Ask a third-grader what he or she wants to be when they grow up, and it’s a near certainty that among the responses will be football player, soccer star or five-star hoops recruit.
Not the case for Casey Roehl, the unofficial voice of the Peninsula Oilers.
Roehl’s rapid rise to his current position behind the mic and soundboard at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai has been nothing less than remarkable. As an incoming sophomore at Indiana University, Roehl’s dulcet tones and phenomenal ability to recall statistics have given him a step up over the competition in the world of broadcast journalism.
“He’s a walking encyclopedia,” said KSRM radio play-by-play man Dan Gensel. “There’s no doubt about that.”
From an early age, Roehl wanted to be the media broadcaster, the guy off the field calling the plays and giving life to the action that the listening audience couldn’t see.
Listing off TV idols Bob Costas, Dan Shulman, Marv Albert, Doc Emrick and Jim Nantz, among others, Roehl could one day add his name to that list.
“I want to be the next (broadcast) guy that kids want to be,” Roehl said.
The 19-year-old journalism major and sports history wunderkind is the voice Peninsula Oilers fans have heard over the loudspeakers at Coral Seymour Memorial Ballpark for the past two summers, thanks in part to Gensel.
Gensel has been grooming Roehl to be the Oilers PA man and to give him a leg up on his career since he offered the 2016 Dimond graduate a position at the Kenai radio station to call Oilers road games and work the mic at home.
Gensel, who likens Roehl to ESPN talk-show host Mike Greenberg, said after meeting Roehl at the 2015 Alaska Schools Activities Association medium- and small-schools state football championships at Dimond’s Alumni Field, they ran into each other several more times over the course of the school year.
At the 2016 ASAA state basketball tournament, Gensel again saw Roehl, who was working with the NFHS Network, a broadcast organization that helps bring high school sports to viewers online.
To his amazement, Gensel noticed Roehl calling his own play-by-play into his phone’s audio recording app, practicing his craft between his working moments. Gensel realized then that KSRM in Kenai needed a talent like that.
“That’s really where we set up his (2016) internship,” Gensel said.
The only problem was the Roehl had already been offered a gig with the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, although the contract has not been signed yet.
Eventually, the pull of a better opportunity with a familiar face was too much to turn down.
“I had him check with his family to make sure it was OK for him to come down and live with us,” Gensel said. “He was going to start living his dream.”
A chat with Roehl in the Kenai park will quickly give the listener an idea of his mind’s vastness. When Anchorage Bucs relief pitcher Tommy Koloski took the mound at Coral Seymour on a recent summer day, Roehl instantly brought up Koloski’s standing among his former high school team’s strikeout list, informing 1140 AM radio duo Gensel and Bob Bird that Kolowski ranked second at South Anchorage in career strikeouts.
And his knowledge isn’t limited strictly to American ventures.
“He can tell you just as much about rugby and cricket as he can about the NFL or NBA,” Gensel said.
Gensel believes the secret to Roehl’s early ascension is in his commitment to his craft, noting that Roehl is often clamoring for more radio work at the Kenai station to help prepare himself for a career ahead.
“He always asks me, ‘What can I do?’,” Gensel said. “He’s dedicated himself to the point of excluding himself from some of the other things that kids his age spend time on. It’s more important for him to research for the next game than it is to go to the movie that night.”
Gensel said he often challenges Roehl’s wit with statistics, and said Roehl has even mastered the art of working the commercial breaks and sponsor reads that truly make up the glue of a radio broadcast.
Roehl’s road to the Oilers job — and beyond, he hopes — began in grade school. While other kids were out on the playground, Roehl had his nose in a book, reading up on the history and legends of sports, and learning up on tidbits like Pete Rose’s plate approach, and how Barry Bonds was a five-tool player.
While Roehl was discussing the 1970’s “Steel Curtain” Pittsburgh Steelers with his kindergarten teacher and brought up a little-known Terry Bradshaw fact with which his teacher was not familiar, he began to realize that he knew more than most adults that grew up with their favorite teams.
Fast forward to senior year of high school, and Roehl found himself in a fourth period Sports Literature class at Dimond High. Roehl said the instructor, Lynx assistant volleyball coach Kristen Melican-Nevala, notified the students of the school’s longtime PA announcer’s retirement, adding that anyone interested in the position should apply quickly.
“She said she directed that to me,” Roehl said. “I said, ‘Really?”
With the PA job for Dimond’s sporting events settled, Roehl flourished with a professional cadence and style that had people taking notice. Eventually, Roehl was asked to be a sideline reporter for the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network at the large-schools state football championships game between Chugiak and West Anchorage in October 2016.
Roehl gives Gensel the lion’s share of credit for helping him realize his dream.
“He’s taught me 10 times more than all five of my professors in college have taught me,” Roehl said. “Just seeing how much he knows and how much experience he has, he’s the most professional and hard-working broadcaster I’ve known.”
Roehl’s resume has expanded tremendously, making a name for himself on the airwaves by calling a nine-game stretch of Oilers road games this summer on his own, which he said could expand to a full summer of games with the organization in 2018.
Roehl said his first official day of work with KSRM, which officially began June 6, 2016, had him waking up at 5 a.m. in a tizzy.
“I couldn’t tell if I was just tired or in a state of exhilaration,” Roehl said. “That’s when I knew I had something special going on.”
Roehl said he has several potential job offers to work for minor league baseball teams in the Lower 48, but added that the Oilers organization stands out as one that treats him like a professional, even while retaining the fresh-faced look of a high school novice.
“I like how the fans show up here, I like how people actually listen,” he said. “As long as I have an employer that is willing to compensate me for my services and really show that they value my work, I’ll always have a spot for them.”
He added that his growth and maturity in his chosen field has surpassed most of what his initial hopes and dreams were set on.
“If I hear my own clips that I recorded from third grade, I wouldn’t be able to listen to them for two seconds,” Roehl said. “I’d have to erase them.”
But even Roehl admits that the best may be yet to come for him, capping a conversation with a clever analogy to a certain New York Yankees ace that pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.