Believe it: Sox talk warms up Bangor

Posted Jan. 26, 2009, at 10:11 p.m.

BANGOR — Maybe it was the contrast of the darkness and below-zero temperatures outside Monday night, but even Boston Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione — just hours after leaving the 80-degree heat and bright sun of Fort Myers, Fla. — couldn’t help but notice the warmth inside the Bangor Civic Center.

“I left 80 and sunny to come up here and see you guys. Can you believe it?!” the 61-year-old Castiglione said, playing off his famous radio tag line. “You guys give off your own warmth and I’m glad to come back here every year.”

The sixth annual WZON Hot Stove Night presented by Bangor all-sports radio station 620 AM drew 550 baseball fans — two of whom were daring enough to wear New York Yankees caps amidst a throng of Sox fans — and plenty of questions, laughs and insights.

The annual event featured Castiglione, who will be starting his 27th season as the voice of the Red Sox; former Boston Globe and current Yahoo! Sports baseball writer Gordon Edes, and New England Sports Network Red Sox TV play-by-play man Don Orsillo.

Orsillo, 39, has been the play-by-play voice of the Red Sox for NESN since 2001. The Melrose, Mass., native grew up in Madison, N.H., near North Conway and is a dyed-in-the-red-wool Red Sox Nation citizen.

“Usually I do the Red Sox cruise this time of year so I wasn’t able to make the last two, but here I am,” Orsillo said. “It’s much colder than the cruise, but it’s a chance to see the rest of Red Sox Nation, which is always fun.”

While Castiglione has been to all six Hot Stove Nights and Edes has attended the last three, this is the first for Orsillo.

“When I was at Northeastern University, I did some games in Orono, but I haven’t been up this way in a long time,” he said. “Joe and Gordon have both raved about this, and they asked me to do it this year, so I came up.”

Edes, who broke into the sports writing world with the Los Angeles Times as its L.A. Kings beat writer in 1980, was the Globe’s Red Sox beat writer for 12 years before joining Yahoo! in August as one of its three national major league baseball writers.

“This was kind of in the works since May when the Globe offered us buyouts in a downsizing move, but then the Globe denied the bailouts, we fought it, and in August, I joined Yahoo! with no buyout,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to this season. We’ve been given a lot of free rein, but it’s definitely kind of a feeling-out process because when you cover the Sox, you know who you’re writing for, you know how informed they are, and you know what they care about.

“Now it’s more of a big picture thing, but I think the way they’re set up gives us a lot of freedom.”

Hot Stove attendees were treated to free ballpark food like soda and hot dogs, about 110 minutes of Sox talk as the three-man panel fielded questions from fans and WZON personalities alike, and even a surprise appearance from Bangor resident Matt Stairs, who hit a pinch-hit, game-winning home run for the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies last season in the NLCS.

Everything from Red Sox free agent acquisitions, Manny Ramirez, Boston’s bullpen, NESN’s past and present female broadcasters, the farm system (Edes says keep an eye on current and near-future Portland Sea Dogs players Lars Anderson, a slugging first baseman, and starting pitcher Daniel Bard, who has a 100 mph fastball), was addressed by the three guests. They also discussed humorous stories from the clubhouse, road trip pranks, favorite players — and even Orsillo’s propensity for on- and off-air giggling fits.

Oh, and all three believe Jason Varitek will be back behind the plate for Boston.

Incidentally, all three have their own favorite players: Castiglione listed Mike Lowell, Mo Vaughn, Alex Cora, Pedro Martinez and former manager Joe Morgan; Orsillo mentioned Trot Nixon, Brian Daubach, Tim Wakefield and Scott Hatteberg; and Edes said Sean Casey, Jeff Frye, Dennis Eckersley, Vaughn and Hatteberg.

And if Castiglione’s Sunshine State sojourn seems impressive, consider the fact Edes left his wife at home on their wedding anniversary to fly up to Bangor.

“I think, or at least I hope, my wife would understand me coming up here if she could experience this,” Edes said. “Thanks. It’s great to have such positive and informative questions.

“But just in case, you’re all my alibi tonight.”

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