To Channel 4 sports viewers, Mike Uva is a new face. But to him, the Boston sports scene has a lifetime’s worth of familiarity. All that’s new is the fulfillment of a dream.
Uva recently joined the Ch. 4 sports department in a freelance role, filling the spot that opened up when Levan Reid moved to mornings in March. Uva made his debut Aug. 11 before and after the Patriots-Giants preseason game on Ch. 4′s studio programming.
Fans and viewers are just getting to know him. But Uva, a Peabody native, St. John’s Prep graduate, and former Assumption football player already knows the market well.
“I grew up here my entire life, and I always knew I wanted to be around sports, I just didn’t know what it would look like as a career,” said Uva, who turned 31 on the day Ch. 4 sports director Steve Burton reached out to him about the opening. “I thought for a time I might want to be a sportswriter. But whatever shape it took, I knew I wanted to be involved in Boston sports in some way.
“It’s pretty crazy to be working with Steve and Rochie [Dan Roche] and to be at the place where Bob Lobel was such a legend. And now I’m jumping in, right on the Patriots. It doesn’t feel real.”
Uva might be young, but make no mistake, his dues have been paid in full, and his ascent is due to his hard work and an upbeat attitude that makes people he’s met along the way want to help him. In 13 years as a media columnist, Uva’s hiring generated more unsolicited positive comments from fellow Boston sports reporters than any I can recall.
“Mike does his homework,” said Burton. “Not only is he knowledgeable, he’s extremely creative. He brings topics to the table that others might not notice. Our sports department is thankful to have him.”
Uva made his positive impression while taking an unconventional route. He gained on-camera experience at Assumption hosting a sports show he created, but as graduation neared in 2013 he wasn’t sure what came next. He hadn’t caught a break. So he decided to create one.
“I remember this like it was yesterday,” he said. “I finished my final game at Assumption, and I happened to see a tweet from Brendan Hall, who covered high schools for ESPN Boston, that he was going to be on campus. I said, ‘All right, this guy’s going to be on campus, let’s go try to track him down.’ I kind of cornered him in the press box and just said, ‘Hey look, if there’s ever an opportunity, let me know.’ ”
They stayed in touch, and eventually Hall offered him the opportunity to string for ESPN Boston.
“He was the first one that gave me a shot in front of the camera,” said Uva. “We broke down film, sort of like ‘The Belestrator.’ I’m forever grateful to him for giving me that chance.
“No one was really giving me the time of day. I didn’t go to a broadcasting school. I played football in college, so I never had time to do an internship. I kind of just taught myself and watched the guys like Steve Burton, the Bob Lobels, the Mike Lynches to Steve Buckleys. To be able to just get in front of that microphone with that ESPN logo on it really opened up doors for me.”
Uva landed his first TV job in March 2015, at WXVT in Greenville, Miss. The year before Uva arrived, the station was featured on a “Real World” type reality program on TruTV.
“I’m grateful I wasn’t there for that. They just make everyone look bad,” he said with a laugh. “It teaches you that maybe that’s not the best thing to do when you’re trying to climb in this business.”
Uva moved on from there to WatchFox in Columbia, S.C., where he covered sports for five years before moving on last September to work in a multimedia role for a subscription website, gamecockcentral.com, that covers the University of South Carolina.
Then, a few weeks ago, Burton called out of the blue. They had known each other for eight years, first meeting when Uva covered Burton’s son, Austin, as a high school quarterback. Burton brought him by the building at that time for a visit and gave Uva a chance to read off the teleprompter.
“Steve reached out and was like, ‘Do you want to come home? Would this be something that would interest you?’ And of course it was, but I remember saying at first, ‘Steve, there is no way this is going to work. I just bought a condo down here, we’ve got the football season starting up.’ And he was like, ‘Well, just think about it.’ ”
Uva’s parents happened to be visiting him in South Carolina when he got the call. He talked it over with them, as well as with his girlfriend.
“I thought, shoot, this is what I’ve dreamed about my entire life,” he said. “Let’s do this, because if I don’t, I’m going to look back and regret it.”
On his visit eight years ago, Uva left himself a memento for future discovery: A card in the ceiling.
“I got the idea from the Celtics when they did that against the Lakers in the 2008 Finals,” he said. “I put a $50 bill in it and I wrote a card and I said, ‘One day, I’ll be back to get this.’ ”
So, have you recovered it?
“Steve and I went back, we checked in the ceiling,” Uva said. “Unfortunately, we can’t get in the ceiling now. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know if someone took the money.
“But the day after Steve called me and I’m just like, ‘I need a sign. Like, is it time to go? I don’t know what to do.’ Not long after, I found $51 on the side of the street. I’m like, ‘Wow, maybe this is paying me back.’ That has to be a sign to go, right? I think it was.”
“At the very least, I was able to get drinks with it that night.”