Connell McShane looks back at summer spent with Pittsfield Mets
Since baseball returned to Pittsfield and Wahconah Park in the mid-1980s, there have been a number of success stories.
From Baseball Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer and Mark Grace with the Pittsfield Cubs, to A.J. Burnett, Preston Wilson and Edgardo Alfonso with the Pittsfield Mets and to Brooks Conrad with the Pittsfield Astros, there were a number of successful players who had quality Major League Baseball careers
Everyone around the Berkshires knows that former Red Sox TV broadcaster Don Orsillo got his pro start with the Mets, but only one broadcaster ever worked with Bob Shade and Don Imus — two of the more cantankerous radio personalities.
Connell McShane spent the summer of 1998 in Pittsfield, broadcasting Mets games with Kevin Biernacki and the aforementioned Shade.
Unlike a number of Mets broadcasters, who have gone on to do other things in sports broadcasting, McShane detoured out of sports broadcasting. He is now the anchor of "After the Bell," a Wall Street news and analysis program on the Fox Business Network. And for seven years, he was heard on Pittsfield radio station WBEC as the news anchor for the Imus in the Morning program.
McShane is a Fordham University graduate. Fordham may not produce the number of big-time broadcasters as Syracuse University does, there have been a number of stellar personalities coming out of The Bronx. Baseball broadcasting legend Vin Scully is a Fordham graduate, as is ABC NBA play-by-play broadcaster Mike Breen and Yankees TV voice Michael Kay.
"Sports broadcasters kind of have been grown on trees there on the Rose Hill campus in The Bronx for years," he said. "That's where I started. It was a great training ground."
Once, McShane was looking to follow in their footsteps, and that trek started on Wahconah Street.
"I was in between my junior and senior year, and a friend of mine from the radio station at Fordham, Rick Schultz, was one of the play-by-play announcers for the Hudson Valley Renegades," McShane said. "Rick had that job for a few years, and I was looking for a summer internship. I was actually interning during the year with the Yankees Radio Network with Michael Kay and John Sterling, keeping the stats and the out-of-town scoreboard. Rick said that if you'd be interested in minor league play-by-play. I had done basketball and football, and said, of course. Baseball is my favorite sport.
"He said he knew that Pittsfield was looking for a second announcer who would be young, a college kid."
McShane got hired by Rick Murphy and made the trek from New York City to The Berkshires.
"I arrived up there right after school let out between my junior and senior year at Fordham," McShane said, "just in time to paint the stadium, Wahconah Park, which I think was one of our first assignments before we started broadcasting games — paint it blue."
The 1998 Pittsfield Mets weren't one of the more successful teams in that franchise's history. Those Mets went 35-41 under manager Roger LaFrancois, finishing 15 games behind McNamara Division champion Hudson Valley.
"As I recall, [LaFrancois] should have been a character in 'Bull Durham,' or one of the movies," McShane said. "What a funny guy. What a good guy. He had played a full year in the Major Leagues for the Red Sox, where he had  at-bats for the whole year. He was the third catcher for the Red Sox. He was basically the bullpen catcher, but he was on the roster. Then he got into coaching. He gave us so many stories, and it was like something out of a book."
For the record, LaFrancois' 1982 season with the Red Sox went like this: He played in eight games, went 4 for 10 at the plate and had one run batted in.
Those Mets only sent two players to the bigs. One of them was Ty Wigginton, who was a 17th-round pick out of North Carolina-Asheville. Wigginton hit .239 in Pittsfield, but went on to have a 14-year Major League career with eight different franchises, including the Mets.
The other notable player on that team was former University of Hartford product Earl Snyder. Snyder broke Jeff Bagwell's home run record at Hartford and is the all-time school leader with 53 homers and 173 runs batted in. Snyder only played 19 games in the bigs, 18 with Cleveland and one with the Red Sox in 2004.
The goal, McShane said, was to be a play-by-play broadcaster. He had a couple of potential opportunities after graduating from Fordham (where he was a classmate of ESPN "Around the Horn" host Tony Reali). But his first paying job was as a desk assistant with Bloomberg Radio in New York, a network anchored at radio station WBBR.
"That turned my focus a little bit in terms of what I would be doing in the future," he said.
One thing led to another, and by 2000, he was a local broadcast reporter in New York. McShane covered the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, and that led to doing more news work. From Bloomberg Radio, he went to Bloomberg TV, and now to Fox Business.
"There's something about sports," McShane said. "One of my bosses in news said this too, that there's something about learning to be a broadcaster on the sports side that helps you build a foundation. You never run out of things to say, and the principles are all the same — the who, what, when, where, why, how — all the reporting principles that people covering sports have are the same for whether it's general news or business news or other things that I have done throughout my career."
McShane started at Fox Business as a reporter in 2007. Three years later, it was time to work with the other cantankerous broadcaster.
Don Imus' "Imus in the Morning" simulcast moved from MSNBC and eventually landed on the Fox Business Network in 2009.
"It was a life-changing experience in terms of my career," he said. "[Imus] was someone who really changed the game in broadcasting. That was something I had not bet on."
McShane spent seven years working with "The I-Man," and probably would have continued had Fox not asked for McShane to return to Fox on a full-time basis after 2017.
So, was Imus as crotchety as he appeared?
"No. He was much more than that," McShane said with a laugh. "What you saw was pretty much what you got with the I-Man. He was straightforward. You always knew where you stood. I appreciated that from Day One. If you worked hard and you were straightforward and you gave him your best, he was fair. That's what I would say about working for him, and this is just me speaking about myself. I'm not saying he treated everyone the way he should have or that he didn't make mistakes — he did. He certainly made his fair share of them in the way he treated some people over the years. Here's what I will say about myself. He was fair to me. I worked really hard when I was there. He respected the work and he made me better. He treated me, and just as importantly, he treated my family really, really well. My son [Jack] wants to get into broadcasting and Imus was a terrific influence on him."
But any conversation with anyone who was connected always comes back to Wahconah Park, the sun delays and the experience.
"That job was one of my favorites," McShane said. "I loved being with a team every day. I loved baseball, and being able to describe it — especially at the minor league level, there's something special about that. I'll literally never forget it."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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