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Sports Media

Merloni is still a fan favorite

His local knowledge appreciated on the air

LOU MERLONI Well prepared LOU MERLONI
Well prepared
By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / May 21, 2010

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The feeling in this space was that WEEI’s “The Big Show’’ lost a piece of its bond with listeners when Pete Sheppard, who played the everyman role to varying degrees of appeal but always seemed to genuinely enjoy talking about sports, was let go in January.

Now, it is actually a former professional athlete who has picked up the slack as the Glenn Ordway cohost who connects best with listeners when it comes to being an unabashed fan.

Lou Merloni, a favorite son of Framingham and former Red Sox utility infielder, has demonstrated versatility in his role, which was expanded last July when he chose to remain at the station rather than accepting an offer from 98.5 The Sports Hub to be Michael Felger’s cohost.

Merloni, who also contributes frequently to Comcast SportsNet New England, works roughly four full days per week between the outlets. He has clearly found his niche in the Boston sports media market, not so much because of his local-boy, ex-jock status, but because it’s apparent that he watches the games for enjoyment rather than obligation. It’s probably a more novel concept than it should be.

“I think that has to do with just being local, having grown up here, and having had the same experiences as the callers or viewers as a fan,’’ said Merloni. “Because I’m from Boston, it’s not just about baseball to me. It’s Patriots, Bruins, Celtics.

“I grew up with that, and a lot of fans see and hear that and know I understand where they’re coming from, I think. I hope it comes through.’’

With the possible exception of Ryen Russillo (now thriving at ESPN), Merloni comes up more than any other person when the topic is which local sports pundit is the most well-prepared. Merloni, who credits Ordway and Comcast SportsNet New England managing editor Morry Levine for advising him when he began considering a media career, says that comes in part from his approach during his playing days.

“When I played, I was a big video guy, always watching my at-bats and hitting,’’ said Merloni. “I didn’t mind evaluating and looking at my faults. That’s the only way you’re going to get better.

“When I started out on TV, I would DVR pretty much whenever I was on. I would go back see how I looked at the camera, the way I spoke, some of the things I would say, making sure the first word out of my mouth wasn’t always the same.’’

Merloni has no preference between television and radio.

“TV is more challenging because everything is programmed with what needs to be done,’’ he said. “With radio, you just go with it. Whatever the flow is with the callers. But the radio part of it is challenging, too, at times, just sort of realizing the animal that you’re dealing with on the phones, to be perfectly honest with you.

“It’s funny, I worked with [Joe Haggerty] the last couple of times on WEEI, and people have been calling to tell him what a great job he did. I said, ‘Yeah, enjoy it while you can. After about a year, I got people telling me they’re sick and tired of me talking about how I know everything,’ ’’ he said, laughing.

“Hey, but that’s how it is around here, and that’s part of being a Boston fan. No one knows that better than me.’’

Ready for prime time
Tomorrow night’s Red Sox-Phillies game on Fox marks the first time this season the network’s regional Game of the Week moves to prime time.

And it won’t be the last. The Red Sox-Giants game June 26 is also a prime-time Fox telecast.

In fact, according to Fox Sports president Ed Goren, games under the lights could become a staple on the Fox schedule next season, though much is still to be determined.

“Right now, I’d term this a well-thought-out experiment,’’ said Goren, who noted that tomorrow’s regional games will be the first to be nationally televised in prime time on network television since 2004, the final year of the ill-fated Baseball Network partnership between ABC and NBC.

“Whether we expand the prime-time baseball schedule, however down the road that may be, depends on a number of variables. We are conscious of the needs and feelings of the teams, of course. Those who run prime time at Fox will naturally have significant input. And we’ll consider the ratings and other data as we continue to think about where to go with this.’’

Goren said the network was “extremely encouraged, even though it was a bit of an anomaly’’ by the Mets-Cardinals game April 17, which began in the afternoon, ran 20 innings, and drew boffo ratings as it lingered into prime time.

“That opened our eyes a bit to what might be possible,’’ Goren said.

Goren confirmed that if Fox does add more prime-time games, it would probably mean that there would not be a Saturday game each week. Fox is permitted to air 72 regional games per year in the 26 weeks it broadcasts baseball. But if it offers up to seven regional options during prime time — which it might do, Goren said, for the aggregate ratings — all of those games would count against the 72.

For now, nothing will be determined until after the second slate of prime time games. But logically, the ratings tomorrow and June 26 should be strong, and if that happens . . .

“Well, we’ll find out then,’’ Goren said.

Pitching in
Dick Vitale’s fame and fortune have come from his gift for college basketball gab, but the man sure does know how to give back. The sixth Dick Vitale Gala for Cancer Research will take place tomorrow in Sarasota, Fla. Among those who will be recognized is Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who missed last season while battling a rare bone cancer. Vitale is hoping to raise $1 million, a benchmark achieved four times previously . . . Kevin Millar will make his “MLB On Fox’’ debut tomorrow when he joins studio host Chris Rose. Millar, who is also scheduled to join Joe Buck in the booth as a color analyst for a Brewers-Cardinals game June 5 as well as a couple of games in July, had little trouble landing media gigs after being released by the Cubs during spring training. He is among the MLB Network stable, and NESN announced yesterday that he will be joining its rotation of analysts beginning May 27. This isn’t a news flash to Red Sox fans, but the affable former first baseman suffers no shortage of words when the red light comes on.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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