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Mae earns an extended stay in Red Sox Nation

Almost two years ago, Hazel Mae, who was living in Toronto, got her passport stamped and moved to a new nation. Red Sox Nation, to be exact.

By September, Mae became the lead anchor for ``SportsDesk" on NESN. In October, she was caught up in the Nation's frenzy when the Red Sox became world champions for the first time since 1918.

``Great timing, huh?" Mae said yesterday at the NESN studios in Watertown.

Mae's job has expanded to include hosting the ``Red Sox Rewind" interview program and taking on the responsibilities of an expanded ``SportsDesk."

Earlier this week, NESN extended the contracts of Mae and Tom Caron, who has been at the sports network since 1995.

``I like to reward the employees who I think are making a major contribution, and who will make a major contribution to the network going forward," said Joel Feld, vice president of programming and executive producer.

Mae worked as anchor for a show on Sportsnet, an all-sports network in Canada, and hosted a weekly baseball magazine show that focused on the Toronto Blue Jays.

She knew she'd be leaving the comfort zone of Toronto, where her family and friends live, but acknowledges she underestimated Boston's love for the Red Sox.

``I've always known of the passion, but it's not until you actually live it do you realize how intense it is," she said. ``Which is actually one of the more attractive things about coming here. Some people think you'd shy away from it because it is so intense. But that makes you want to come here. You want to be part of that."

Before she came, she told Worcester native J.P. Ricciardi, general manager of the Blue Jays, of her impending move to Boston.

``He said, `You don't make things easy on yourself, do you?' and told me it was a tough market to crack, and that I'd have some bumps in the road," Mae recalled. ``But I look on that as a challenge. And I also thought that to be in a passionate sports town like Boston, and what I do for a living, it'd be crazy to go anywhere else."

Mae has heard speculation she might be using NESN as a steppingstone for a job at a national network, or at ESPN, but shrugs off the rumors.

``When you think about it, NESN, to me, might as well be as national and high profile, with satellites all over -- I get fan mail from California, Atlanta, and North Dakota," she said. ``So yes, it's not ESPN, but it might as well be."

She also brushes off questions about the difficulties she might have in covering men's sports, and in being an outsider.

``I had heard that Boston could be very cliquey, but everyone has been very welcoming," she said. ``Players no longer talk down to you, and they don't talk slowly because they think you don't understand. But I think that's a credit to the women who came before me."

What Mae won't shrug off is her decision to move to Red Sox Nation.

``When I came here, I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I'd be kicking myself if I at least didn't try," she said. ``So I'm just glad things worked out."

A sporty O'Brien
Pat O'Brien, who has bounced from sports to entertainment, goes back to a sports gig next month, when he'll be host of CBS's ``US Open Late Night Show" for the US Open Tennis Championships. The show, weeknights from 12:37 to 1:07 a.m., recaps the day's matches and stories. O'Brien also hosts ``The Insider," which airs locally on Channel 4 at 7:30 p.m. . . . NBC airs the first of the US Open Series this weekend with the men's semifinal tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., from the Indianapolis Tennis Center . . . CBS (Channel 4) will air the conclusion of the first Intercontinental Poker Championships tomorrow at 5 p.m. The best-of-three heads-up match is between Yosh Nakano of Japan and Antanas Guoga of Australia.

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