Introducing the Red Sox' newest broadcasting star
Cohasset native Mike Monaco is living the dream, at least for a certain subset of young Red Sox fans. Since 2019, Monaco has been pinch-hitting on Red Sox telecasts, working alongside legends such as the late Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley years before his 30th birthday.
This year, Monaco has spent part of his late-winter in Fort Myers, Fla., announcing Red Sox Grapefruit League action in between late-season college basketball games and NHL contests. It’s been four years since Monaco started working for ESPN, and he’s called everything ranging from the NHL playoffs to the Little League World Series.
But in Boston, Monaco is most recognizable for his work on NESN, and quickly becoming a recognizable name. He’s drawn rave reviews, and nailed one of the strangest situations that a baseball broadcaster could ever face.
With the score tied and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Braves hitter Cal Conley was called out on strikes, even though a pitch wasn’t thrown. The Spring Training non-roster invitee didn’t step into the batter’s box on time, prompting a pitch clock violation.
The Red Sox won in unprecedented fashion. Monaco responded in kind. “They have called strike three!,” he yelled. “Wow! This is mayhem!”
His elevated pitch captured the excitement of the moment; yet it wasn’t too much for a late-February Spring Training game. The patron saint of Red Sox Nation, Jared Carrabis, provided Monaco with an endorsement.
On this week’s “Sports Media Mayhem,” I chatted with Monaco about his ascendent rise in the industry, working for ESPN and calling more than 100 national college basketball games from his bedroom. The conversation has been edited for length:
Alex Reimer: How did you get involved with ESPN?
Mike Monaco: Good question. I had done a one-off gig for them in what would've been the summer of 2018 or 2019. It was a little league softball event out in Kirkland, Wash. Big time viewership. But it was actually a blast, we were out there for like a week. Great place, great part of the country.
That didn't directly lead to anything, but I had stayed in touch with some ESPN people that I knew before that. Then it was football season, 2019. I was working for Big Ten Network and for Fox Sports, and it was the middle of football season. I still remember it, it was a Monday night in October. I got a call from my agent saying, 'Hey, ESPN has offered you a full-time contract.' It wasn't something I thought was around the corner, or I knew was coming. So that's how I got involved with them. It was too good to pass up.
So you're Big Ten Network, your Fox Sports, you're breaking into ESPN, you're starting with the PawSox. You're doing a million things. I guess the question is -- and I hate to say the word 'brand' -- but there are some instances in which it applies. When I was out of college, I knew I wanted to be on sports talk radio, so I geared my 'brand' towards that. Someone like you, play-by-play is very different in a lot of respects. Do you even worry about that part of it?
A few parts to it: you say 'yes' to whatever games you get assigned, and then you trust that you will develop. They are 'reps,' so to speak. So try to maximize what you can get out of each game you're assigned. Treat it like the Super Bowl, even if it's the Junior Softball World Series, which is only available on streaming. So that's part of it. But I also think you have to be cognizant of the hesitancy to say 'brand' is accurate, but you have to be aware of the branding and marketing of yourself, and your ability to do the events that you want to do at that company, if that makes sense.
When I got my first NESN opportunities back in 2019 to fill in for Dave, what I had sent to NESN as a reel was PawSox games on NESN. I didn't send them a college baseball game for ESPN Network. Try to brand it as, 'Hey, this is what I've done.'
Were you intimidated the first couple of times you stepped into the Red Sox booth? You were in your mid-20s.
The short answer is, yes. Absolutely. I was 26, it was late September 2019, meaningless games to the Red Sox fan and team at that point. But for me, it was the biggest two games of my life, and two games that I hold in such close regard in my heart. I had never met Jerry Remy before that day, same with Eck. The three of us were working in a three-man booth with Guerrin Austin on the sidelines. They put me at ease. That didn't eliminate the nerves, but it definitely lessened them. What Jerry said to me pregame, 'You do your thing, we will work around you, and it's gonna go great.' I thought that was the coolest thing. Jerry is a legend, and at drastically one extreme compared to me towards the other in terms of what he's done in his career. But him saying that to me, that was especially cool. Eck had a similar message.
That put me at ease; but yeah, I was still nervous when 7:00 pm rolled out and I started going for real.
One of the first stories I read about you was the winter of Covid -- '21. The Globe wrote a story about how you're calling all of these college basketball games in your bedroom. Did that experience improve you as a broadcaster?
When I moved out of that place I was living, I counted up how many games I did from that apartment. It was like 120-something. Amazingly, not once did any of my neighbors knock on my door or say anything to me. I did NL West games in the Central time zone, which were going until midnight. I was also doing morning little league softball games. Amazingly, nobody said anything.
But I do think I got better, just by the sheer reps of it, and the fact that we could broadcast from home, even though it wasn't ideal, it allowed us to do a lot of games. That definitely led to an improvement. You also have to make do with what you have.
I think it improved me as well, in terms of talking to coaches and players, and trying to get stories over Zoom or a phone call. Being around a batting cage is more valuable, but be sure you can connect with somebody on a Zoom, too, so that you get interesting information from them.
Did you have roommates when you were calling all of these games?
Yes, my best friend from college. Fortunately, he was more than OK with it, but I probably owe him a nice dinner, or something, for tolerating that.
It's been so many years of talking about ways to modernize the baseball broadcast. You're around my age, is that even possible? People talk about it, 'Modernize the broadcast!' But is that something you're even thinking about?
That has never entered my thought process at all: philosophically what I think a baseball broadcast should be. I do just kind of broadcast the way that I've always broadcast. I don't fancy myself an analytics guy. But I do think that I understand that information, and made it a point to. But I don't go into a broadcast saying, 'I've got to really harp on WAR.' To me, the way I always explain it is, sometimes the numbers aren't the most beneficial thing to explain. But if I want to say something to get a point across, the idea is to have it resonate with the viewer, or with the listener. So it's not something I think about and strive for; but for me, I want to have an understanding of the information that a baseball front office is using to make their decisions.
How about the conversational and informational side of it?
Again, not something that I philosophically ever think about it, or say, 'this is the brand or identity I want to bring to a broadcast.' In any sport, it's just kind of my style to lean on heavily my analyst, and make them the star. Going back to my first Red Sox games, nobody wants to hear about what I have to say about the nine-hitter in a meaningless end of September game, but people care about Jerry's stories, and Eck's stories, and their humor with each other. If they're gonna go in a direction, I should follow up, and be intent on listening.
This is something I've really taken to heart in my broadcasting career: don't be looking down at your scorebook or staring at your laptop for notes. Don't be so caught up in your own stuff. Listen to them. I think that probably leads to a conversational style if you could say I have. Regardless of sport, I like to do that.
Team Schefty: Aaron Rodgers called out Adam Schefter for doing his job. This week, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that Rodgers presented the Jets with a wish-list of free agents featuring many of his old buddies: Odell Beckham, Randall Cobb, Marcedes Lewis and Allen Lazard (whom the Jets eventually signed).
Schefter, like any good journalist, texted Rodgers to confirm the story. In response, Rodgers blasted him Wednesday on “The Pat McAfee Show.”
“Ask Schefter what I texted him when he somehow got my number: Lose my number. Nice try,” he said.
It’s apparent that Rodgers, who emerged from the darkness with a strange desire to play for the historically hapless Jets, doesn’t talk to many people in sports media. Outside of McAfee publicly, and maybe Trey Wingo privately, the all-time great quarterback keeps himself isolated.
But that’s not Schefter’s concern. He’s the top NFL Insider around, and tried to confirm the biggest story around the league by texting Rodgers himself.
In other words, he did exactly what he was supposed to do.
solving the biggest mystery in NFL Media
The Dov Kleiman mystery: Twitter’s most ubiquitous NFL aggregator found himself at the center of the Rodgers story for a few hours this week, when his regurgitation of Wingo’s report that Rodgers to the Jets was a done deal caught the attention of New York wideout Garrett Wilson.
As of Thursday, the deal isn’t finished, though Rodgers has publicly stated his desire to play for the Jets.
This episode prompted WFAN morning hosts Greg Giannotti and Boomer Esiason to ask a burning question: who is Dov Kleiman, anyway?
The mysterious man boasts more than 151,000 followers on Twitter, despite never breaking stories or offering original commentary. He’s an aggregation machine, reposting reports from other NFL Insiders, and basking in the engagements.
The New York Post profiled Kleiman this week, and confirmed he is real. But what’s his goal?
Ten years ago, somebody like Kleiman might have started a humble Wordpress blog to break into sports media and get his name out there. But that would’ve required more work, and garnered far less attention.
Nowadays, aspiring sportswriters can just tweet, and reach far more people. It’s another sign of our journalistic de-evaluation.
espn radio host fired for doing his job
Sports radio host fired for doing his job: ESPN Radio Syracuse Brent Axe was fired this week by the station’s parent company for his “overly dark” coverage of Syracuse athletics. Galaxy Media is a broadcaster rights holder, and Jim Boeheim is an investor in the company. Galaxy CEO Ed Levine even confirmed they’re friends.
“I had a problem with the content of the show,” said Levine. “I’m an SU fan. I’m sorry, but I bleed Orange.”
There you have it. Axe’s crime was ripping the performance of Syracuse athletics in the midst of maybe its worst year ever. Unbelievable.