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Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Fan's Tribute to Don Orsillo

Baseball, particularly when you're a Red Sox fan, is a fascinating look into human emotion.

I remember feeling like I'd never know sadness again when a plucky group of "Idiots" led by Papi, Pedro, Curt, and Manny told the world that a three game deficit against the hated Yankees was not a death blow, but merely the first act of one of the finest playoff series in baseball. Game 4, we saw Ortiz blast a ball into the bullpen in right field, giving us at least one more day to fight. In Game 5, he did it again, though this time he only needed to bloop a single into right field. In Game 6, a sweet sense of justice as the commanding hand of the umpires at Yankee Stadium told Alex Rodriguez he was out because of a gross interference with Bronson Arroyo's leather. (It only got sweeter when furious Yankee fans starting raining trash down onto the sacred ground of the Cathedral.) And in Game 7, the final act, the pure joy, as David Ortiz, then Johnny Damon, then Damon again, then Bellhorn all sent baseballs sailing into a crowd of 57,000 shellshocked New Yorkers one after the other, and then finally mobbing the field as American League Champions as our pinstripe-clad adversaries could only watch. It only got better at Busch Stadium when that final Edgar Renteria chopper was smacked into Keith Foulke's glove and lightly tossed to Doug Mientkiewicz-the erasing of 86 years of ghosts and tears and angst. It's been 11 years and 2 more World Series Championships later but neither 2007 nor 2013 will put the same joy in my heart until my dying day.

Seven years later, I remember thinking no sports defeat would ever feel worse than when in 2010 my hockey team, the Boston Bruins, did the reverse of what the Red Sox did in 2004-go up 3 games to none only to cough it up to the Philadelphia Flyers. I thought I knew numbness and shock then. I was wrong. Watching the Red Sox from a dingy little pub in Washington D.C., I saw Robert Andino smack a ball into left field towards our supposed-to-be-star LF Carl Crawford...Crawford didn't make the play. He threw out was recorded. Orioles win. Red Sox lose.

And it got worse. The bartender quickly switched to the Rays-Yankees game in Tampa. Evan Longoria gets a ball right down the middle just in time to...


My eyes widened in horror...A deep line, please...

Home Run.
Rays win.
Red Sox are out.
Baltimoreans celebrating like they've just won the World Series.
The Yankees, because of course they did, decided to put it in neutral and watch idly as the Rays came back and won after being down 7-0.

The bartender looked at me for a couple seconds. Hands over my mouth, eyes wide with horror, I looked over for a fraction of a second to see a "That poor bastard..." look on his face.

It's been nearly five years since that day, and there is a new reason to feel saddened and angered because of the Red Sox. And weirdly enough, it has nothing to do with the team floundering in last. Sure, it sucks, but even in last there are bright spots on the horizon with Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, and our beloved old guard in Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz to give the young guys mentoring. Maybe not next year, sure, but it shouldn't be long down the road.

The sadness in my heart has nothing to do with the on-field performance. It comes from a place where I never thought there would be sadness...that booth standing above the field where the press sits.

Don Orsillo is not coming back next year to call the Red Sox on New England Sports Network. We won't hear "And it is GONE! The Red Sox walk off with a win!" after this season. Nor will we cheer as Don exclaims "Strike three, A-Rod down by way of the K!" again.

I started following the Red Sox around 2002, when I was 10. At that age, I also wanted to be, you guessed it, a sports announcer. Sure, I didn't really know back then what it was like to be in the booth, or to call an exciting play, or to even have a microphone in front of me.

What I did know, though, was that I lived for 7:05. Back then, baseball wasn't just my favorite sport, it was damn close to being the only sport I followed. That cheesy guitar riff introducing the Red Sox every evening at Fenway. The scenes of the city I lived just outside and still considered home. The views of Fenway Park and wishing I was there. And last, but not least, "Hi everybody, I'm Don Orsillo! With me is Jerry Remy, coming to you from Fenway Park where the Red Sox are set to take on the..."

Ah, beautiful. Time to sit on the couch and stretch out. Let's play ball.

I moved to Washington D.C. for college and still live there today. I watch a lot less baseball, unfortunately, but I still caught highlights on when I can, and hearing Orsillo and Remy was a slice of home-and much of that had to do with their distinct accents. Simpler days, as cliche as that might sound.

And that's not something that the next generation will be able to enjoy. This might be the worst part of all-love of the Sox isn't just about the guys on the field. It's those little details-the smells of Fenway Park, the sound system blaring "Dirty Water" after every win at home, and the voices of the guys calling the game. Orsillo and Remy are more than just two broadcasters-they're part of our Red Sox family. They're hilarious, know the game inside and out. They manage to walk that line of being Red Sox fans (Orsillo grew up in Melrose, Remy played second base for the Sox) but still being very fair to the opponent when they play well. Perhaps most notably, they are hilarious when the result on the field isn't all that exciting. From the hilarious and ridiculous "Here Comes the Pizza" incident, to the handsy fan in the bleachers, to press box dentistry, to a debate on Remy's accent (many more laughs in the suggested videos) the chemistry of Don and Jerry is second to none, and something I'll miss dearly-it's just not going to be the same without their antics and that wheezy laugh of his. To Red Sox fans, Don is that beloved uncle who is just as much a part of the team as Ortiz or Pedroia.

To anyone at NESN who may stumble across this: as Red Sox fans, this is a tragedy, a completely unnecessary move, the exact opposite of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!".  Our beloved play-by-play man leaving when he easily has many more years in the tank (Orsillo's 46, while the legendary voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully, by comparison, is 87) is a terrible idea and the last thing that will reignite the passion that unites us all as fans. Red Sox fans love Orsillo. Everyone I know speaks glowingly of him, and there are 60,000+ signatures on a petition to keep him in the booth. There is still time to reverse this decision, I highly recommend you consider it.

If anyone deserves a proper send-off when the time comes, it's Don Orsillo. I understand that all good things come to an end and that he can't call Sox games forever. But he has earned the right to leave on his own terms and when he is ready. If we, the fans, get our wish and he stays with us, he deserves his day on the field to meet with the players he's brought to all of our TV sets for so many years and receive accolades from them. More than anything he deserves to face a packed house of 38,000 cheering Red Sox fans and salute the people he's given so much. A loud, long "DON OR-SILL-O" chant would be fantastic too.

In Boston, we remember those who have done us good. When Orlando Cabrera came back to Boston in a gray and red Anaheim Angels jersey, he repeatedly got cheers when he came to bat for his role in the 2004 World Series run. Dave Roberts, a nobody for most other teams, is just as much a legend as David Ortiz. Nomar Garciaparra came back in green and gold A's gear and got a long ovation before setting into his trademark routine of adjusting his batting gloves. Orsillo deserves all that and more.

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