Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

(Photo by Bob Socci)

  • One of my favorite times in the daily routine of my former life in baseball was the late-afternoon hour I got to hang around the batting cage. 

    It was true as a college intern with the Cincinnati Reds, marveling at the National League’s biggest stars and best five-o’clock hitters rocketing balls into Riverfront Stadium’s upper reaches.

    It remained so as a minor league announcer, enjoying the soundtrack of knocks and pops mixed with players razzing and b.s.’ing with one another, which made much of the music blaring from ballpark speakers bearable (I heard a lot of Nickelback back then).

    And it was no different on Friday, when I showed up to Fenway Park for the last round of Red Sox taking their cuts, including the first by first-round pick Kyle Teel. 

    While the Cora brothers, Alex managing for Boston and Joey coaching for New York, reunited; Francisco Lindor, the highly-paid, underachieving shortstop for the highly-paid, underachieving Mets, signed autographs; and WBZ’s Dan Roche, who loves baseball as deeply as anyone I know, Charlie Hustled his way around the cage (as always) to capture it all.

    A night of revisiting my roots as a sports fan and wannabe broadcaster was off to the start I envisioned when I decided to attend the Mets-Sox series opener. It was a chance to be a little kid again in a small man’s body for one last ballgame before bearing down the next six months on the Patriots and the NFL.

    Among the million reasons I am where I am, doing what I do, are the sights and sounds that lit my childhood imagination. The first were projected by WOR-TV out of New York. Then came WSBK TV-38, delivering them into our Central New York home by way of Auburn Cablevision. 

    Whether Tom Seaver was on the mound or Yaz was in the box, with Bob Murphy or Ned Martin at the mic, I was hooked. Hearing their voices in my head right now, I still get chills. Mercy!

    By kindergarten, I wore a flannel Seaver replica uniform everywhere, including Falcon Park, home of the local New York-Penn League affiliate. Most memorably, my pinstriped appearance caught the attention of a famous father in town to watch his son play for the visiting Pirates’ affiliate; Yogi Berra flashed a big smile and gave me his autograph. 

    About the time I grew into a boys’ large, our family visited cousins in Maine. That’s where I got two new jerseys: white and grey, home and away, pullovers with necklines piped by red and blue stripes, one reading “RED SOX” and the other bearing “BOSTON.”

  • Batting practice

    As Boston’s first-round draft pick Kyle Teel took batting practice, Francisco Lindor signed autographs and the Cora brothers reunited. (Photos by Bob Socci)

    Wearing all of the above, I copied Seaver’s drop-and-drive motion, making sure dirt dotted my right knee, and Yaz’s pre-Hriniak batting stance; hands high, bat pointing straight to the sky. At the same time, I mimicked Murphy and Martin in Oklahoma twang and Virginia drawl.

    Every other sport and many more broadcasters entered my consciousness and captivated my ear.

    After beginning my own career, dreaming of joining them someday, many generously lent their own ears; gifting constructive criticism and invaluable encouragement. A few of them were in the booths on Friday.

    Unfortunately, about an hour into their broadcasts, they had to deal with one of the things I used to dread most: a rain delay. This one, as you know, led to a suspension and a game and a half to be finished on Saturday.

    It was a rude interruption to a wonderful experience. Well, wonderful, with exception of the Green Line ride to get to the Green Monster.

    Boarding the lead car at Park Street Station, I slipped past the driver and wriggled behind two Mets fans. I was face to the back of a blue-and-orange behemoth large enough to dwarf New York’s “Big Problem,” Daniel Vogelbach. My eyes were level with the bottom of his shoulder blades as the hot, crammed car crawled toward Kenmore at a pre-pitch clock pace. 

    Thankfully, once Kutter Crawford delivered ball one to Brandon Nimmo at 7:13 p.m., the paced picked up (thank you, Theo!). Even better, a decade after I last filled out a scorecard before a Pawtucket Red Sox broadcast, I knew instantly that a grounder deflected by the pitcher to the shortstop, leading to a putout by the first baseman, goes down as a “1-6-3.” And right away, remembered to put an “RBI” dot in the box when Justin Turner’s “6-3” bouncer put Boston ahead, 1-0. 

    Over the next couple of innings, Crawford lost his groove as the Mets’ Kodai Senga found his. New York fans chanted: “Let’s Go Mets!” Red Sox fans rebutted: “Boo!” All of them echoed in agreement: “Yankees Suck!” Yu Chang lofted a “wall ball” double (I write with hat tipped to the great Joe Castiglione) to make it 3-0. But then Nimmo and Vogelbach blasted two-run homers.

    The Sox, down 4-3, had a big problem. Then we all did.

  • Socci

    Rain interrupted a return to a broadcaster’s roots, though the evening left him excited to get back to the future. (Photos by Bob Socci)

    The rains came and I went for a walk amid the masses seeking cover beneath the press level; on the concourse, up narrow stairwells and along catwalks; and under stands, in and out of nooks and crannies fitted with concession and souvenir kiosks. Seeing kids in “DEVERS” and “ALONSO” jerseys sparked flashbacks to a little boy in his flannel “41” and double-knit replicas of the shirts he saw Rico and “The Rooster” wear. 

    Eventually, as many began exiting with little hope of play resuming, I foolishly followed them through the Park’s portals onto Jersey Street. The rain was relatively light. Not halfway to the next corner, the sky opened up. 

    Stuck behind a slow moving flow of people, puddles collecting at our feet, I ducked into a nearby watering hole to get out of the downpour. Thoroughly soaked, I hung by the bar to watch the opening World Cup soccer match.

    I ended up next to another hefty and hearty Mets fan. Noting my sad, soaked state, he grabbed the bartender’s attention and bought me a beer (Let’s go Mets!).

    Then I bought a t-shirt. I brought it (and my glass) into the restroom for a quick change. Inside the door a line of topless guys laughingly held their shirts under the automatic hand dryer. Luckily, a stall was left vacant.

    I walked out in my new shirt, my button-down balled up in my hand like a wet wash cloth, to Sophia Smith scoring the first goal for Team USA. Cheers rang out. Again, Mets and Sox faithful found commonality. 

    The game next door was about to be officially suspended. Resumed on Saturday, it was won by New York, 5-4. The Sox later gained a split by beating another highly-paid, underachieving Met, Max Scherzer, 8-6. 

    Glass emptied, I ventured back out, holding my absorbent button-down overhead for cover. A brisk walk turned into a light jog, sloshing around the corner of Comm Ave to Kenmore Station. Like toothpaste going back into the tube, people squeezed down the stairwell to the turnstiles. 

    Back aboard the Green Line, headed toward Park Street, I was sandwiched between more Mets fans: one in a “deGROM” jersey, the other in a “HARVEY” shirt. A perfect commentary, I thought, on the Amazins’ post-Seaver, post-Doc Gooden history of ‘franchise’ pitchers and unfulfilled potential.   

    After switching to the Red Line, one stop remained before reaching my car. At North Quincy, someone stepped onto the subway car, shaking hands with a friend who was stepping off. As the doors closed, he turned my way and recognized the radio face of the voice he hears on football Sundays. 

    A big Pats fan and avid listener of ‘The Hub,’ he and I had a brief but very pleasant chat before pulling into Wollaston. We shook hands, I thanked him for listening and we wished each other a good night. 

    Into and out of the rain again, I made it to my car and drove away. Wet as I was, and though disappointed I got to keep score of just 22 of the 54 scheduled outs, going back to the ballpark gave me much to think about going forward. 

    Glimpsing what it’s like to go without a reserved parking space and leaving a seat in the press box to relive the reality I knew before getting to do what I do for a living aren’t just reminders of how good I have it; but why I have it. And why it should never be taken for granted.

    Baseball season for me is about over. Football is about to begin. I can’t wait.


    A Yogi Berra autograph from Falcon Park and a ticket stub from a first visit to Fenway Park. (Photos by Bob Socci)

    Bob Socci, former voice of the Mets (Norfolk Tides) and Red Sox (Pawtucket) Triple-A affiliates, begins his 11th season calling play-by-play on the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci and on Instagram/Threads @bob.socci.

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