Orsillo goes opposite field to find new home

Revered Red Sox broadcaster resettles with Padres

Orsillo goes opposite field to find new home

SAN DIEGO -- Growing up in pastoral New Hampshire, in the shadow of the White Mountain National Forest, presented Don Orsillo with something akin to an idyllic childhood, save for a few fleeting moments of isolation.

"We were out in the woods," Orsillo said the other day. "I don't want to sound as if I'm dating myself here or anything. We had a television."

Not that it did much good, not when the Red Sox were playing. None of the local channels broadcast games to rural Carroll County. Making matters worse, it was about a three-hour drive to reach Fenway Park.

"So I grew up listening to baseball on the radio," Orsillo said. "I sat in the kitchen and listened to games. For whatever reason, we always had the best reception in the kitchen."

It was in that kitchen where Orsillo's love for baseball grew, hanging on the every word of popular broadcaster Ken Coleman, waiting, probably impatiently, for his favorite player, Dwight Evans, to take his next turn at bat.

This is where Orsillo, hired in September by the Padres to call games on television and radio in 2016, realized what he wanted to do with his life. But it wasn't trying to be the next Dwight Evans.

He wanted to call games for his beloved Red Sox.

"To me ... it was the greatest job in the world," Orsillo said. "First of all, you get to go to every game. And it also seemed like the announcer was everyone's friend. I felt like I knew Ken Coleman, even though I didn't. He was on the background of whatever you and your family were doing that day.

"That's how I fell in love with the job."

Orsillo thanks the fans

The only job Orsillo, 47, ever wanted was the one he had for 15 years, calling Red Sox games on NESN. He was behind the microphone for some of the most iconic and important games in club history with longtime partner Jerry Remy, including the World Series titles of 2004, '07 and again in '13.

But Orsillo was unceremoniously sacked by NESN, with word leaking before the end of the regular season that his contract wouldn't be renewed after 2015. It made for an awkward parting.

It wasn't an ending that Orsillo was prepared for, nor was it one he ever sought.

"I was shocked," Orsillo said during lunch last week, a long fly ball from his new office, Petco Park. "I didn't see it coming at all."

While picking over a panini sandwich last week, Orsillo tried to explain it all: How a kid from New Hampshire got his dream job, had a wild ride, lost that dream job and then found a new one with the Padres.

"I had been through five contracts in the 15 years I was there, and I figured it was more of a formality than anything else ... you reach a certain point where you've done some things as an announcer, and you generally don't leave," Orsillo said.

"The fans have embraced you by then, and you've been a part of the fabric of the organization. I always felt very loyal to the Red Sox and NESN. There were several national jobs that I didn't take because this was the job I wanted."

During the final week of the season, with the Red Sox visiting Yankee Stadium for the last time in 2015, Orsillo was told Yankees manager Joe Girardi wanted to see him.

Girardi proceeded to tell Orsillo a story about how he, an Illinois native, wanted nothing more than to play forever with his beloved Cubs, and that when he was picked by the Rockies from the Cubs in the 1992 Expansion Draft, it crushed him.

"He called it the most devastating thing in his life," Orsillo said. "But then he said, 'What I didn't realize was how good the second half of my life was going to be.'"

Orsillo then paused and smiled.

"Joe told me, 'I want you to know you can do that, too.'"

Orsillo on joining Padres booth

Orsillo wasn't out of work for long. In fact, before the regular season was over, he met in Baltimore with a contingent that included Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler and club president and CEO Mike Dee. Executives from Fox Sports San Diego also met with Orsillo during the two-day meeting.

"I liked his resume, really liked some of the work product I reviewed and, finally, really liked him as a person when I had a chance to meet and talk to him," Fowler said. "[The] bottom line, Don is a consummate professional with his ego in check."

Orsillo sensed very early on how serious the team was about adding him to its broadcast team, not just on radio for this season only, but on television with the riotous Mark Grant for what should be an dynamic pairing.

Orsillo likely will work 100 or so games this season, possibly 60 on television and another 40 on radio, before going to full-time television in 2017 when Dick Enberg steps aside.

"They said all the right things. It just fit. I didn't look beyond the Padres, because they were so great to me," Orsillo said. "I had no other reason to look beyond that conversation.

"They said they wanted me to be their guy for 20 years. I told them I would like to have a semi-long contract. They said, 'How does six years sound?' I told them that sounded good to me. My longest contract in Boston was three years!"

So what can fans expect from Orsillo?

"Don paints a picture of the game that even the casual sports fan can appreciate," said Dave Ramsey, a lifelong Red Sox fan from Hopkinton, Mass. "You can tell that he truly loves what he does and is always giving his best effort."

Ramsey was the one who began the petition for NESN to retain Orsillo that got 63,000 signatures.

Think about that: 63,000 signatures.

Red Sox salute Orsillo

"A lot of other broadcasters you listen to can put you to sleep and make you lose interest in the game by sounding monotone and not adding any personality into the way they call it. Something I love about Don is that he is personable and just seems like a normal guy calling a baseball game," Ramsey said.

For Orsillo, his style was developed long ago, going all the way back to listening to Coleman call games.

"I go back to it being part of the family, having the game be on in the living room; that's where fans feel like they get to know you," Orsillo said. "It's hard for me to explain. Wearability is one of the terms I heard early on. You can't be over the top, you need wearability -- meaning you need to be in someone's house every night and not be annoying."

Orsillo was asked if there was still some hurt regarding NESN's decision to cut its ties with him. That's a tough one to answer, as he wasn't ready to say goodbye. Orsillo received a standing ovation from fans during his final game at Fenway Park, and the crowd chanted his name. He and Remy barely held it together.

During the Red Sox's last game, on the road in Cleveland, a small plane circled over Progressive Field, dragging a banner that simply read: "Red Sox Nation Loves Don Orsillo."

"I still don't know who paid for that," he said.

Banner shows love for Orsillo

After the final out of the final game, Red Sox players and coaches stood in front of the visiting dugout and saluted Orsillo. Clearly moved, Orsillo touched his chest and motioned toward the players. Then he finally spoke.

"Orsillo rounding third, heading for home," he said.

When Orsillo returned to his home in Rhode Island, his future somewhere else at this point, he reflected for a moment. Going through his voicemails, too many to count, he found a long message from Dwight Evans, his boyhood idol.

"He said, 'You got something a lot of us didn't get, and you should feel really good about it,'" Orsillo said. "I didn't really know what he meant. He said, 'You got your name chanted at Fenway Park, you got a standing ovation and a salute goodbye. A lot of us who played for better than 20 years didn't get that.'

"I hadn't thought of it that way. That's pretty cool. That put some closure on it for me. That helped with the whole process of being ready to go."

Now Orsillo can't think of being anywhere else. He said he's recharged by his new gig, his new start. Orsillo has found a house on Coronado, where he lives with his oldest daughter, Sydney, who made the plunge to go West with dad, and his girlfriend.

This, Orsillo said, is starting to feel like home.

"Ron Fowler said to me in Baltimore he hoped I was here 20 years," Orsillo said. "That would be great. That's more than I would have been in Boston. If you could put in 30-plus years in the big leagues, you're eligible for the Hall of Fame.

"Maybe someday I'll go in as a Padre. Wouldn't that be great?"

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.