Faces of the Trop:Bill Wertz

Periodically I will try to bring you the story of some of the people you may or may not get to see on your visits to Tropicana Field. These stories will be called "Faces of the Trop" and will include behind the scenes stories of those who make game day at Tropicana Field what it is.

The first Face of the Trop I'd like to introduce you to is that of Bill Wertz. If you've had the pleasure of eating in the Rays' media dining room over the past ten years, you've most likely had the pleasure of meeting Bill Wertz. He's the first face you see and the gentleman you pay your eight dollars to when entering the media dining area. Bill is one of the people I'm always most excited to see whenever I'm heading out to cover a Rays game, and I'm not the only one. When I mentioned this story to "Dukes" who runs the Rays press box the first words out of his mouth were "Bill is a great man."  Tommy Gilbert who works for the Tampa Bay Lightning and covers the Rays for the Metro News Services said "Bill is polite to everyone he meets and treats every member of the home and opposing team's media with the utmost respect.  Bill really loves and knows the game of baseball."

After his time as a student at Syracuse Bill said he "drove south until he found a job as a DJ." That job his first in broadcasting landed Bill in Anniston, Alabama where he worked as a DJ until moving on to WQXT in Atlanta where we worked overnights. Finally Bill returned to his home town of Binghamton New York, and eventually back to Syracuse for WOLF. While at WOLF Bill switched his focus from being a DJ to radio sales. In 1976 Bill moved to Florida and continued in radio sales for Y95.  Eventually Bill rose to national sales manager at 96.1 in Tampa where he remained until being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. Bill's multiple sclerosis made it impossible to travel as much as he needed to and Bill was forced to retire.

When Rays Vice President of communications Rick Vaughn was hired by the Rays he was advised by Washington Nationals post game host Phil Wood to find Bill Wertz and get him involved with the Rays. A longtime friend of Bill's Phil knew about Bill's passion for and knowledge of the game of baseball. A couple years later Bill and Rick met at the Rays annual fanfest. Bill said to Rick, "excuse me but I think you know a friend of mine, Phil Wood." Rick immediately remembered Phil's advice to make Bill a part of the Rays and before long the season ticket holder was as he is today a huge part of the Rays family.

Not long after starting with the Rays Bill met a man who would become a life long friend who would change Bill's way of life forever. Before Dukes ran the press box at Tropicana Field it was handled by a man named Gerry Ramsberger who Bill calls "one of the greatest men he has ever met."  Bill used to travel to Tropicana Field in a station wagon which was ill equipped for Bill's wheelchair and difficult to get in and out of. When Gerry Ramsberger saw what Bill had to go through he decided something had to be done. Gerry approached Bill and asked if  Bill would be ok with it if  he would  try to raise money for a van with a lift. Bill gratefully accepted and Gerry sprung into action putting up a sign in the press box asking for donations to help with a new van for Bill.  With the help of major league baseball and many others Gerry was able to raise enough money to get Bill a new van with a lift for his wheelchair, but also a new motorized wheelchair which Gerry presented to Bill in center field one day in 2005.

Because he collects disability, Bill can not technically work for the Rays so his "job" collecting money from those who enter the media dining room is actually as a volunteer. But as Rick Vaughn said to me, Bill is in paradise when at Tropicana Field and he'd gladly pay the Rays to do what he has done at Tropicana field for 10 years now. But Bill doesn't have to pay the Rays, and although they don't pay Bill, he is as big a part of the Rays as anyone you'll meet at Tropicana Field.

There is a level of passion I believe can not be surpassed. It is matched by some, but surpassed by none.  Men who have inspired me to become a broadcaster like Harry Kalas, Dick Vitale, John Madden, and Chris Berman display this level of passion. You don't just hear it in there voice, but you see it in their eyes. It's a passion that you can feel just by talking to them or hearing them talk. Bill Wertz has that kind of passion. And Bill Wertz is as knowledgeable  a baseball guy as you will find in Tropicana field. He knows the game as well as any reporter, broadcaster or player in the building.  Every game around the fourth inning you'll find Bill in his seat at the end of the press box watching the game and hoping for another Rays victory. Not only does Bill know baseball as well as anyone in the building, but he cares as much as any player or coach in the clubhouse. Bill has a lot of great memories from his years at the Trop including meeting broadcasting legends like Ernie Harwell and Milo Hamilton. Bill remembers talking with Harwell about their time in Atlanta and telling Milo Hamilton that his call of Hank Aaron's record breaking home run was his favorite call of all time. But like many Rays fans Bill's greatest memories from Tropicana Field are from the Rays 2008 run to the World Series.

Bill will always feel at home at Tropicana Field and he says he'll never stop volunteering because he'd just be watching the games on television or listening on the radio "so why not be there if you can."  As I sat and talked with Bill about this story the one thing that was blatantly obvious was how happy everyone who entered the media dining room was to see Bill. Every person who walks through the door says hello to Bill as if they couldn't wait to see him that day. You may never have the pleasure to meet Bill Wertz, but if you do take the time to listen to any story he'll tell you. Because the man is as knowledgeable and passionate about baseball and life as anyone you'll ever meet.

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