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Taking the show on the road: Gaffney and Wilson on the air from the ESPN Wide World of Sports studios in Orlando

POSTED October 15, 2012
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson


            ORLANDO –  What a weekend! Tim Gaffney and I took Torrington native and  Manager of Production and Operations at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Mike Colangelo up on his offer to broadcast the LitchfieldCountySports radio show from the ESPN studios at Disney’s Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando.

            It turned out to be as special as we had thought and hoped in every way. Disney with all that if offers in the way of service, entertainment and weather is special in its own right, but to be able to use its facilities, spend some time with Colangelo and experience the ESPN way was beyond our wildest dreams.

            The weekend went by at warp speed. But it was a time to savor and an experience to build on. We thank Mike Colangelo who spent all of Saturday with us, gave his time and advice not to mention drove us around and who extended the invite to do it again. We thank a couple of his employees including Torrington’s Kevin Poniatoski who came in on Saturday to help put on a show for a couple of guys from Connecticut.

 We thank the sponsors, particularly the Warner Theatre and the Carminucci Group who helped us put it together. We thank our guests Thomaston High girls cross country coach Mark Olsen and former Torrington High boys basketball coach Tony Turina for making the show extra special.   

The time went quick, the experience will last. All in all, it was as cool as cool can be. Here’s a little journal of the weekends transpiring’s.     

3 p.m. - Pick up Gaffney at his potato chip parlor, Frito-Lay in Waterbury, and Wilson and Gaffney are off for one long-anticipated weekend. We’re two pumped-up guys; the idea of flying to Disney World for a weekend to do a radio show at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports is pretty surreal to us, a term we will use more than once over the weekend.

            The traffic is mild on a mid-Friday afternoon and we get to Bradley Field in plenty of time for our 5:35 flight. We decide to park in the garage right across from the terminals, our first of several less than sparkling decisions over the next 48 hours. Upon our return we will nearly have to wire Western Union to get our car out of hock. Too excited, should have taken more time. Ah, live and learn.

4:30 p.m. – We go through security and Gaffney’s trip nearly ends there when Homeland Security stops him for having illegal contraband. Okay, nothing dangerous but his bottles of shampoo or suntan lotion or English Leather, whatever he has, are too big and can’t go in his small bag. He has to walk back out and check the bottles into his other luggage. It takes him about half an hour but no sweat with me since it takes me that long to get myself together after basically disrobing. I’d rather be safe and naked than unsafe and dressed.

            A quick stop for a sandwich and cocktail in one of those airport places that charges likes it is Carmen Anthony’s but whose idea of refinement is an extra mustard packet for your turkey sandwich between two slices of dry rye.

6 p.m. -  After a half-hour delay we board our Jet Blue flying fortress and quickly are thrilled to learn that we have Direct TV. Technology can be a great thing. I am proudly sporting my Orioles  retro-jersey for Game 5 and watch intently hoping to send the Yankees home for the year. As the strikeouts mount (are you listening Chris Davis, Adam Jones and JJ Hardy) hope dims. CC Sabathia is too tough and a great year is over for the Birds.  Just get me to Orlando, now.

            By the way, I did almost knock out a passenger carrying my luggage on to the plane. At least that is what Gaffney told me. So, I’m going with it. He wants equal time considering his contraband episode.

9:30 p.m. -  A pretty uneventful flight and before you now it we are in Mickey-land and getting royal treatment. Hey, when the Manager of Broadcast Production and Operations at ESPN Wide World of Sports picks you up (Mike Colangelo), that is royalty. We are staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort and like all things Disney it is well done. Our driver, Michael, helps us check in, and despite some tired eyes we can’t help note the 75 degree temperatures, that Florida smell and vacation feel. Hey, we’re at Disney! The rooms are fine and before a little shut eye, we head to get ourselves a cheeseburger in the confines of the resort. If you wonder why sportswriters are so svelte, well, those old 11 p.m. cheeseburgers will do it for you.

SATURDAY

 

7 a.m. – The old alarm went off early and we were a bit bleary-eyed after our long day, but it didn’t take long for the old adrenalin to start flowing. The show is at 11 and the distinguished Mr. Colangelo is picking us up at 9:00. Time for a little breakfast first and we had back to the old food emporium to grab a quick dietetic breakfast of sausage patties, eggs, bacon and French toast. Not exactly a fruit cup, but we need our energy.

            We are in broadcasting mode, our Litchfield County Sports polo shirts and khakis, but I have to admit there should be a law that you can’t wear long pants at Disney. It is 80 degrees out and visions of Space Mountain dance in your head.

9 a.m. -  The Wide World of Sports facilities at Disney are superb and Mike gives us the full tour. Before the show we walk the outfield at the Atlanta Braves spring training site, Champions Field, and get to view the surplus of fields that are a baseball player’s dream.  Foliage, crisp temperatures and all that goes with a New England fall are a lifetime away in the throes of an idyllic Disney day and place.

            Mike shows us his souped-up golf cart (every big guy should have one) and we head into the studios. Now understand the WAPJ studios where we broadcast from are nice, but this is ESPN and well, for a technology wonk like me, very impressive. The big board is a plethora of screens, with a dizzying bombardment of activity. A couple of technicians for lack of a more professional description have volunteered to come in and do our show on this Saturday. Why? Because they are passionate about what they do. Of course working with the boss is a bit of an incentive.

            One of those technicians is Kevin Poniatoski, son of long-time area umpire and referee R.J. Poniatoski. He is doing one heck of a job, not just an observation from here, but one verified by the boss. He wanted to come in and help out. Kevin is on a year’s intership doing a bunch of different duties and well on his way to a career in the field. Again, that from the boss. Thanks Kevin for the help.

            Our studio is in the other room. Lou Holtz often uses this studio and I am looking for any Notre Dame paraphenelia but don’t find any. We have two high chairs with three computer screens in front of us, spitting out video images, statistics we will use. Normally Tim has a view of me and Water Street in front of him while I have a microphone, Tim and outer office of WAPJ in front of me. This is also being video-taped so there is a camera picking out every awkward movement. Like Gaffney says we have great faces for radio.

            We also have headsets and the distinguished Mr. Colangelo can and will whisper sweet nothings in our ear. Two minutes before we go, we get this beauty – “ Two minutes guys, don’t suck.” Actually Gaffney and I laugh simply because we know we are writers doing radio. Tim is very good and has one of those radio voices. I have a voice, let’s leave it at that. It is also disconcerting looking at yourself as you are on the air. Where did my hair go? Don’t slouch. Stop looking at your watch. You get the picture.

11 a.m. – The show goes well and it helps that Tim and I do it like we do every week. We’re pretty loose, we have a couple of guests lined up, it goes pretty smoothly, at least in our world. Plus we have the teleprompters or whatever they are called with our Litchfieldcountysports website being flashed right in front of us.

            We start off with a little small talk which includes the Yankees win over Baltimore on Friday. Mr. Colangelo is flashing up the Yankee boxscore right in front of me just to remind me. He is a big Yankee fan and had mentioned to me that it was a good thing I had put my Oriole jersey in the suitcase or I would have been walking to Disney.

            Thomaston High girls cross country coach Mark Olsen calls in right on time and is a fine guest as his Bears prepare to add to their amazing story in the next couple of weeks that includes two straight appearances in the New England Regionals. Olsen also talks about his team’s success without a track. It is pretty cool to see Olsen’s coaching resume being shown on the big board at ESPN.

            Former Torrington High boys basketball coach Tony Turina follows and is always a good guest. Tony speaks about his career and about what we are trying to do. He waxes eloquently about Charlie Gunn, Torrington High’s oldest athlete who died recently. Tony also was a neighbor of Mike Colangelo’s and had a story or two to share.

            As usual the hour goes by quicker than an Ali jab. The camera takes a bit of getting used to. Where do you look? Sit up, it makes you look thinner. Are my eyes bloodshot? Oh well.

            A great experience and a feeling of `we did it’ when all was done. Even with people talking in our ears.

12-1:30  - Get a chance to talk a little with Mr. Poniatoski about how the job is going and then Mike takes on a tour of the facilities. Fields and tracks and an arena to die for. A place to eat and drink where they do live shows from. We may never go home again.  Such an impressive facility. Mike also shows us his office which has one of his six very impressive Emmy Awards. I get to hoist it up. Nice to dream. There was also a Dicky `V` bobblehead doll. It wasn’t talking either.

            Also nice to get a number of text messages from both Tim’s and my family in San Diego, Ponte Vedra Beach and back home about how much they enjoyed listening to the show on the computer

1:30 – 5:30 – Time to get back in the shorts so back to the hotel we go and change for a little relaxation at Epcot.  It is Food and Wine month and there is a good crowd there on a beautiful Oct. Saturday. We wander a bit after stopping in England to say hello to a pint. We then go to Mexico with Senor’ Colangelo for a little chips and salsa. Some good business talk and small talk with a guy that is at the top of his profession. Did we say that he has won six Emmys?

            After spending the afternoon with us, Mike bows to family commitments and we can’t thank him enough for the time, opportunity and all that goes with it. He extends the invite for next year and I wouldn’t bet against it.

5:30 On  - Mike leaves and Tim and I decide to head over to the Magic Kingdom for a very short visit. Main Street USA and the castle are decked out in Halloween garb and provide the Disney energy. The events have caught up with us and we make one visit to the Hall of Presidents (Hey look, I’m a history teacher) and stop to buy a shirt and then it is off to Down Town Disney.

            We finally get there after a few bus rides to here, there and everywhere. By now we are going on fumes. We eat at Cap’n Jack’s Restaurant on the water (not the big boat) where Tim inhales a side of pot roast and I suck down a bucket of seafood. We leave, full, broke and happy.

            Unfortunately the night is not over for us. The Caribbean Beach Resort is massive. Big too. We get off the bus and quickly realize we don’t know where our room is. We don’t even know what building it’s in. We start walking, looking for a front desk and we aren’t finding that either. Finally we find a security guard who looks at us like we stayed in the cantina too long and why not. We don’t even know our room number, it is not on the room card. Finally he calls and gets us going in the right direction (he could have offered us a ride, but didn’t. Very unDisneylike). We are about seven buildings away from where we need to be. We pull into our room just happy to be home. It’s lights out pretty soon later.


SUNDAY

 

            The flight is not until 2:55 so we have some time in the morning and get our fruit cup (yeh, right) and relax before the Disney Express picks us up for our ride to the airport. I send one of two more photos home, just to remind them where I am, and it is time to get back to the real world.

            The plane flight again is smooth and Direct TV can’t be beat. A little James Bond, Gaffney watches his Jets and I get to catch part of the Giants. Living with CableVision I have to fly to watch them these days. We mortgage the house to get the car, (never again), and it is off towards home. We kept our shorts on and are glad the temperatures have cooperated.

            I drop Gaffney off at 6:25 and our whirlwind weekend is over. But what a weekend it was. Not to be forgotten. Only to be remembered and built upon.

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