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RITES of SUMMER

'Swing and a high fly ball'

Red Sox games on the radio fan waves of joy across New England

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / July 12, 2008
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The sound buzzes in the background of cookouts and on back porches on shirt-sticking nights, a murmur as constant in the summer as chirping crickets.

It fills the silence in taxis and tollbooths and deep woods cottages that have no cable television. It can be followed from campfire to campfire in far northern Maine, and from blanket to blanket on a glimmering day on Nantasket Beach in Hull.

For 82 summers Red Sox baseball has been broadcast on the radio, a faithful companion of warm weather. The tick-tock of balls and strikes offers a lifeline to elderly shut-ins, sets a rhythm for cooks and dishwashers in steamy restaurant kitchens, and passes time in bodegas, back porches, and sailboats bobbing close to shore.

"I cannot imagine summertime without it," said Karen Kevra, a Grammy-nominated flutist in Montpelier, Vt., who carries a pocket radio in the orchestra pit to check scores at intermission. "It is the background music."

For me, baseball complements summer because it is a game without a clock, a sport with a dawdling pace that matches the lazy days of July and August. Nine innings can take three hours and only involve eight minutes of action. A game watched on television leaves a person anchored to a couch, staring at practice swings.

Radio makes baseball portable for half a million listeners in New England during any particular game. A D-battery powered clunker with a broken antenna gives my 90-year-old father-in-law, Ernest Peter, a seat behind home plate while he is down on bended knees weeding his garden in tiny Gilsum, N.H. The monotony of balls and strikes seems lost among the daisies, but then the Sox score a run and Pop erupts in hoots from a patch of impatiens.

Radio has transported me to games at Fenway Park while reading a book in the Camden Hills, or while trying to stay warm in a towel as the sun set at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester.

It brings the game to Ron Dinsmore, the night ranger who listens on a lunchbox-sized radio in a wooden booth at the entrance to Maine's Aroostook State Park. And it is a reliable companion for Roberta Stackpole, an 85-year-old left blind by diabetes who tunes in from her nursing home in East Providence, R.I.

Dave Neville has white hair now, but he remembers being a teenager during Boston's 1967 Impossible Dream season, listening as he worked pedaling the Swan Boats in the Public Garden. The drivers each carried transistor radios and flashed thumbs up on the Lagoon after a run scored.

Today a brown extension cord is strung through the rafters of the Swan Boat dock, so the new teenage drivers can hear the games on a portable Panasonic. Tourists asked so often about the score that Neville, now the Swan Boats manager, began tallying runs and hits on a whiteboard, noting homers and other big plays.

"There is something about baseball on the radio," said Neville, who will also listen on a wicker rocker overlooking his wife's garden in Salem. "It's like a couple of guys telling a story about the game."

One of those guys is Joe Castiglione, a silver-haired man who has been the avuncular voice of the Red Sox for 26 years. He presides over the roar of Fenway Park from a booth some 50 feet above home plate, that voice bouncing via radio to barbeques, ice cream stands, and cars speeding to the beach.

"To me the nicest compliment is, 'You remind me of summer,' " Castiglione said.

He shares his perch most nights with Dave O'Brien, bellied up to a waist-high counter like two old friends sitting at a bar. Moths flutter in the massive open windows that overlook Fenway, and the humidity rolls in off the field. A week into July, a calendar remains open to June.

The pair juggles scorebooks, hand-scribbled memos, index cards, folded pieces of paper, and messages passed on Post-it notes. An intern with a laptop Googles an occasional obscure fact. Told he looked like an accountant as he erased with a pencil, Castiglione said: "But I have a much better view."

They know their voices blend into the background of people's summers, that listeners tune in and out, and carry on dinner conversations when the game slows. But there's that jarring moment that catches the ear, when the announcer's voice quickens.

Smack.

"The crack of the bat, the crowd rising," O'Brien said, "that's the magic coming through on the radio."

From the taxi drivers to boaters bobbing off Martha's Vineyard, I imagine people stopping to listen.

Swing and a high fly ball, left center field

A flutist in a Vermont orchestra pit squeezes her palm-sized radio. Campfire conversation quiets in Maine.

Back . . . to the wall . . . Looking up

Books on beaches are put down. A toll-collector on the MassPike pauses.

It's gone! Tie game. Manny goes deep on the first pitch.

Arms pump the air in lobster shacks on Cape Ann.

And in Gilsum, N.H., hoots erupt in a patch of impatiens.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at aryan@globe.com.

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