HOUSTON -- They came from different walks of life. There were a couple of teachers, a consultant, a youngster fresh out of college and the public address announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters. All were chasing the same dream.
The first group of five contestants in the Astros' "You Make The Call" contest to find a radio apprentice for the 2013 season took its turn interviewing players prior to Friday's game at Minute Maid Park. Five more aspiring broadcasters will be on hand Saturday, hoping to be one of four finalists.
The winner gets a paid role on the Astros' radio broadcast team next year, doing pregame and postgame interviews as well as some in-game work during home games.
Taking their turn Friday were Roger Smith of Sugar Land, Texas; Alex Del Barrio of Mission, Texas; Jake Atkinson of Spring, Texas; and John Buri and Meagen Daly Fenske of Houston. Each performed a brief interview, which will be posted online to give fans the chance to help vote on which aspiring announcer should advance.
"I'm thrilled," said Fenske, a seventh-grade Texas history teacher. "I'm so grateful for the opportunity. It's been my dream to be the first female radio voice of the Astros, so this is an incredible opportunity to have this contest."
From the group of 10 that will be conducting interviews this weekend, a panel of judges and the fans will decide on the four semifinalists. Each of the four semifinalists will then make a live, on-air appearance during an Astros game between Aug. 30-Sept. 2.
Two finalists will take part in the Sept. 13-14 broadcasts, serving in a variety of roles. Fans and the panel of judges will vote on the performance of the two finalists between Sept. 16-24.
Del Barrio came with plenty of experience behind a microphone, having spent the last year serving as the public address announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters. Still, he was anxious.
"I've been in the business for a while," he said. "It's not the interview that's going to bother me, it's just being here that's a little different."
Del Barrio was working in sports information at the University of Texas-Pan American in south Texas when he sent out a demo tape hoping to land a job. The Globetrotters called, and he's been trotting the globe since, traveling with the team to China, Canada and Europe during a 140-game tour this year.
But he said listening to Astros baseball is where it started for him.
"I remember listening to the radio with Milo [Hamilton] and Alan Ashby and watching on TV back when Bill Worrell was doing the games with Bill Brown," he said. "It would be great to be a part of the reboot of the organization."
Del Barrio interviewed Astros pitcher Lucas Harrell.
"He seemed like he knew what he was talking about," Harrell said. "He had researched the facts. He had his information together and had a game plan, so that was nice."
Atkinson is only a week removed from graduating from Texas A&M University, where he hosted a radio show for three years. His assignment Friday was interviewing Astros relief pitcher Chuckie Fick.
"Hopefully I'll just get some good soundbites from him and get to know him on a personal level," he said. "Have him do more talking than me."
Smith, who has been a special education teacher for five years in the Houston area, said he was more nervous in the initial audition than he was awaiting to interview outfielder Justin Maxwell.
"It was kind of an American Idol format, waiting in a long line and looking at the bright lights and all those judges looking at you," Smith said. "I used to work in media in small markets, and I did TV news and sports, but I always had the itch to do events live. I'm just thankful they came up with this contest."
Buri is a consultant and does plenty of talking in his job, so he felt in his element.
"I'm excited about interviewing some young talent the Astros have," he said. "I get a chance to interview Mickey Storey, who just came up a couple of weeks ago. He's got a young family and a young career, and it would be neat to hear what he thinks about making the big leagues."
One of the contestants will know that feeling soon enough.