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.”
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 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 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!”
“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?”
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