2017-02-16 / Top News

Team broadcasters have seen it all

Florida Weekly Correspondent

Joe Castiglione calls it from the booth. 
COURTESY PHOTO Joe Castiglione calls it from the booth. COURTESY PHOTO Joe Castiglione and Dick Bremer have likely seen more Major League Baseball games and been in more big-league stadiums than any fan alive.

And they don’t pay to get into ballparks from Boston to Minneapolis, from New York to Seattle, from Miami to San Francisco. They’re paid to be in ballparks all season long, all over the country. And sometimes in Canada, as well. It’s their job.

Nice work if you can get it.

Mr. Castiglione has been the radio voice of the Boston Red Sox since 1983, witnessing them win three World Series titles.

His call after the Red Sox won 2004 World Series, their first in 86 years, is arguably one of the best known in baseball broadcasting history.

“Can you believe it?” Mr. Castiglione said as the Red Sox broke what had been called the Curse of the Bambino.

Mr. Bremer is a television broadcaster and started doing Twins’ games in 1983, the same year Mr. Castiglione started with the Red Sox.

Dick Bremer on the microphone. 
COURTESY PHOTO Dick Bremer on the microphone. COURTESY PHOTO Their birthdays are only a day apart. Mr. Bremer turns 61 on March 1 and Mr. Castiglione turns 70 on March 2.

How long ago was 1983, their first seasons with their respective teams?

There were no such things as Google, Facebook and Twitter.

In baseball it was the year of the Pine Tar Incident in Yankee Stadium and the year Joe Mauer, now a veteran first baseman with the Twins, was born. That year Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs, now in the Hall of Fame, led the American League with a .361 batting average.

It was the year playwright Tennessee Williams, singer Karen Carpenter and boxer Jack Dempsey died.

On separate days in January both veteran broadcasters took time to chat with Florida Weekly about their careers and lives.

Ironically, both conversations took place at fantasy baseball camps, a fitting setting because both men’s profession sounds like a fantasy come alive to fans.

Mr. Bremer sat at a picnic table in a breezeway between batting cages and a weight training room at the Twins’ minor-league complex, across the CenturyLink Sports Complex parking lot from Hammond Stadium.

Mr. Bremer spoke about growing up in a very small Minnesota town called Dumont in the 1960s. He has fond boyhood memories of playing pickup baseball in a town too small for an official Little League.

A trip to see the Twins in Metropolitan Stadium was a childhood treat and since 1983 he has traveled the country seeing their games, telling stories, describing games and meeting and getting to know players.

“I would enjoy announcing baseball games for any team but then I’ve been able to do it for the team I grew up following as a little kid has been an unreal joy and pleasure,” Mr. Bremer said.

Mr. Castiglione grew up in Connecticut, a sort of demilitarized zone between Red Sox and Yankee fans. He – gasp! – rooted for the Yankees as a boy.

“We learn from our mistakes,” Mr. Castiglione said.

He spoke to Florida Weekly on an afternoon during Red Sox fantasy camp. He stood next to the JetBlue Park third base dugout during a game between campers and ex-big-leaguers such as Trot Nixon, Oil Can Boyd, Shea Hillenbrand, Mike Timlin and others.

Mr. Castiglione worked as a public addresser announcer, introducing batters as they came to the plate. He also reminisced with the microphone off about growing up a baseball fan and listening to legendary announcers such as the Yankees’ Mel Allen. Mr. Castiglione can still hear and appreciate the way Mr. Allen called ballgames more than half a century ago.

“The enthusiasm of his booming voice,” Mr. Castiglione said. “The smile in his voice. The way he told you about players.”

And then there was Mr. Allen’s signature home run call.

“Going, going, gone,” Mr. Castiglione said, recalling how Mr. Allen called home runs. “I never really had a signature call.”

Mr. Bremer talked at length about growing up in Dumont, which he said had a population of 235 when he was a 9-year-old boy and the 1965 World Series, in which the Twins faced the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“There’s 100 people listed on the census sign now,” said Mr. Bremer, who participated in the Twins’ fantasy camp as a player. “And I know it’s less than that because a friend of mine died a couple of weeks ago.”

He said he attended a one-room schoolhouse.

“We had a total of seven students,” Mr. Bremer said. “It was little house on the prairie but not on the prairie. So come World Series time in 1965, we were hoping that our teacher would let us listen to the games on the radio. But she wouldn’t do that. She wouldn’t let that happen.”

At the time all World Series games were played in the afternoon, even those played on weekdays.

“And so I was left every day to run home from school all the way across town, which took about 30 seconds,” Mr. Bremer said.

In Game 7, Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax, pitching on two days rest, shut out the Twins. It was tough for little Dick Bremer to handle.

“Just crushed,” Mr. Bremer said.

The Twins have won two World Series since Mr. Bremer joined the organization, 1987 and 1991.

The Red Sox famously ended their 86-year title drought in 2004 and have since added two more World Series championships.

Through most of Mr. Castiglione’s time with the Red Sox they have fielded competitive teams. That’s an added bonus to being a Red Sox broadcaster – being around a franchise that usually is in the hunt.

Small market teams don’t have the same opportunity. The window, Mr. Castiglione said, is small for such franchises.

“The Red Sox have a window all the time,” he said.

That wasn’t the case, though, when he came to Boston in 1983 after working in Cleveland. The Indians, improbably, had finished sixth for five consecutive seasons. Mr. Castiglione came to the Red Sox in 1983 and, naturally, they finished sixth.

But the team was on the rebound and won the 1986 pennant but lost the World Series to the Mets in excruciating fashion. The Red Sox appeared to have clinched the World Series when they took a 5-3 lead in the 10th inning of Game 6 but the lead and the series slipped away.

The final play of the game became one of the most famous in baseball history and perhaps most painful ever for Red Sox fans. The Mets, though, rallied for three runs in the bottom of the 10th, with the final run scoring when a slow roller eluded Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.

Vin Scully call of that play is now part of baseball lore.

“. … little roller,” Scully said. “Up along first. … Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner!”

But Mr. Castiglione didn’t see it. He had left the press box to go downstairs for post-game interviews in what he assumed would be a celebratory Red Sox clubhouse.

“I watched them bring the champagne in and take it out,” Mr. Castiglione said.

The Mets then won Game 7 and the World Series. Mr. Castiglione and Red Sox fans had to wait another 18 years for a World Series title. Now, they’ve won three since 2004.

Does he have a favorite of the three?

“They all three were different,” Mr. Castiglione said. “It’s like saying who’s your favorite child.”

Both men grew up around the game and appreciate what they’ve been doing for so long. Mr. Bremer recalls the excitement of his family making its annual trip from Dumont to Bloomington, Minn., where Metropolitan Stadium was located.

All he had seen of big-league baseball before his first trip there were games on black-and-white television.

“What I remember most about my first visit to Metropolitan Stadium was the green grass because on my TV at home it was grey,” Mr. Bremer said.

Then he watched boyhood heroes such as Twins’ greats Harmon Killebrew, Earl Battey and Bob Allison.

Mr. Allison was a particular favorite of the young Dick Bremer.

“I wanted to be Bob Allison,” Mr. Bremer said. “He was tall, athletic, good looking. I went 1-for-3. I’m 6-2. So I got the tall part.”

Now, as their teams prepare for the season, the broadcasters are back in Fort Myers preparing as well. It’s a chance to see new players on their team and opposing teams and a chance to see minor-league players good enough to earn cameo appearances in spring training games.

Although the Twins struggled through a dreadful 2016 season, that is now history.

Mr. Bremer said he approaches every season with hope.

“Like everyone else,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the prior season’s record. It’s just a time of great hope for every baseball fan who follows a major league team. There are no injuries. There are no losing streaks. Everyone has in their own mind an idea what has to happen for their team to win the World Series.

That’s true for fans.

“It’s true for players and it’s true for broadcasters.”

The 2016 Twins were 59-103, finishing last in the American League Central, 35.5 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians.

“There is a saying in baseball,” Mr. Bremer said. “You can’t control what has happened in the past. You can control what happens in the future. That’s true in any line of work. But especially in baseball. It’s critical.

“You can’t control what happened a year before or a week before or the night before. … The Red Sox are hopeful in 2017. The Twins are hopeful. That’s one of the beauties of spring training. Everybody has reason to be hopeful.”

Both men have been spending a great deal of time in Fort Myers for a long time. The Twins have trained in Lee County since 1991 and the Red Sox moved to Fort Myers from Winter Haven in 1993.

Mr. Castiglione has a Fort Myers’ home and plays in a winter senior softball league at Shady Oaks Park.

Mr. Bremer not only plays in fantasy camps but last fall played in the Roy Hobbs World Series, an adult baseball event played at various venues in Lee County.

Both men are immersed in the sport.

“I love the baseball people,” Mr. Castiglione said. “I like players. I like talking to scouts, front office people. It’s just the baseball language, the baseball rhythm. I like the games. I love the social aspect, the hours before the game around the dugout, the field, reporting, getting information.

“Not doing interviews but collecting information. And that’s the fun time.”

Both men have seen how spring training has evolved. When Mr. Bremer started with the Twins they played their spring games at Tinker Field in Orlando and their minor-league teams were in Melbourne.

“The Twins had such primitive facilities in Orlando,” Mr. Bremer said.

He recalls the Twins playing home games in Tinker Field as renovations were being made at the adjacent Tangerine Bowl, a football stadium.

“There were jackhammers going on,” Mr. Bremer said. “It was obvious what was happening. The baseball field really wasn’t important to anybody in Orlando.”

When they re-located to Fort Myers and what was then called the Lee County Sports Complex the big-league teams and minor-league teams were at the same site.

“To me this has always been the model for how a spring training complex should be put together,” Mr. Bremer said.

Spring training is now a time to get ready for the season for broadcasters as well as players.

“I get to know players,” Mr. Castiglione said. “I keep files on every player. You see guys who ordinarily wouldn’t be with the club during the season.”

Now, fans and broadcasters are looking forward to spring training. In a few weeks, though, they’ll be looking ahead to something else.

”By time it’s over you can’t wait for the games to count,” Mr. Castiglione said. “But they’re fun for a while. … Then you’re anxious for the real competitive type games.”

For now, though, Dick Bremer and Joe Castiglione are ready for spring training.

Oh, and their birthdays.

March 1 for Mr. Bremer and March 2 for Mr. Castiglione. ¦

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