A portentous email from an accomplished and revered pro football broadcaster was the first blossoming of the good things to come for Bob Socci.
Now that Socci is officially the lead play-by-play radio announcer for the New England Patriots, the veteran sportscaster and current radio voice of the Pawtucket Red Sox can look back with fondness at the message of hope Gil Santos delivered a few years back.
“He said, ‘Bottom line: I don’t plan to retire for a few more years, so don’t try to take my job, but you’ll be ready for it when the time comes,’” was the tale with a happy ending that Socci shared Wednesday about the legendary voice he will follow in the Patriots’ radio booth. “It really proved prophetic.”
Socci succeeds Santos, who retired following the 2012 season after 36 years of calling New England games. A native of Milton, Mass., Socci was hired by the PawSox in March after previously calling minor-league games for the Norfolk Tides. He will depart Pawtucket around July 1 in order to get head start on the gig what awaits him come autumn.
“It’s a remarkable opportunity for Bob and I know (landing the Pats’ gig) is something that’s been a lifelong goal,” remarked PawSox President Mike Tamburro. “When an opportunity like this comes along, you applaud, and that’s what we’re doing.”
For Socci, the road to following Santos’ footsteps began to take shape in 2009 – right around the time 98.5 The Sports Hub joined the greater-Boston area sports talk scene. Besides his duties with Norfolk, Socci was calling college football and basketball games for Navy and college hoops games for CBS Sports Network. Even with his busy schedule, Socci wanted to pass along that he was interested in doing some part-time work for the fledgling radio station.
The demo CD that Socci dropped off at The Sports Hub allowed the 45-year-old to remain on the radar. With two weeks to go in the 2012 NFL season, he was contacted by Howie Sylvester, the executive producer of the Patriots’ radio network. Sylvester asked Socci to send in another demo reel, but he would have to sit tight and wait before an opportunity presented itself.
As he awaited word from 98.5, Socci was approached by Pawtucket about its vacant radio position. To say that he was suddenly “in demand” would be an understatement, as Socci went from interviewing with executives from The Sports Hub on Friday, to conversing with PawSox team officials the following Monday.
“I had a great feeling coming out of both meetings, but both of them had different time frames (as it relates to finding out whether the job is yours or not),” said Socci. “I had follow-up conversations and emails with (The Sports Hub) and was aware that I was definitely a candidate.”
It was during his face-to-face interview with The Sports Hub that Socci first got to rub elbows with his future radio partner, former New England quarterback Scott Zolak, who is now the Patriots radio color analyst. The pair already knew each other by reputation, since Zolak had worked with play-by-play partners whom Socci knew well.
“When I talked to the people who had worked with Scott in the past and said that I was being interviewed for the (New England) job, their immediate reaction was ‘You guys would be great together,’” Socci said. “Upon meeting Scott, I had a great vibe and felt that our personalities would compliment one another very well.”
After finding out Wednesday that the Patriots’ job is his, Socci is already thinking about the difficulties of replacing a local broadcasting legend. His New England roots have a lot to do with his high level of appreciation for the work of his predecessor.
“It’s definitely a challenge and if you think about the legacy in that broadcast booth – not only because of Gil but (former radio color man) Gino Cappelletti – I think it could be overwhelming and certainly humbling,” Socci stated. “I truly believe that every road in my life and career has pointed in this direction. I have tremendous reverence for the legacy that exists, but Scott and I are going to work to create our own and build on the one that exists.
“For the longtime listeners, my goal is to appeal to them. As a play-by-play guy, I want to continue to paint the picture and allow Scott’s personality to flourish on the air,” Socci delved further. “I’m very mindful of the people who will be listening and every day I’ll be looking to earn their trust.”
While Socci is technically an employee of The Sports Hub, he was still subject to approval from the Patriots. Given his longstanding ties to Navy football – he’s been broadcasting games for the Midshipmen – and the fact that Bill Belichick’s father, Steve, was a scout at Navy for over 30 years, it seemed Socci had the perfect in.
Socci will lend his voice to The Sports Hub’s NFL Draft coverage on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. The same day, he’ll perform his radio duties for Pawtucket, first on PawSox Insider at 2 p.m. and for that night’s 6:05 contest at McCoy Stadium against Columbus.
“I can’t express to the PawSox how thankful I am. I love doing the games, blogging about the team and working with (partner) Jeff Levering,” Socci expressed. “Pawtucket is a great place and is everything I envisioned it would be.”
Tamburro brought up a good point regarding Socci becoming another successful PawSox broadcast story that now moves on to call pro games.
“To know that two of the major sports franchises in our market – the Red Sox and Patriots – both have a PawSox play-by-play guy, it’s pretty special and satisfying,” said Tamburro, referencing Don Orsillo’s work with NESN. “It’s a tribute to them and it’s a tribute to our organization and makes us feel very proud.”