Q&A with ESPN’s Ryan Ruocco

Ryan Ruocco has become a household name in sports media since graduating from Fordham in 2008. The WFUV alum hosts a radio show on ESPN New York 98.7FM with media superstar Stephen A. Smith, calls Brooklyn Nets games and hosts This Week in Football on the YES Network. Ruocco has even filled in on national ESPN radio programs such as Mike & Mike in the Morning and the Herd. I talked with Ryan about his start start in sports broadcasting, his work with the Yankees and life at ESPN.

Let’s talk about your time here on the Rose Hill campus, when did you first realize that sports broadcasting was a viable career option for you?

If you look at my 5th grade yearbook it says “be a sports announcer” under my name. There was a moment when I felt a deeper belief in myself than I ever have before; it came when Gary Cohen (Mets announcer) listened to my basketball demo. He was like, “you can do this.” He was incredibly complimentary; it was my first year doing demos. I remember thinking if Gary Cohen thinks about me that way then I really can do this.

Your advisor Bob Ahrens comes from the Glickman school of broadcasting, you won the Glickman Award for outstanding play by play, what did it mean to you to be associated with such a legendary broadcaster?

I have one award displayed in my apartment and that is the one. It means a ton to me because Marty really shaped the medium. All of my foundational beliefs stem from what Marty believed, so to be recognized by respected people in the industry meant a lot to me. I still look at that trophy all the time. I am proud to say I’m from the Marty Glickman School of Broadcasting. Even though I have never met Marty and didn’t grow up listening to Marty, I still follow my style around his basic beliefs.

Most guys who start their broadcasting career go to the Midwest, but you had the idea to stick around here in New York City. You started working for the YES Network and then ESPN Radio, what was it like getting in the thick of things right in the biggest market in the world?

It’s amazing. I was prepared to go anywhere, I always thought that I would have to at first and that was ok with me. I was going to be on air, period. But I built good relationships with people during internships. Actually, the Marty Glickman Award helped me stay in New York in some ways because one of the judges, Pete Silverman, was the executive producer of ESPN Radio at the time. He was one of the judges of the award. He heard me and really liked me, said I had potential and was interested in getting me to do updates. And then I knew Michael Kay from doing stats on the Yankees broadcasts so he was telling ESPN Radio about me because he had heard me do stuff on WFUV.  I’ve always had the mentality that if somebody opens a door for you, you kick it down. You’ve got to work so hard to get that door opened for you, but once you do, if you are good and work hard then they won’t throw you away. I’m fortunate to have been at a place like Fordham where I had access to these people.

You mentioned Michael Kay, one of those guys who opened a door for you, of course a fellow Fordham Ram, what’s it been like having him as a mentor?

Michael’s amazing. He has been a champion of me without having any reason to. I didn’t know Michael, he’s not my dad’s brother, he’s not my godfather but he’s acted like it. Since I’ve been in the booth with him, he’s gone out of his way to tell every executive and anybody in the industry we came across that I was going to be a star. His words, not mine. Michael never needed to do that and the fact that he did, is amazing to me. I will always be indebted to him. I would do anything for him. I feel like I can talk to him about anything. I am totally blessed to have that Fordham brother in my corner.

You’ve been a lifelong Yankees fan. What did it mean to you to work as a statistician for the Yankees and then a scoreboard host at the stadium you grew up watching games?

Ruocco interviewing Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson at Yankee Stadium. Photo courtesy of Ryan Ruocco.

It’s incredible. I think I really feel it most when I see my parents’ reaction to it. My mom always reminds me how we used to say how cool it would be for me to be a ball boy for a game. Now I’m on the field and having conversations with guys like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Nick Swisher. Those are the moments when it really hits me. You don’t always realize it in the heat of the moment but when you see the people around you recognize it, that’s when it hits you. As someone who grew up a diehard Yankees fan, that is something I can always appreciate.

You are a play-by-play guy at heart, what was it like getting the Nets job in your early 20s?

It was pretty cool. At my core, I’m a play-by-play guy. I love calling basketball. During my first game I was nervous, I was like oh my god I’m calling the NBA. John Fillipelli, the president of programming for the YES Network called me before my first game and said no matter what you sound like tonight, you’re going to have more opportunities here. I thought that was such a brilliant touch from an executive with that kind of power. That put me in the perfect place to perform. That eased some of the nerves. Calling the first game in Brooklyn is something that I treasure so much; I have never been more satisfied or elated before. It was amazing. I am lucky and blessed to have experienced this at such an early age.

You’ve gained some national prominence recently for your work with Stephen A. Smith and filling in on Mike & Mike in the Morning, what’s it been like being right in the center of things at ESPN?

Ruocco in action with his partner in crime Stephen A. Smith in the ESPN New York radio studio. Photo courtesy of Ryan Ruocco.

It’s cool man. The Bristol campus is an amazing place. To go there and be recognized by people and be on the radar of ESPN executives is great. It’s cool to be able to share those experiences with people who watch you and know you. I’ve had the chance to work with people like Herm Edwards, Mark Schlereth, Jemele Hill, Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg and build relationships with them. Even Kevin Love, who now follows me on Twitter, which is cool.

Speaking of relationships, you and Stephen A. have quite a dynamic one. Talk to me about the development of this relationship during the time in which you two have worked together

I have hosted with Stephen A for a year and a half now, that’s almost as long as I worked with Lundberg. Stephen is one of the easiest guys to work with. He is one of the most respectful human beings I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s been a great friend and is a superstar.

You’ve accomplished a lot in your career, but you’re still young. What else do you want to do in your broadcasting career?

I want to win an Emmy. I want to expand my national play-by-play slate. I would love for ESPN to look at me like Mike Tirico or Mike Been (Fordham graduate) when it comes to play by play. At the same time I want to continue to do a show with Stephen A and get to number one in the market. I would love to broadcast the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl and the NCAA Tournament one day. I love what I’m doing now and I could do that for the rest of my life but these are some goals that I have for the future.