Regional ties aside, Thorne loyal to fans

April 27, 2007|By RICK MAESE

Gary Thorne makes the short walk from his hotel to the ballpark, chatting about how much he's enjoying Baltimore, noting a good coffee shop he'd recently discovered and pointing out a church that he plans to visit. The cars whiz by and the people walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk don't even seem to notice. Here's Thorne, one of the Orioles' biggest offseason improvements, strolling anonymously to work, with 43 years of broadcasting behind him and a couple of tumultuous days ahead.

That was Tuesday, one day before Thorne's words made ears perk up all across New England, prompting Boston Red Sox fans to begin heaving anger and venom in his direction.

Thorne was very open about what he feels is his role as a broadcaster.

"My job is be honest with the people, to make the game more enjoyable, to bring them information that they wouldn't have otherwise," said Thorne, the Orioles' new play-by-play announcer on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. "If my credibility is no good, then I'm nothing."

The next day, he dropped a bombshell with the delivery of a toy slingshot, mentioning in passing during the night's broadcast he had been told that Curt Schilling's sock in the 2004 postseason was red with paint, not blood.

"It was all for PR," Thorne told viewers.

The conversation that unfolded yesterday - culminating with Thorne acknowledging his statements were based on a misunderstanding - seemed to lack one little footnote about Thorne's own history.

Oh, they told you that he's a broadcast veteran, that he works for ESPN and that he's regarded as one of the country's top hockey announcers, that he has called everything from the 1986 World Series to the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs to the 2007 Frozen Four of college hockey. Here's what the so-called Red Sox Nation didn't note: Thorne grew up as one of them.

"Curt Gowdy, Ken Coleman, Ned Martin ... those are the guys I grew up listening to," said Thorne, 58, a native of Old Town, Maine.

Growing up in rural Maine, Thorne listened to the 50,000-watt stations from Boston and New York. His grandmother had suffered a stroke and rarely left the house. Thorne fondly remembers how his relationship with his grandmother blossomed into a love affair with broadcasting.

"Radio was her companion and I grew up around her," he said. "I grew up with her listening to the radio, soap operas, Jack Benny, Red Sox baseball. I heard it all the time and just loved it. It's never gone away."

There's still something romantic - something uniquely American - about calling baseball games, a big responsibility that Thorne knows plucks at some emotional chords. Delivering the play-by-play for the Orioles the first month of the season, Thorne has already shown he isn't one to hold punches. So he'll point out that Barry Bonds' home run chase is tainted, and he'll point out when the Orioles make mistakes, and he'll point out when one of baseball's most endearing stories might not be as quaint as you might want to believe.

Thorne grew up listening to Red Sox games, but after broadcasting enough games and visiting enough cities, an announcer's allegiance becomes tied to the craft, not to any one team. And after just a few minutes of listening to Thorne, you realize how much he cares about the craft. That's a major reason Thorne said he wouldn't be here if he wasn't allowed to call games his way.

"The Orioles came to me - they came to my home in Florida - and the very first discussion I had: `If you're looking for a homer, this discussion is over right now,' " he said. "I don't want that. I won't do it. I'm just adamant about it. I can't ruin my professional career cheerleading for a team.

"I want them to win as much as anybody because it's a hell of a lot more fun broadcasting a winner than a loser. But at the same time, my life is going to go on professionally, and it's not going to be corrupted by being some kind of false cheerleader for Baltimore."

The Orioles' first season on MASN has thus far been enjoyable for viewers.

Thorne's broadcasts have been smooth, and with a wealth of experience and a range of discussion topics - he graduated from law school, is a former district attorney and has been part owner of two minor league baseball teams.

He laughs, thinking back to how this all started. Not content to sit at his grandmother's side and listen to the radio, he studied for his Federal Communications Commission license, passing the test a few weeks later. He was just 15.

Thorne sent letters to three radio stations, and one of them responded. "Looking for cheap labor," Thorne said.

"I didn't have a car at the time and it was 10 miles to the radio station," he said. "The first two weekends, I had to hitchhike. I think my father was testing me, seeing if I was really going to get up at 5 o'clock on a Sunday morning to open the station."

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