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|Baseball has been Henry Mahegan's preferred course of study since 2004.|
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HENRY MAHEGAN'S FIRST day as the new voice of Fenway Park began in Room 426 of Charlestown High School, in the long shadows of the history he teaches. Portraits of presidents line one wall; on another hangs a photograph of a young B.B. King. The 32-year-old Mahegan stood in front of them and his students, and he cleared his throat, and he talked in his deep, warm tenor about time and its passage: who and what brought us here, and why it's important that we remember the beginnings that gave us our middles and ends. But teenagers, even Boston teenagers, even kids who grew up around landmarks and monuments, can have a hard time seeing beyond the concerns of the present. One raised his hand. "Did you bring us Sox tickets?" he asked.
They know about Mahegan's new job; they know that he'll be spending his evenings surrounded by yet more history. He's never been shy about his other love, filling his classroom walls with a silent audience of ballplayers, staring back at the presidents. There's Ted Williams, captured midswing. There's Jim Rice, glaring out from his Hall of Fame plaque.
In fact, baseball had been Mahegan's preferred course of study for most of his life. He began working for the Red Sox in 2004, virtually right out of college, first in their publications and archives department and later in media relations. He was also, unofficially, the backup for the team's longtime PA announcer, Carl Beane. Mahegan knew baseball, and his voice was strong enough to survive Fenway Park's notoriously bad acoustics. (A waitress recently asked him if he did voice work. His proud girlfriend, Alyssa, said: "Tell her, you have to tell her!") But Beane never missed a game. In 2010 Mahegan, who comes from a family of teachers, decided to pursue a different calling. "I made room in my brain for other things" is how he put it, and he left Fenway Park for Room 426.
Then Beane died suddenly last May, and after the Red Sox made it through the rest of last season with a series of guests -- including Mahegan, hastily pressed into service for the first five games following Beane's death -- they spent this offseason searching for a more permanent replacement. They heard more than 340 auditions, including the open tryouts featured in a previous column (the Music Issue, Feb. 18). That baritone chorus of hopefuls was narrowed to 35 and finally to five. In the end, the Red Sox opted for a three-man platoon. Dick Flavin and Bob Lobel, retired local TV personalities with grandfatherly voices, will share the day games. Mahegan's more youthful, crisper tone will ring out every night. "I couldn't be more thrilled," he says.
In a place so steeped in tradition, his voice has a big vacuum to fill. Mahegan knows that. Like Boston's baseball fans, the history teacher requires no instruction. On his first night, April 10 against the Orioles, Mahegan greeted old friends, sat down in his chair, took a sip of water, pressed a big red button, leaned into his microphone and & didn't say much at all. From his first sentence -- "Good evening, everyone" -- to his first blood donor of the game -- Kevin Broderick of Marshfield, Mass. -- and his first batter -- Nate McLouth -- he understood why so much else here goes unsaid. The skies opened up just as McLouth stepped to the plate, and somebody remembered that it had rained during Carl Beane's first game too, but nobody filled in the rest of the quiet, because they were all thinking the same thing. Everybody was on the same page.
Mahegan knew that here they introduce players by their position first and then their number, but saying the number only once because the Yankees say it twice. He knew that they never call Fenway Park "America's most historic ballpark," because that honor goes to Pittsfield's Wahconah Park, but they do call it "America's most beloved ballpark" -- and when they do, beloved is always pronounced with two syllables, not three. And he knew that the last words out of his mouth every night will be the last batter he happens to introduce, that he will never return to announce that the game is over, or to say thank you and good night.
Henry Mahegan knows not to say those things because of the lessons history has taught him. Everything has a beginning. And there is almost always a middle. But baseball -- like time, like love -- never really ends.
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