If Omaha Creighton Prep was playing an important baseball game any time in the past seven years, there was one certainty.
About the fourth inning I’d get a call from Barry Silverstein. He’d phone from his home in Arizona for an update on his beloved Junior Jays.
Barry, the public-address announcer at Prep athletic events for 22 years, died Sunday at 67. He retired from his Prep duties in 2011 as his health continued to decline after a long battle with diabetes.
As he said in his thick Brooklyn accent when I interviewed him upon his retirement, “It was time to go.”
Silverstein — aka “The Voice” — arrived at Prep under the unlikeliest circumstances. The New York native found his way to Nebraska and played college baseball at Peru State. After graduation, he served in the Air Force and worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Omaha.
He sought to fulfill a childhood dream of announcing at high school sporting events, taking the first step by having lunch with then-Prep basketball coach Brother Mike Wilmot.
“I told him I’d get the crowd into it and that could be worth a few more wins per year,” Silverstein said in 2011. “He agreed and the rest is history.”
However, nobody had informed Prep Athletic Director Ed Spethman about the new announcer.
“About eight minutes into my first game, he asked who I was and I asked who he was,” Silverstein said. “Ed was kind of shook up a little.”
Despite that rocky beginning, Barry stuck around for more than two decades.
It wasn’t just his voice, of course, that made Silverstein a Prep icon. It was his style, most notably during basketball games.
A player wasn’t just shooting a one-and-one after being fouled. To Barry, that player was “SHOO-TING ONE … (long, long pause) … AND ONE!”
As one opposing coach said after hearing Barry do that the first time, he thought Silverstein had fallen asleep.
At the Creighton basketball game Wednesday night against Seton Hall, public-address announcer Jake Ryan paid homage to Silverstein. When the Bluejays were in the one-and-one for the first time, he paused during the announcement for an extra second or two.
“It was a Prep alum’s idea,” Ryan said. “But I did do that on purpose.”
Barry would have loved that, and he’d have been moved by the way the Prep community has come together the past few days after his passing.
One of Silverstein’s closest friends was Junior Jays basketball coach Josh Luedtke, who had known “The Voice” since his sophomore year at Prep.
“I was 15 then and I’m 46 now,” Luedtke said. “It’s a friendship that I always cherished.”
He said the pair shared a lot of laughs, but the friendship went deeper. He spoke about how important the school was to Barry after Silverstein’s son Benjamin drowned in 1997.
“When Benny died, he leaned pretty heavily on the Prep family,” Luedtke said. “I know the support Barry got here helped him get through a very difficult time.”
Silverstein often said that he was most proud of his 22-year streak of calling every Prep varsity basketball contest. In the final game at the Junior Jays’ old Bird Cage gym in 2009, Barry rented a tuxedo.
Luedtke said he’d give Silverstein some good-natured ribbing over an introduction he once did before a home game between Prep and Westside. Despite the intense rivalry between the schools, Silverstein announced that the two sides should come together and shake hands.
“When he said that, I just kept thinking, ‘What are you talking about?’” Luedtke said. “I gave him a lot of grief over that because, come on, this was Westside we were playing.”
While Luedtke was coaching Prep that night, the Westside coach, Dan Schinzel, was equally appalled at that near-kumbaya moment. Schinzel would go on to become Silverstein’s boss as Prep’s athletic director.
“Between Josh and I, we probably talked to Barry every day,” Schinzel said. “He had an encyclopedic memory of local high school sports, and we used to love asking each other trivia questions.”
After moving to Arizona seven years ago to be with his family, Silverstein still kept up on the athletic events at Prep. Schinzel said Barry’s desire to remain in the know was the only reason Barry eventually figured out Twitter.
Silverstein also announced at the Metro Conference’s holiday tournament, even after leaving the state. But he did not make it back this year as his health deteriorated. Two weeks later, he was gone.
Barry’s daughter called Schinzel on Sunday to inform him of Barry’s death. Schinzel passed along the news to Luedtke.
“Barry had called me a couple of times last weekend and I hadn’t gotten a chance to call him back,” the coach said. “I had to do some soul-searching after that because I’ll never get to talk to him again.”
Luedtke said he struggled Tuesday night during a moment of silence for Silverstein before the Prep-Westside basketball game.
“I had to hold back the tears,” he said. “So many great memories of a great guy.”
For me, those memories drift to baseball and the many games I sat next to Barry at Prep. He was a huge Yankees fan and I love the Royals, so our conversations often centered on those two teams.
If I mentioned how well a certain Royals player was doing, Silverstein would agree. Then he’d usually end our conversation the same way.
“But if that guy is lucky,” he’d say, “someday he’ll be playing for the Yankees.”
Then he’d unleash that high-pitched laugh.
Barry loved Creighton Prep, and there’s no question he impacted many lives there over the years. I recently got a text from a Prep grad who said Silverstein was like a father to many of those Junior Jays.
“He was like a second dad to so many people here,” Luedtke said. “Barry was a huge part of Prep, and we’ll never forget him.”
Silverstein event set for Tuesday
A celebration of life event for Silverstein will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Omaha Creighton Prep.
It will be held in the Sullivan Center commons. Athletic Director Dan Schinzel said people should park in the school’s west lot.
“Barry’s family will be here and I’m sure they’d love to hear a lot of stories,” he said. “And everybody has a story about Barry.”
The funeral for Silverstein is set for Friday in Arizona.