The voice at the other end of the telephone laughed after the question was asked. After all, Dave O’Brien still hasn’t seen a sporting event from inside a press box.
“Next week, I’ve got Miami and Virginia [football]” in Florida, O’Brien said, “so that’ll be the first game that I will call from a booth since March, when I did the ACC basketball tournament.”
O’Brien spent the entire truncated Major League Baseball season broadcasting Red Sox games from the NESN studios. The Voice of the ACC Network has done several college football games in 2020, but has done them from the office he maintains in his Rye, N.H., home.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about getting on a plane and going to a stadium, and actually seeing players — not on a television screen — but in person,” O’Brien said, when we spoke earlier in the week. “As amazing a job that Disney has done, ESPN, NESN, every carrier that I’ve called games off of television, as great a job as they’ve done, there’s nothing like being there in person.
“It’s why we signed up to do this when we were teenagers. Getting back there, I’m like a kid in a candy store.”
Take Saturday for example. O’Brien will be home in New Hampshire doing the play-by-play for Boston College’s ACC game at Virginia Tech. Analyst Tim Hasselback, a former BC quarterback, will be at home in Nashville, Tenn., while sideline reporter Katie George will actually be in Blacksburg, Va.
It was a rough summer for broadcasters in all major league sports. In Boston, Joe Castiglione and the rest of the Red Sox radio broadcasters did home games live from Fenway Park but did road games remotely and also from the Fenway radio booth. O’Brien and NESN analysts Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley, never set foot in Fenway Park. They broadcast the games from a studio in Watertown, where NESN is headquartered.
Now, to say that the 2020 Red Sox were not a good baseball team could be the New England understatement of the calendar year. While the television ratings were down, and other than for just watching baseball, the Sox didn’t make it easy on their fans, the only team that won a “title” was the NESN crew of O’Brien, Remy and Eckersley. Critics from Connecticut to Maine — yours truly included — thought the trio was outstanding. There were times that, if you didn’t know they were in Watertown, you’d never guess they were in Watertown.
“We were delighted with how it felt and then you’re happy to know that people, at least enjoyed some of that part of the season in what was a horrible year for the club,” O’Brien said. “I think we went in every day thinking that this is not a good baseball team at this time, but we have a lot to talk about. We have a lot of stories we can share. I think the friendship comes through, the fact that we like each other comes through.
“You tune in first to watch the Red Sox, but if you want to watch a little longer because the booth likes each other and it’s a friendly listen, great. That’s what we were hoping for.”
One advantage the NESN trio had was that they had done three-person broadcast crews numerous times in the past couple of seasons. That took some of the guesswork out of how they would work together.
“I was really surprised that when we first started doing a three-man booth two years ago, it clicked instantaneously,” O’Brien said. “In our business, that doesn’t happen very often. You can have a good broadcast, but it’s another thing to have the instant chemistry, the karma that I think we had real fast. It took two pitches and it was there.”
O’Brien has worked primarily with Remy on television since moving over from the radio booth in 2015. Eckersley would sit in the analyst’s chair on occasion, most notably when Remy was off battling cancer. They would occasionally do three-man games from Fenway, but not usually on the road.
The veteran broadcaster, who also worked for the main ESPN network as well as Fox Sports doing baseball, college football and college basketball, described the transition to the three-man booth as seamless.
“We get excited about talking about certain things that maybe weren’t on anybody’s plate when we walked into that booth. It just came out of nowhere,” he said. “That’s the real part of the chemistry that works with this. We don’t plan anything. We don’t plan to talk about anything three hours ahead of time. It simply comes out of the organic broadcast.
“I think those are the best kinds of broadcasts, I really do.”
Rave reviews aside, putting this trio back together may not be as simple as saying yes. In the past, Eckersley had said in media reports that traveling all the time wasn’t on his bucket list of things to do. Remy has been cutting back a bit on the number of games.
“That question is on all of our minds, mine, Jerry’s and Eck’s, and a lot of other people at NESN,” O’Brien said. “There’s so much unknown about next year. Are we even going to have fans in the ballpark? Are these shows going to travel? Is COVID going to be such an active part of our lives where it makes it impossible to get on an airplane? Even for us to get on a charter with the ball club? I don’t know.
“I can speak for Jerry and Eck, we want it as much as we can get it to do the three-man booth, because we enjoy it so much.”