It could have been the best baritone choir in the world.
Instead, what brought hundreds of professional voices out to Fenway Park on a cold Saturday morning in January was the chance to bounce their own sound off of the hallowed grounds and maybe, just maybe, be deemed worthy enough to take on the public address job full time.
When originally scripted, the weekend deemed Winterfest by the Red Sox was meant to be a family-friendly gathering to coincide with the general availability of 2013 tickets. Somewhere along the way, though, the event expanded to include one more idea: a public, open audition for the new PA announcer at Fenway Park.
So I just had to give it a shot.
Last spring, the Red Sox suddenly lost a member of the Fenway family when Carl Beane, PA announcer at Fenway since 2003, had a heart attack while driving. It was a loss for baseball fans who had come to know Beane’s distinctive voice as it echoed across the neighborhood. Out of respect, the Sox went an entire game with a silent PA to remember Beane, and then didn’t rush to make a full-time replacement, instead using local radio and venue veterans to ‘fill the seat’ the rest of the season.
The Sox very easily could have stopped at the invitation-only auditions that were held in the middle of last week, at which 300 people were given the chance to take the position on full-time. But, of course, there is certainly no shortage of those who grew up on Red Sox baseball who would die happy to spend a season in the booth overlooking the hallowed grounds and playing narrator. Maybe it was just for a fan-friendly move, with the dream of maybe finding a Susan Boyle among the bunch, but adding a public, open audition for the gig left open smiles on the hundreds more voices who showed up over the weekend for the chance.
About 30 minutes before the 10 a.m. start time, there was already a decent crowd of about 50 outside the Fenway gate. Almost entirely men, many in suits but some more casual to stay warm, there was plenty of experience among the crowd. One veteran of public address, a gentleman named Paul, told me about the minor league ballparks from New Haven to Bakersfield that he once voiced over. Others talked about past college radio and hockey rink experience. The jackets and resumes were littered with radio call signs, but to any of these people, this gig would be the top line on paper and in memories.
“I’d quit grad school for a chance like this,” one hopeful fan told me.
“Isn’t that the Celtics announcer?” someone near me said as we shuffled into a club level room where we would register and queue. Once inside, the operations team starting getting through the masses as quickly as they could. Everyone of the hundreds would have the same chance: read a one page script over the PA system at Fenway Park.
I wasn’t there long – maybe an hour – before my own number was called, at which point I was shuffled up to the booth where the magic happens. I had been waiting in line with a few of the guys who were also tabbed with me, and we discussed the good will the Sox were earning with the chance they were offering us. Dating back to September 2012, Fenway Park hasn’t exactly been ringing with excitement. Getting a few folks in there like us, even if we were long shots for a job, brought plenty of smiles.
When it was my turn, I walked down the stairs in the booth to the seat, looked down upon the snow covered field and cleared my throat. In a rush, I thought back to the booths of Lowell’s LeLacheur Park and the court of my high school gym that I once lent my own vocal stylings. I pressed the red button and leaned into the mic:
Gooooooood afternoon, everyone.
Welcome to today’s game between the New York Yankees and thhhhhhhhheeeeee BOOSSTTTTTON REDDDD SOXXXX.
It stopped being January, and in an instant, it was a hot day in August. That really was Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz I was beckoning up to the plate. Those were true fans, calling back with whoops and hollers as my voice – me! – bounced “Claaaay Buchholz” off the Green Monster.
It was over in a moment, and I’m doubtful if I’ll ever get that call to say, “Something happened, we need you this evening to man the mic. You’re getting the shot, kid.” But in the depths of this winter, the experience ticked off my favorite question of this time of year: Is it baseball season yet?