responded, “Isn’t it a distraction for the other team, too?”
Parents also sometimes objected to Wald describing that their minor sons committed an error, even though Wald would describe it as neutrally as Scully. One time during a road game, a mother didn’t like how her son the pitcher was being described (he was giving up a lot of runs and hits), so Wald stopped, and Burrill decided to have Wald work only home games until the playoffs.
In 2014, Wald called another West Ranch playoff game, at Chaminade. Burrill was still impressed, and it finally became clear the parents liked it, too. The next year, he started calling all the games, and it’s become so popular that Valencia and Saugus also have sought him to call their games.
Wald also dabbles in football, calling El Rancho High games in Pico Rivera, and Bakersfield College basketball games. He’s also worked for Hawaii- and Alaska-based teams that travel here but don’t bring their broadcast personnel. And he’s in talks to broadcast College of the Canyons men’s basketball games next year, he said.
“I found a nice little niche,” he said.