Booth Brothers: Don Orsillo & Mark Grant

Booth Brothers: Don Orsillo & Mark Grant

I’ve allowed myself to imagine being a fan in all kinds of settings and circumstances but never quite like the one I found myself in on a quiet evening in July 2020. I was standing outside of Petco Park with my cardboard cutout when Don Orsillo stopped to chat with me on his way back to the parking lot.

It was the year derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Players and owners had agreed to play a shortened 60-game season. There would be no fans in the stands. Broadcasters would stay in their home ballparks and call the games off monitors.

After Orsillo and I shared a laugh about the absurdity of cardboard fans, I asked him how he was doing. “Well, I’m nervous,” Orsillo said. “I don’t know how this is going to go,” he continued, referring to not being able to call the games in person.

I could tell he was quite serious. “You’ll be great, Don. I have no doubt about it. You’ll adjust,” I told him. “I hope so,” he said.

And, of course he did. Orsillo and broadcast partner Mark Grant made the best of strange circumstances in 2020. Their transition to calling games remotely was nearly seamless from the viewers’ point of view. They provided much-needed entertainment to fans at home, and Orsillo’s “Welcome to Slam Diego!” call (after the Padres made history with grand slams in four consecutive games) became an instant classic.

I still think about my conversation with Orsillo. There was a humility to his words and demeanor. I couldn’t get over the notion that Don Orsillo, a man whose accolades include four Emmy Awards, seemed genuinely hesitant about how he would perform at his job that year.

Since then, I’ve learned more about Orsillo’s background and career. There are a couple of things that stand out in terms of life experiences that might humble a person: 1) he grew up on a family farm in a small New England village, and 2) he spent an entire decade broadcasting games in the minor leagues before he was offered an opportunity in the majors.

Being a baseball broadcaster is all that Orsillo has ever wanted to do. He told his parents this at the age of 12.

I would sit in our kitchen nightly, listening to [Red Sox radio broadcaster] Ken Coleman. I thought he had the coolest job in the world. I set up my room like it was Fenway Park. I played a 162-game schedule and did play-by-play the entire season.

Sporting News, 9/5/19

After graduating from Northeastern University with a degree in Communication Studies, Orsillo sent out 120 resume tapes of himself calling games. He received 80 rejection letters and didn’t hear at all from the other 40.

Don Orsillo’s humility on that July 2020 evening was starting to make sense to me.

Left: news story announcing Orsillo’s first broadcasting job in 1991; Middle: the broadcaster’s booth in Pittsfield; Right: Orsillo started as an intern for Joe Castiglione (pictured) and Ken Coleman, radio voices of the Red Sox.

In 2001, Orsillo was hired by New England Sports Network (NESN) to be the play-by-play broadcaster for Red Sox games. His pairing with the late Jerry Remy as color commentator became the baseball soundtrack for a generation of New England fans, including Mike McDonagh.

We knew them like we knew our favorite players. Hearing them on the broadcasts for 15 years had so many memorable moments. It wasn’t the big games that stick out to me. It was when games were lopsided, drawn out, and without drama. That was when Don and the RemDawg were at their best. So many times they couldn’t finish a joke without cackling uncontrollably or they’d argue about closing the booth’s window if it was too hot or cold. One time Don used a pair of pliers to pop a tooth back into Remy’s mouth during the broadcast.

Mike McDonagh interview, 1/11/23

Orsillo’s tenure with the Red Sox lasted through the 2015 season. If it was up to their fans, he would still be broadcasting Red Sox games. The news that Orsillo’s contract would not be renewed was met with a firestorm of controversy and outrage from fans. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner’s explanation that they were looking to “re-energize” the broadcast booth angered fans even more. I asked McDonagh if the wounds have healed for Red Sox fans since then.

Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy were both New England guys to the core. That meant something to people in Boston. They were part of us. I’m not sure if Sox fans will ever get over what happened, and I don’t think you could convince us to either.

Mike McDonagh interview, 1/11/23

The Padres astutely swooped in to hire Orsillo, and he replaced Dick Enberg as the team’s play-by-play broadcaster following Enberg’s retirement at the end of the 2016 season.

Orsillo found instant chemistry with Mark Grant, the Padres’ longtime color analyst.

I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is my brother from another mother. He’s 56, but he’s really like 12.’

SDUT interview with Don Orsillo commenting on Mark Grant, 9/4/20

The broadcasting style of Orsillo and Grant is the perfect combination of fun and knowledgeable commentary. Each season seems to bring new shenanigans in the booth. We’ve watched them struggle to chew gum from a decades-old pack of baseball cards, critique each other’s dance moves, and take a road trip to Peoria together for Spring Training.

Don and I have so many good times in the booth that it’s hard to single out one. I think that’s a good thing.
The drive to Peoria was amazing. It was one of those trips where everything went smoothly. Organic. We rolled the camera and just started having fun! A cross country trip with Don would be awesome. I think it would be a blockbuster for everyone to see! I smell an Oscar! Or at least a Golden Globe.

TKF interview with Mark Grant, 1/11/23
L: Mark Grant talking about his childhood; R: MLB draft day with his parents, 1981. Photos from The Other Side podcast (hosted by Carlos Castro), 6/20/21

Grant is a few years older than Orsillo and grew up in Joliet, Illinois. He comes from a baseball family. His father Larry (a commercial architect) coached youth and amateur baseball, a cousin pitched in college and the minors, and his mother’s brother was a White Sox minor leaguer.

Grant was a standout pitcher at Joliet Catholic High School and was one of the highest prospects selected in the 1981 MLB draft. On draft day, Grant gathered with family and friends in his parents’ kitchen. It was a roller coaster of a day, and nearly all of Joliet’s baseball community was tuned in to the local radio station to hear where he would play. Most – including Grant – hoped it would be the Cubs to cap off a fairy tale storyline of “local boy gets drafted by hometown team.” But the Cubs used their turn to draft Joe Carter, and Grant was selected by the San Francisco Giants as the 10th overall pick that year. The intensity of the moment and the happy tears that followed made for one of Grant’s best memories.

My dad is not an emotional guy. But when I was drafted he said ‘I’m very proud of you, Mark.’ I cried, couldn’t stop, just like now as I’m remembering it.

My parents never pushed me. But it was my dad who taught me how to pitch. And he never said ‘no’ when I wanted to practice no matter what his work day had been like. He just rolled up his sleeves and we’d go throw. He never once said ‘no.’

The Other Side podcast, 6/20/21

Grant’s father, who developed Alzheimer’s disease, passed away in July of last year at the age of 89.

Grant’s tenure in professional baseball included seasons with the Giants, Padres, Braves, Mariners, Astros, and Rockies. He finished his major league pitching career in 1993 with a 22-32 record, 4.31 ERA, and 233 appearances across eight seasons. When asked what the best thing was about his career, Grant says it was being “one of the select few” who made it on the big stage. Indeed, statistics indicate that the chances of a high school baseball player reaching the majors is less than one percent. (HS Baseball Web)

“That’s a great picture right there.” -Mark Grant re this photo at Candlestick Park with Tony Gwynn.

Grant tried to extend his career in Taiwan in 1996 but by then his pitching arm was giving out.

I still remember landing at Lindbergh [from Taiwan]. My wife picks me up, and I have an 18 month old son in the back seat … and I’m thinking to myself ‘holy smokes, what am I going to do now?’

The Other Side podcast, 6/20/21

Grant had appeared on a few guest spots for 760 KFMB radio and enjoyed it. He put in a call to then-Padres executive Bill Adams, letting him know he was available for any broadcasting work that might come up. Adams offered Grant three games as a color analyst, which led to three more, and the rest is history. The 2023 season will be Grant’s 28th year broadcasting Padres baseball.

Grant resides in Alpine with his wife of 35 years, Mary. “I love going back to visit [Joliet] but I could never live back there now – I’ve become soft living in San Diego since 1987.” (TKF interview, 1/11/23) The couple has three adult children: Andrew, Alexis, and Aidan (who has Down syndrome).

Grant is extremely active in the local community and has supported numerous charities over the years including Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation, Boys & Girls Club of East County, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of San Diego, Down Syndrome Association of San Diego, Kiwanis Club of Alpine, and St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center in El Cajon.

I’m sure there are as many “favorite calls” made by Orsillo and Grant as there are fans. For many, the best part of listening to their broadcasts is the banter between the two and not necessarily big plays or spectacular moments. But I selected one to revisit because I think it captures a bit of each broadcaster’s talent and personality. In this clip showing the final out of Joe Musgrove’s no-hitter on April 9, 2021, we hear Orsillo shift gears between “ground ball” and “sending the Friar Faithful into a frenzy.” We then hear Grant’s voice start to crack with emotion as he talks about a hometown kid getting the franchise’s first no-hitter. Grant has known the Musgrove family since Joe was a kid.

With the new additions to the Padres roster and the return of Fernando Tatis Jr., this is one of the most anticipated seasons in franchise history. It will be even more enjoyable knowing that Orsillo and Grant will be in the booth, taking us along for the ride.

Hopefully we’ll hear Orsillo call balls over the fence “very gone” on the regular. And I’m sure we can count on Grant to slap extra cheese on a variety of topics. Perhaps he’ll even get an invitation (finally!) to Orsillo’s home restaurant, Donatangelo’s, if the Padres make it to the World Series this year. Wouldn’t that be some kind of nice?

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Mostly here to promote fun baseball! My focus is on our experiences as fans and shared connections in the baseball community. I also produce content on social media, including vlogs and event coverage. Instagram: Michelle_baseballfan247 Facebook: Michelle Frost; Member: IBWAA, SABR


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