Union Leader reporter Paul Feely reads an announcement during Wednesday's invitation-only auditions for the job of Red Sox PA announcer at Fenway Park. The team conducted open auditions on Saturday. (COURTESY)
Making his pitch to become the new Sox PA announcer
How a reporter, whose only experience announcing lineups comes on a volunteer basis during Litchfield Baseball Association games in the spring, found himself sitting in that seat high above home plate is a tale as long and winding as the trip down I-93 to get there. But those two-plus minutes behind the mike are ones I will never forget.
That chair, left empty by the death of public address man Carl Beane in a traffic accident last May, was never filled last season. The Red Sox rotated in a series of guest announcers for each home game, many longtime friends of Beane, who had held the job since 2003. A hiring to fill the job has yet to take place.
The job was conducted by several different people each home game early on, usually Boston radio personalities. Jay McMaster became Fenway's first public address announcer in 1958, staying on through 1966.
It was then that the man known as 'The Voice of Fenway" for generations of Red Sox fans, Sherm Feller, took over in 1967. His words "Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park" would echo off the walls and seats of the Fens like commandments from on high until his death just prior to the 1994 season.
Feller got his start in radio in Manchester - he broke the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor to listeners of WMUR on Dec. 7, 1941 - embarking on a career that would lead him to Lansdowne Street.
If Sherm could go from the Queen City to the crown jewel of major league ballparks, why not a scribe from Litchfield?
Beane held the job for nine seasons, up until the day he died of a heart attack behind the wheel. The loss left a hole in the park's staffing the Sox were in no rush to fill, opting to take time to grieve and address the situation during the offseason.
In the weeks following his death, the team received hundreds of inquiries about the job.
"We had people email, call, even show up at our door expressing interest in it," said John Carter, director of Red Sox promotions.
One of those many emails was mine.
Over the last 20-plus years in the newspaper business, the most frequently asked question I get from interview subjects is, "Why aren't you in radio?" I like to think it's not because I have a good mug for that medium, but because of the deep baritone I was blessed with.
In the weeks after Beane passed away, emails from high school friends, college buddies, and work acquaintances started trickling in. "You really should apply." "Don't waste this chance." "You were meant to do this - and if you do, I want tickets."
For someone whose voice cracked the first time he announced a lineup for his son's youth baseball game, the thought of trying to get through 'Saltalamacchia' in front of 36,000 strangers was nothing less than terrifying. So when Union Leader Sports Editor Vin Sylvia approached me in the hall one day and suggested, unsolicited, that I apply for the job, I laughed it off. But with some encouragement, an email requesting a tryout describing my lifelong love of the team and the park was written and sent, accompanied by a recommendation from Sylvia.
That generated the standard 'Thanks, and we'll be in touch' response, and nothing more. July, August and the rest of the season played out, with different announcers keeping Carl's seat warm every night. I was still watching from coach. 2012 turned to 2013, and all thoughts of a tryout left my head.
Until an email from the Sox arrived in my inbox, requesting my participation in an invitation-only night of auditions for the P.A. job last Wednesday night. The day couldn't come quick enough, and there wasn't enough water in the cooler to keep the pipes hydrated.
Arriving at Fenway, other prospects and I entered through Gate D and took an elevator up to the fifth floor media dining area, where a collection of more than 80 radio and broadcasting professionals were awaiting their moment at the mike.
And then there was me. I can't remember the last time I was in a room where I didn't have the deepest voice, but every time one of these guys opened their mouths it was like a game of vocal limbo - how low can you go? - as they worked their way through practice readings of the prepared script we would be asked to recite.
Red Sox President/Chief Executive Officer Larry Lucchino and Dr. Charles Steinberg, Chief Advisor to Lucchino, worked their way through the room, mingling with the masses en route to a control room. One by one each of us conducted a brief interview with a Red Sox assistant, answering questions about our background, why we were interested in the job. The blank look I got when I described announcing youth baseball games as my only experience in the job infused me with anything but confidence.
Other NH guys
Then it was hurry up and wait. Also waiting to get the call were Manchester guys Charlie Sherman of New Horizons, and former Fisher Cats announcer John Zahr. In my mind I was in my backyard, stepping to the plate, with Sherm announcing, "Now batting, the left fielder, No. 8, Paul Feeee-ll-eeeeee." None of that tonight.
Charlie went first. Ten minutes later he was back, showing off a photo on his phone of him at the mike.
"Most things in sports don't get me anymore," said Sherman. "It's usually been there, done that - but THAT was pretty cool."
Finally, my number was called.
Led into the control room, I waited in line. T.J. Connelly, wearing a name tag "T.J. the DJ," who operates the music board and plays the walk-up music before each hitter comes to bat, showed me the cues he would use to signal when to talk, and the button to hold down while speaking.
"Just lean in to the mike, and let it pick up all of your voice," said Connelly. "And don't ad lib. That's not a good idea."
I sat down in Beane's seat. Time to make the most of the 121 words I had before me. Leaning in, I hit the button and spoke.
"Good evening, and welcome to tonight's game between the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox."
The window in the booth was open. It may have been below zero outside with the wind chill, but as far as I was concerned it was sunny, 85 degrees, and 36,000-plus people cheering out there.
The sound of your own voice echoing around Fenway is hard to describe. There was no delay between speaking the words and hearing them outside, but knowing that was you announcing the players you watch every night was slightly disorienting.
I made it through a promo piece about Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital without messing things up, and then it was on to the lineup.
"Leading off, the center fielder, No. 2, Jacoby Ellllzzzzzberrrryyyyy." "The designated hitter, David Orrr-teeezzzz."
It was over much too soon. On to the next guy, and a promise that I would likely hear if I would be invited back for another round of auditions within a few weeks.
The job is like being an official greeter for the team, welcoming fans into their home for a night. The hardest part is the pregame announcements, and then you coast. Batters each inning, inviting folks to stretch and sing in the seventh, a walkoff hero announcement, and you're done.
No one gets rich at this job. Carter made it very clear up front the pay is $50 bucks a game, nothing more.
"There are no benefits, but there are perks," said Carter.
Like the best seat in the house every home game. Like adding your name to a select roster of Fenway Park voices.
For the money? No way. For love of the game? Absolutely.
I hope the next name I hear called is my own - and Red Sox Nation will hear me welcome them back on Opening Day.