Mike Antonellis was 31 years old when he landed the coveted gig of play-by-play voice of the Portland Sea Dogs in 2005, the same season that Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Jon Lester were starring for the Red Sox’ Double A affiliate.
Pedroia, Ramirez, and Lester have long since ascended to major league stardom, of course, making 12 All-Star teams and winning six World Series among them. Meanwhile, Antonellis remained in Portland for 15 seasons, happy in his career — “I always felt like I was fortunate to have one of the best jobs in minor league baseball,‘’ he says — and content living near the water in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
Sure, Antonellis kept his eye out for a play-by-play job that might bring him closer to the major leagues, but he never made that pursuit the myopic focal point of the well-rounded life to which he aspired.
This year, though, as those great players whose feats he verbally chronicled in their professional youth approached or reached the final innings of their careers, Antonellis caught a big break of his own.
After that decade and a half in Portland, Antonellis moved up to Triple A this season to join Josh Maurer and Jim Cain as one of the Pawtucket Red Sox’ broadcasters.
It’s a bigger step than just one more rung up the minor league ladder. Pawtucket is known as a pipeline to the big leagues for broadcasters. Nine previous PawSox broadcasters are working in the majors, including Don Orsillo (Padres, as you may have heard), Will Flemming (Red Sox radio), and his brother Dave Flemming (Giants).
But circumstances have required that Antonellis, now 46, wait a little longer. The COVID-19 pandemic has put it all on hold, wiping out the minor league season and leaving broadcasters such as Antonellis, who called 2,109 Sea Dogs games, without a ballgame to broadcast.
On a personal scale, it would be easy to sympathize. A hard-working, talented broadcaster catches an overdue break — he’d applied for PawSox openings before — only to have his chance put on hiatus. But patience has long been one of Antonellis’s attributes. So has perspective. And when Antonellis, an Ashland native and Framingham State graduate, tells you he has found many positives in the situation, it’s easy to believe him.
“Is there frustration? Not at all. Not at all,‘’ he said. “Maybe it’s because I’m 46, I’m older, I’ve been so privileged to do this for 23 years [he began broadcasting minor league baseball in 1997]. Sometimes I think that maybe I should be, but I’m not. I’m very fortunate.
“I’m back home, and there’s something to be said for that, and that does outweigh work. I’m living in Grafton, 20 minutes from where I grew up, 20 minutes from my parents’ house, 20 minutes from the new ballpark [in Worcester, where the PawSox will move next season], 20 minutes from my sister and nieces.
“I think about how I get to be at my sister’s house at a time when I’ve never been able to be there before in my life. I want to see my nieces grow up, and I don’t want to regret not spending enough time with my parents.
“I’ve done this 23 straight years. I’ve had a chance to see family more, play golf more. Spend time with my mom and dad. They’re getting older. So, I mean there’s been a lot of good to this, too.”
Even without games to call, Antonellis has remained busy. Along with Mauer and Cain, he just completed a 10-episode documentary on the best games in PawSox history.
“It was a 2½-month process of doing tons of interviews and writing scripts,‘’ said Antonellis. “I’ve been producing them and it took 40 to 50 hours a week just to do all that.”
As the PawSox have brainstormed other ways to create revenue in its season without baseball, Antonellis said he’s been fortunate to learn from many of the team’s 40 full-time employees, including executives Larry Lucchino and Dr. Charles Steinberg.
What has he learned?
“I’ve learned how to be a waiter,‘’ he said with a laugh.
Back in early June, the PawSox launched the “Dining on the Diamond” concept, in which team personnel served dinner — ballpark fare, mostly, but lobster rolls and pot pies, too — to fans at tables set up on the field. The idea was such a success that 25 other ball clubs have done something similar, and the waiting list to dine at McCoy Stadium has more than 3,000 names.
“It’s been terrific to do,‘’ said Antonellis. “It’s busy, and it’s a great chance to meet some fans and talk baseball, because we all miss it. It’s just been a different experience and I’ve learned a lot through it, too. I’m enjoying it.”
While the PawSox will not play a game in 2020, their final season in Rhode Island, there are baseball matters to keep Antonellis and his colleagues occupied. The Red Sox’ “taxi squad” is working out at McCoy, and once they begin playing intrasquad games soon, the plan is to have the broadcasters call them for the team’s live streams on YouTube and Facebook.
Even without real games to call, there are reminders for Antonellis of the legacy of PawSox broadcasters and his closer proximity to the major leagues.
“There’s something they call Championship Way in the concourse near the offices in Pawtucket,‘’ said Antonellis. “There’s a giant picture with the photos of all of the broadcasters that are in the big leagues. It’s inspirational, and it’s cool. It’s great to be someone following in that tradition here.
“But if I don’t get to the big leagues, I won’t ever feel like my career is a failure. I look at the moment, and always try to appreciate it. I think that you’d be setting yourself up for a big fall to think that there is only one way to measure success.
“Yes, it would be hard to stay in this so long and not think about it, but once you’re on and doing games, it’s exciting and it’s a show no matter the level. I mean, how lucky am I? How many New England affiliates are there? Three? And I’ve had two of those jobs, with Portland and now Pawtucket. Pretty lucky, I’d say.”