The Boston Red Sox have been woven into the fabric of New England since the team was founded in 1901 as one of the American League’s eight charter franchises. Despite years of futility between World Series titles, millions upon millions of baseball fans have grown up in the area rooting for the Red Sox as a birthright.
Born and raised in Ashland, Massachusetts, a town nearly 30 miles west of Boston, Mike Antonellis was no different. “Red Sox baseball is a way of life. It was a way of life for my grandfather, my dad, and to me. It’s been passed on down,” he said.
Like most young boys, Antonellis dreamed of one day suiting up for his hometown team at Fenway Park. Eventually, he realized what most of us do with our big league aspirations. “I just wanted to be part of it so bad and then I realized obviously at a certain age I couldn’t play,” he said. Instead, Antonellis turned his attention to sports broadcasting and after embarking on a long and winding path finds himself as close to realizing his dream as the players he covers.
Much of the 43-year-old’s life as an adult has been lived behind a microphone or in front of a camera.
While in college at Framingham State, Antonellis interned at a small AM radio station in Milford that broadcast American Legion games. He covered games for two summers while building a demo tape that eventually landed him his first minor league job with the Potomac Cannons of the Carolina League in 1997.
After three seasons in Northern Virginia, Antonellis moved on to the Triple-A Syracuse SkyChiefs as their number two broadcaster for 2001. But the tenuous nature of minor league jobs reared its ugly head as Antonellis was left without a position about a month before the 2002 season was slated to begin.
He landed on his feet quickly, but he had to go back to A-ball and to the middle of the country in Geneva, Illinois to work for the Kane County Cougars. Thinking back on the doubt and uncertainty, Antonellis told Andrew Pogar in a 2013 interview, “I remember driving to Illinois from Syracuse on Easter Sunday just saying what in the world are you doing. I mean I drove there on a Sunday and the season opened on a Thursday.”
The limited preparation time wasn’t the only issue; Antonellis recalls it was tough settling in to his new position. He took over for the very popular Scott Franzke who that year left Kane County to become a studio host of the pre- and post-game shows for the Texas Rangers. Antonellis expanded to Pogar, “It was good for me though. It really kind of–it really helped me build a pretty good exterior for certain things and kind of maybe be aware of other situations.”
Following two seasons at Kane County, Antonellis was hired as the radio voice for the Erie SeaWolves in 2003. The move to the Eastern League returned him to the Northeast and afforded him the opportunity to come through cities closer to his hometown like Norwich, Conn., Manchester, N.H., and Portland, Maine. It also allowed Todd Jamison, then voice of the Portland Sea Dogs, to finally meet Antonellis after years of hearing about him from a mutual friend in the Kane County front office. After the two got to know each other better over the next two seasons, Jamison offered Antonellis the chance to return to his roots in 2005 as a thirty-something intern for him in Portland.
Antonellis accepted the offer and has been there ever since. 2016 will mark his twelfth season with the Sea Dogs, class AA affiliate of the Red Sox. “I’m in a unique position where I’m from that region. I’m two hours away from where I grew up,” Antonellis said. “I grew up going to Maine on vacation. I live on the beach. That’s crazy.”
There are two tracks broadcasters and teams take when it comes to their working agreements. In some cases, it’s the broadcaster’s preference, but more often the team dictates the terms. Some are employees who work year-round in sales or some other capacity; others just call games from April to September. Broadcasters in the Eastern League are evenly divided between the two camps.
Antonellis has been on both sides of the coin in his career, but he now finds himself working just seasonally for the team. He still does some activities for the Sea Dogs in the off-season, such as hosting their annual Hot Stove Dinner, but he’s happy with the part-time arrangement as it frees him up to do other things. In Antonellis’ case, his resume is varied and packed to the gills.
He is the studio host for a local minor league basketball team, the Maine Red Claws. He does play-by-play for men’s and women’s basketball at Southern Maine Community College and the University of New England. He’s also covered men and women’s hockey at UNE as well. Last year was his first season working as the sideline reporter for the University of Massachusetts football broadcasts.
But the highest profile position Antonellis holds, besides with the Sea Dogs, is as the host of a radio show, The Saturday Morning Jab, for four hours once a week. “I didn’t think I would like it as much as I do,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since 2010 and it’s actually gotten very popular. I’ve gotten a lot of people who know who I am through the show than they do as the voice of the Sea Dogs.”
Antonellis’ personality shines through on his broadcasts. He is engaging and enthusiastic with a meticulous attention to detail both on and off the air. Like the best broadcasters often do, Antonellis easily slips into a comfortable cadence and effortless delivery like he’s having a conversation with the listeners each night.
All the experience and years behind a microphone have added up to Antonellis delivering a better baseball broadcast than he did 20, ten, or even five years ago. “I don’t worry about how I call a game anymore,” Antonellis said. “When you’re first learning how to call a game, it’s a thousand miles an hour. You can’t see anything. It’s tunnel vision. I think that’s where I’ve gotten better. I try to paint the picture even more now and bring more color to it.”
“I can see the game different than other people only because I’ve done 3,000 of these. My knowledge and being able to see things is like a Pandora’s Box,” he said. “I can see right away what a pitcher is throwing. I can see routes in the outfield. I can see guys pulling their shoulder out when they swing.”
One of the ways Antonellis gets better every day is by embracing the role of social media and how that changes the way fans consume content. Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and even Snapchat are some of the ways Antonellis interacts and builds a community among the Sea Dogs’ faithful. Fans have really taken to the medium too as the team has the biggest number of followers and likes on Twitter and Facebook of the 12 Eastern League teams.
Antonellis likes to take pictures and shoot videos of places the normal fan isn’t allowed to go like batting practice from behind the cage, the dugouts, his radio booth, and the spring training backfields. “I like that I can bring things to people,” he said. “I think of someone not in baseball because you get used to walking on the field. It’s no big deal to me. When I was younger, I would always want to know what was in centerfield where the Red Sox had this thing that looked like a garage door. If I could have gone out there, I would have loved it.”
“It’s all about relationships.”
Antonellis comes back to this simple statement time and time again when considering most aspects of his career.
He uses the phrase when discussing the bonds he makes with the players, coaches, and staff. One such example is Arnie Beyeler, who served as manager of the Sea Dogs for four seasons between 2007 and 2010. ”He would be in my wedding if I ever were to get married. I love that guy like an uncle,” Antonellis said. He rattles off a long list of names that he considers great friends from current Red Sox trainer Brad Pearson to the Sea Dogs’ bus driver who has been on the job for nine years.
Former Major Leaguer Nate Freiman has become fast friends with Antonellis this season as the contrasting pair (Freiman stands 6’8”, Antonellis considerably shorter) often share seats on the long bus rides around the Eastern League. Although players may not be used to a radio or media person around all the time to the extent Antonellis is, they’ve also learned he has their best interests at heart. It also doesn’t hurt if he gets the seal of approval from those closest to the players. “I think their families listen and if they like me I get the thumbs up,” he said. “It’s like school the first few weeks, feeling everybody out.”
Over the years, Antonellis has also done a great job of cultivating the relationship among all of the Red Sox affiliates up and down the chain. The radio broadcasters regularly talk and exchange notes and reports when a player is promoted from one affiliate level to the next. “I’d like to think I’ve kind of been a catalyst in getting things going because I think it’s important that we all work together,” he said.
That kind of cooperative spirit, affability, and dogged work ethic have built a reputation for Antonellis that has not gone unnoticed.
Last season when NESN had their Major League broadcasters take mandated time off, Triple-A radio broadcaster Josh Maurer replaced Don Orsillo, the Red Sox’ play-by-play announcer, for a week. That led Antonellis to get the call on a brief promotion to Pawtucket for an eight-game road trip through Durham, N.C. and Norfolk, Va. “He’s a wonderful guy and one of most respected broadcasters in the minor leagues whom I’ve come across,” Maurer said to Brendan McGair of The Call, describing Antonellis at the time. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this opportunity. He is so excited for this and that makes me happy.” This past spring the Red Sox also gave Antonellis the chance to call heralded free agent signee David Price’s first start of spring training on MLB.com.
In an industry and chosen profession that is transient in nature, Antonellis doesn’t take anything for granted. He points to the terrific ownership of the Sea Dogs, the rabid fanbase that stretches over the entire state of Maine, and the happy, positive place the team’s ballpark, Hadlock Field, is each day.
“I wouldn’t want to go back to any other job than the one I have,” he said. “If I have to stay in one spot, for me I don’t mind being there at all. I love it, I really do. I’m pretty lucky. Everybody wants more, but to just be able to do this is amazing. You have to have perspective. Not everyone is going to get to the big leagues and I have a pretty good life.”Next post: Trailing 30 – 6/13/16
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