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Support for Don Orsillo swells in aftermath of NESN move

Don Orsillo looks on as former Red Sox player Stephen Drew addresses the crowd at Fenway Park before a World Series victory parade in 2013.
Don Orsillo looks on as former Red Sox player Stephen Drew addresses the crowd at Fenway Park before a World Series victory parade in 2013.(Gail Oskin/Getty Images)

After learning Don Orsillo will not return to NESN as the Red Sox’ play-by-play announcer next season, David Carlisle made a swift decision.

For the last few years, his consulting firm in Concord has purchased a block of seats and treated employees to a day at Fenway Park. That will be no more, Carlisle wrote in an e-mail to the Globe Wednesday, a direct result of NESN’s decision to oust the longtime voice of the team.

“I can do nothing and try my best to enjoy the game next year or basically do something,” he said.

Carlisle is not alone. The reaction to NESN’s announcement Tuesday that Dave O’Brien will replace Orsillo in the booth conveyed widespread disapproval — and even anger.

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“Boneheads!!!”

“ANOTHER WRONG MOVE BY NESN!!!”

Before Tuesday was over, a petition to keep Orsillo was started, a Keep Don Orsillo Twitter account had been created, and venom in many forms was aimed in NESN’s direction. By Wednesday, the petition boasted more than 25,000 signatures — aided in part by a tweet from Dropkick Murphys singer Ken Casey — and the Twitter account gained neary 1,500 followers. The Globe’s story on Orsillo had more than 400 comments.

Orsillo has been the voice of the Red Sox since 2001, spending upward of four hours a night, 150-plus days a year, on televisions throughout New England and nationwide. The sheer number of games and their length makes a baseball broadcaster’s relationship with the audience different from that of a football, hockey, or basketball broadcaster, said Richard Deitsch, sports media columnist for Sports Illustrated and an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University’s journalism school.

“To me, Orsillo wasn’t just the broadcaster of the Red Sox; he was sort of a chamber of commerce representative for all of New England and that makes him inevitably much closer to your family than just some average sports broadcaster,” Deitsch said.

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Orsillo has honed a “homey” voice, as Frank Shorr, a Boston University senior lecturer, called it, while displaying an understanding of how to balance tone and volume during calls.

“[Viewers] are relying on the director to show them where the ball is going, but at the same time when they switch from the center-field camera to the behind-the-plate camera, you can tell what’s going on by listening to Don’s voice,” said Shorr, who is also director of BU’s Sports Institute.

“They’re sensing Don’s voice that something is happening and they need to turn around.”

Deitsch said Orsillo has the skill set of a national broadcaster, setting him apart from other local markets and enriching the Red Sox and NESN experience.

“So there’s nothing in terms of on the merit why that guy should not be back in 2016, and that’s why I think that decision is resonating in New England and beyond New England. I think people realize that a guy who did his job exceptionally well is totally getting screwed,” Deitsch said.

Orsillo is in his prime, making the decision more puzzling, said Shorr, especially considering the chemistry he has built with Remy the past 15 years.

“They just complement each other so well,” said Shorr, who is an eight-time Emmy Award winner.

Carlisle uses an example from July of 2014 to illustrate how Orsillo can elevate a broadcast. Remy’s tooth fell out during a game, and Orsillo, laughing contagiously, tried to replace it. Orsillo seamlessly weaved punch lines between his calls of Brandon Workman and Chris Capuano pitches.

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“They show that every once in a while, and I still [think it’s] just hysterically funny,” said Carlisle. “I just laugh uproariously.”

It’s the type of exchange, humor, and personality that has kept Carlisle tuned into the broadcasts despite dismal performances by the Red Sox three of the last four seasons.

“If you’re passionate about baseball, you can go from agony to ecstasy inside of seven seconds,” he said. “It can be really tough, so that comedy that he has really keeps you going.”

Though Carlisle thinks O’Brien will do a fine job, he reserved his highest praise for Orsillo.

“I think he’s irreplaceable,” Carlisle said.


Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.