SMITHFIELD, R.I. — Don Orsillo has been the television play-by-play voice of Red Sox Nation since 2001, riding the highs and lows of the team’s fortunes with unshakable calm, earning the respect of his peers in the industry, and having a ball with his on-air partner, former Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy.
Away from the baseball field, Orsillo has two passions: fishing and cooking. “When I cook,” he says,” I become Donatangelo.” Donatangelo is the name he uses for himself when he tweets about food. It is also the first name of Orsillo’s paternal great-grandfather, the first member of the family to come to the United States from Benevento, the Italian city north of Naples. Among other things, he brought with him a recipe for tomato sauce, which the family claims is now 150 years old. One of the first things Orsillo says when he opens his door to welcome visitors is “My father is afraid I’m going to give away the recipe for the sauce.”
Dad can rest assured. His son merely tantalizes us with its aroma and taste.
Orsillo is a gracious host, showing visitors through his home with its panoramic views of a lake stocked with bass, trout, and pickerel. Photos Orsillo took in Italy, where his father has a home, adorn the walls. After a game against Baltimore the night before, he didn’t get in until 1 a.m. because of thunderstorms, and tonight the Sox have a 6 p.m. makeup game. But Orsillo is prepared and this avid Food Network fan knows the cooking drill. He has the recipe he’s making in the oven, ready for its close-up shot. The ingredients to make another version are lined up on the counter. And there’s opera playing, which he insists isn’t for show. “I always play opera when I cook Italian,” he says. “It helps the food.”
A baseball player through high school in Madison, N.H., Orsillo saw his playing days end at graduation when he realized that he would have to find another route to the major leagues. He used to listen to Ken Coleman and Joe Castiglione call Red Sox games on the radio. “I thought it was the coolest job ever,” says Orsillo. At Northeastern, he interned for the pair, which reaffirmed his career choice. After college, he spent 10 years broadcasting in the minor leagues before getting tapped by NESN in 2001.
Inspired by his father, who the son says is also adept in the kitchen, Orsillo began cooking for himself in college. Rather than relying on recipes, he says, “I wing it a lot, but I also watch the Food Network a lot.” He is a fan of Anthony Bourdain, trying to re-create dishes featured on his travel shows. And he attempts to reverse-engineer items he enjoys at restaurants. When traveling with the Red Sox, Orsillo says there is usually at least one day game, which means he’s free for dinner afterward. Favorite dining cities include Toronto, New York (“of course”), and Philadelphia. He enjoys barbecue in Texas and Kansas City, and appreciates the different styles of the cuisine in each city he visits.
But when he’s home — in Rhode Island or Florida (where he has a condominium) — he wants to cook. Every year for spring training he brings a plastic envelope filled with his recipes so he can cook in his condo. During baseball season it’s hard to find time for homemade meals because he’s either at Fenway or on the road. But every off-day, and almost every night during the offseason, he prepares dinner at home, most often for himself and his two daughters, Sydney, 13, and Madison, 10. “I call them my sous chefs, because they’re pretty good at prep,” he says. He also calls them his guinea pigs. “I’ve had some real disasters,” he concedes. “I’ve tried seviche. I’ve practically poisoned [the girls].”
The broadcaster’s kitchen skills first came to the attention of his baseball audience last winter when he went on a New England tour with Jerry Remy and Jenny Dell. The last Twitter holdout on the NESN team, Orsillo recalls that he was getting some pressure to embrace social media, especially from Dell. Claiming, “My life just isn’t that exciting,” Orsillo decided to start tweeting about what he was eating — often, what he was making and eating. The response was overwhelming, much stronger for the food tweets than for his baseball tweets. “Donatangelo rates the crab cakes at Camden Yards as the best ever,” was one recent tweet, along with “Donatangelo grilled romaine lettuce salad and salmon. Pre-game meal.”
Today, the broadcaster is preparing chicken and sausages in red wine sauce. Chicken drumsticks brown in one skillet, sausages in another. Orsillo roughly chops potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic and spreads them in a glass baking pan. Donatangelo’s sauce, prepared earlier in the day, simmers on the stovetop, taunting with its mysterious ingredients. Later, he’ll serve it over pasta. Orsillo will only reveal that it contains four kinds of meat, fresh tomatoes, and takes three days to prepare. He makes at least three big batches each year — one in Florida that lasts the duration of spring training — and freezes them in Ball jars.
While he cuts vegetables, Orsillo tells of a grocery shopping spree in Rome, with his father’s wife’s mother, who speaks no English; Orsillo speaks no Italian. They were buying ingredients for the dish Orsillo is making today. Garlic is stronger in Italy, so he learned to cook with half as much; and the chicken has a different density, he says, so takes longer to cook. Working in an unfamiliar setting, with these ingredients, he was afraid the vegetables would be ruined by the time the chicken was done, but his Italian family pronounced everything delicious. “This is the first dish I’ve ever made for Romans that Romans actually liked,” he says.
In his own kitchen, with all the garlic he’s accustomed to using, and chicken from his local market, it’s pretty spectacular, too.