When baseball enters one's blood, trying to get rid of it can be a difficult proposition. For proof, look no farther than the new Boston Red Sox vice president of media relations, John Blake.
A Wenham native, Blake says he is thrilled to be back home and working for the team he cheered for as a boy.
"I really didn't know if this was ever going to happen, but obviously it's been in the back of my mind ever since I got into professional baseball,'' said Blake before a recent Sox matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
"It always seemed like there were plenty of what-ifs, but nothing came to pass until this spring.''
Blake's lifelong aspiration came true just a couple of months ago, while he was working as director of information for the World Baseball Classic and as vice president of communications for Ryan-Sanders Baseball, an organization owned by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan that operates two minor league teams.
He was getting ready to attend the World Baseball Classic, a preseason tournament launched this spring by Major League Baseball, in March when Boston's executive vice president of public affairs, Charles Steinberg, ''just kind of called out of the blue,'' Blake said. ''Before the finals in San Diego, I went to Larry Lucchino's house in La Jolla for a meeting'' with the Red Sox president and CEO. ''And then on the Wednesday before Opening Day, Charles called and offered me the job.
''I had to give Nolan Ryan my notice, and I told him that I probably wouldn't have left for anything but this. I was going home, and I have to admit, I was pretty excited about it.''
Steinberg was quick to praise Blake's work as team spokesman since coming aboard the S.S. Red Sox, saying in an e-mail that Blake ''has hit the ground running, as I had hoped. He's a pro.
''There have been several people who have let me know over the years that they could be interested in joining the Red Sox,'' Steinberg wrote. ''One of the key distinctions is a person with an indisputable track record who wants to jump into the daily fire at the junction of the media and the players in a hot and sweaty clubhouse after a grueling, emotion-filled tussle. On deadline. I think there was no candidate more qualified or better than John for the position.''
Following a six-year stint as the assistant public relations director and director of media information with the Baltimore Orioles from 1979-1984, Blake got his first top job when he became director of media relations for the Texas Rangers organization. He also served as the team's vice president of public relations and, most recently, senior vice president of communications. In the process, Blake, who also worked in the same capacity for the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars from 1999 to 2002, found himself in Texas for 20 years.
Blake landed in baseball almost by accident. After graduating from Governor Dummer Academy in Newbury in 1973, he went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as an international politics major, with hopes of entering the foreign service. His love of athletics led him to spend time working in the college's sports publicity office, and he also covered some high school sports for the Washington Post. By the time he graduated from Georgetown, his career arc had changed, and he wanted to go into sportswriting or sports public relations. That's when he got his first big break.
''Right after I graduated, the sports publicity director at Georgetown resigned, and there was no one to take over his position,'' he said.
''I did that for two years, and while I was still there the Orioles had an opening for PR assistant, so I jumped at it.''
Now over a month into his first season with the Sox, Blake is immersed in the bubbling cauldron that is the Boston market. He arrives at his Fenway Park office by 9 a.m. every day, and sometimes stays until midnight. He has a variety of daily responsibilities in overseeing his department's four-person staff -- Pam Ganley, Peter Chase, Drew Merle, and Marty Ray -- while supervising any crossover between media and community relations, but says no day is like the one before.
''There really is no set day,'' he said. ''Our department falls under public affairs and is a bridge to all aspects of the organization. Things tend to change on a daily basis. That's part of the beauty of baseball, to me. You play every day, and you never know what you'll see. I've seen two perfect games and five no-hitters. It's why I still do it.''
Everything happened so quickly for Blake once he accepted the Boston job that he didn't have enough time to get settled before the season. He is living in Boston while his wife and two children remain in Texas, though he said they will be joining him next year after his son graduates from high school. He still has family on the North Shore -- his sister lives in Hamilton, and his parents own a condominium in Rockport -- and he said that settling down nearby is a definite possibility.
''I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with the family I have up here in addition to the job,'' he said. ''I really enjoyed growing up in Wenham -- the North Shore is a great part of the country. As a sports fan, it was and is an excellent place to be.
''There are not a lot of things I haven't seen in the game at this point, but the fact is being here, involved with this franchisee and the passion of the fans, in the place I grew up ..... It's nice. It's really great.''
The following story will appear in Sunday's Globe North regional edition.