Dustin Pedroia is the first player Mike Antonellis met after he became play-by-play announcer for the Portland Sea Dogs in 2005.

Antonellis greeted Sea Dogs players at the airport when they flew in from spring training the Sunday before the regular season began.

Pedroia, then 21, began the 2005 season with Double-A Portland after batting .357 with a .435 on-base percentage in 42 games for Low-A Augusta and High-A Sarasota in 2004 – his first professional season.

“I would go down and greet them at the airport (every year) just to make sure they got the right bus to get to Portland,” Antonellis recalled. “I rode on the bus and he was the first guy I talked to. I didn’t really even know who he was.

“I just remember him saying, ‘Hey. How are you doing? I’m Dustin.’ Just really this nice, friendly introduction.”

Pedroia received a promotion to Pawtucket after 66 games in Portland. Antonellis, meanwhile, earned his own promotion to Pawtucket after calling 2,109 Sea Dogs games in 15 years.

The PawSox – who will move to Worcester in 2021 – announced in March that Antonellis would join the broadcast team with Josh Maurer and Jim Cain.

Working in Worcester brings Antonellis back to near where he grew up. He’s a native of Ashland, Massachusetts. He moved this offseason to Grafton, about 20 minutes from his parent’s home. The Ashland High and Framingham State graduate lives about 15 minutes from Polar Park, which is where the team will play next season.

“I have a lot of friends and family in the area who are really excited about the team just because of the ballpark and what I think it will do for the community and kids,” Antonellis said. “So I’d been in correspondence with a lot of people who had said, ‘Jeez, it’d be great if you could work there.’ I thought about it, of course. How could you not? But I didn’t think it would happen, to be honest. A few things worked out and it did.”

Worcester should enjoy listening to Antonellis, who knows the Red Sox organization inside out. He grew up in the 1980s watching all Boston sports, especially the Red Sox and his favorite player, Wade Boggs.

During his first season at Portland, he broadcasted games with a Sea Dogs roster that included future major leaguers Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, David Murphy, Manny Delcarmen, Brandon Moss and David Pauley.

“It’s weird to see guys who are retiring now. That means I’m getting old,” Antonellis said.

He recalls Pedroia homering against Trenton on June 21, 2005, with then-GM Theo Epstein in attendance. Epstein promoted the second baseman to Pawtucket the following day.

“He hit a ball over our video display in left-center,” Antonellis said.

Antonellis especially is looking forward to working at a new ballpark.

“In the ’90s, I was the first visiting broadcaster in Myrtle Beach for their first game,” Antonellis said. “I always thought it would be neat to start somewhere from Day 1 so you were there for all the (firsts), like the first home run. Because I like that stuff. But I think it’s just the whole effect it will have on the community. I saw what (the) Hartford (Yard Goats) did to that area from working in the Eastern League. What a brand new ballpark does, it brings kids and family.”

Antonellis is 46 but looks 36.

“I always said I should have one of those booths at the carnival to guess my age. I would clean up,” he joked.

Antonellis – who played first base growing up – knew early on he wanted to work in a different booth.

“My grandparents had cable before we did. And I think that really put a spark in the broadcasting because we would go to their house and they had Cubs games and Yankees games,” Antonellis said. “So you had Harry Caray, Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizzuto. Braves (games with) Skip Caray. All of them. So I’d watch all those games. I was just so enamored by the broadcasters. I think that’s where it probably got going.”

He watched any game on TV, but the Red Sox always were No. 1. He still remembers watching Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout game vs. Seattle and Rich Gedman’s pinch-hit grand slam at Detroit (Aug. 10, 1986) on television.

“Poor Geddy. He was with us in Portland, and I had to bore him with my stories of games he knows about,” Antonellis said.

Gedman, a Worcester native, served as Portland’s hitting coach. He’s now in his sixth year as Pawtucket’s hitting coach.

“It’s not just the players. It was the whole experience for me growing up,” he said. “I loved every piece of it. Finding out you’re going; to the drive there; to the parking; to seeing the Citgo sign; to the sights, smells on Yawkey Way; to walking up the ramp. The whole thing to me was bigger, it grabbed a hold of me more than anything that I could imagine. I just wanted to be connected to it. It wasn’t enough to just go to games.”

Antonellis has called 3,163 minor league games. He started in 1997 in Virginia, announcing for the Potomac Nationals, then the Prince William Cannons and Potomac Cannons. Potomac was a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate back then.

He worked a dual gig in New York during 2001, calling both Syracuse SkyChiefs and Utica Blue Sox games. He announced for the Kane County Cougars in 2002-03, then the Erie SeaWolves in 2004 when Curtis Granderson played 123 games there.

“I’ve always said it’s a huge privilege to do what we do,” he said. “We watch every pitch. So you have to pay attention. I think the more you watch, it’s kind of neat, the picture becomes clearer all of a sudden. And after so many years, yeah, the (great) ones really stand out.”

Jon Lester was one of those great ones who immediately stood out. The lefty posted a 2.61 ERA in 26 starts for Portland in ’05.

Antonellis said Lester dominated so much it often felt like the lefty was a big leaguer rehabbing in the minors.

“There were a lot of guys that were rumored to get traded, that people wanted to trade,” Antonellis said. “Lester was one of those guys. And I remember (then Portland manager) Todd Claus telling me clear as day in his office, ‘You don’t trade a guy that has the potential to pitch in the big leagues for 15 years.’ He said that in ’05. And we kind of knew, ‘Hey, this guy’s coming.’ That was the whole wave.

“For me, that ’05 team kind of started it all in the Red Sox system,” he added.

The best hitter he saw in 15 years at Portland?

“Mookie. It’s easy,” Antonellis said.

Betts started 2014 at Portland, where he slashed .355/.443/.551 in 54 games before being promoted to Pawtucket (then Boston the same year).

Antonellis recently told PawSox Manager Billy McMillon he has never seen so many players, even the older ones, in awe of such a young hitter as they were of Betts.

“When I go to spring training, I try to take pictures of guys who I think might be with us for our own media relations,” he said. “I remember someone saying, ‘Listen. Grab a few pictures of Mookie. He’s probably going to be with you.’

“Just his professionalism, his drive. I think in New Britain, he had four or five hits and he was still upset about something. I liked that about him. He wanted to be better. First game, he led off the season on a 3-2 pitch hitting a home run. The ’14 team, there was a lot of foreshadowing right away. He homers to start the year, Henry Owens throws a rain-shortened no-hitter. And that team’s one of the best teams I’ve seen in the minor leagues.”

Antonellis actually might have called Pedroia’s final game. The 36-year-old All-Star played six rehab games at Portland during 2019, including his last game May 24, when knee pain persisted and ended his season. Pedroia said last year he’s unsure if he’ll ever play in the majors again.

“It was really good to see him last year,” Antonellis added. “I think he’s really likable. His leadership, he’s a coach on the field. He was so great to the guys last year when he came down. He just wanted to be one of the guys.

“For what he was going through, a very tough injury, whether it was questions about his career, he came in and was very cordial, very nice,” Antonellis added. “He helped everyone out. He was good to all the clubhouse guys. He did everything we asked him to do because there’s media (requests) and all that. He seemed very upbeat and with what he’s going through. I could see where that would be hard. Just having him around, I think the guys learned a lot from him.”

Pete Frates’ parents even introduced themselves to him last year because of his work with the Red Sox.

“They saw the Red Sox bags in baggage claim and asked me if I was with the team,” he said.

Antonellis moved straight to Grafton instead of renting for one year in Pawtucket.

He lived in Old Orchard Beach, about 15-20 minutes from Hadlock Field. He loved working for the Burke family who own the Sea Dogs.

“We just felt a part of their extended family,” he said. “That’s why people don’t leave jobs.”

It took the perfect job for Antonellis to say goodbye to Portland. The start of his new gig has been delayed with both the major league and minor league seasons suspended indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m enjoying my new apartment,” he said. “Just trying to stay busy.”

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