Goucher talks RI sports scene’s past, present, future
Dave Goucher is on the all-time roster of Pawtucket Red Sox announcers in much the same way David Ortiz is on the all-time roster of Pawtucket Red Sox players.
Both men had cemented their place in the top echelon of their respective fields when they came for a cameo performance at the home of Boston baseball’s Triple-A partner. Ortiz was coming off his second World Series championship when he made a three-game rehab appearance in July of 2008. He and the MLB Red Sox were on their way to a third title when he played six more Triple-A games in April of 2013.
Four months later, Goucher brought his skills to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., coming off his 12th season as the Boston Bruins radio announcer. He showed up for a mid-August game against Louisville, then another versus Syracuse two weeks later.
But whereas Ortiz and a host of other Boston baseballers come to McCoy for restoration, Goucher’s guest gigs in the booth were a time for reflection. At that point, he was coming off a sprinting marathon in his full-time job. The Bruins had crammed 70 games into a five-month window between the end of a season-shortening lockout and the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
Before that, he had called the team’s 2011 championship run. He had even worked a game at the home of the PawSox’ parent club, Fenway Park, when the Bruins hosted the 2010 NHL Winter Classic.
But as a former intern with Rhode Island’s minor-league ball club, he had a game in the McCoy booth sitting next to an unchecked box with no flexibility for substitutes.
“Going back to call a few games there in 2013 kind of brought things full circle for me,” he said in an e-mail to Pucks and Recreation. “It was only a couple of months after the Bruins had lost in the Stanley Cup Final to Chicago, and I kept thinking about how much my life had changed from the time I worked at McCoy (1987) until then.”
Born and raised in Pawtucket, four miles north of Providence, Goucher was experiencing a homecoming of the highest order. “From the booth,” he remarked, “I could see past the right field fence to the old McLean Trucking building where my father worked when I was a kid.”
And he was calling the action for a franchise that has existed for almost as long as he has. The PawSox began as a Double-A team in the Eastern League in 1970, then were elevated to the International League in 1973.
In Goucher’s top sport of choice, the local sports scene soon reprised a practice of taking an associated Boston team’s uniform and simply substituting a “P” for a “B.” The Providence Bruins took root as the Hub’s new American Hockey League base in 1992. It marked the area’s first claim to a pro hockey franchise since the AHL’s Reds left for Binghamton, N.Y., in 1977.
By the time the P-Bruins were inaugurated, Goucher was a senior and a student-sportscaster at Boston University. Over his Christmas break that year, he opportunistically took in a game at the Providence Civic Center, but admits that “I never would have thought I’d actually be calling the games three years later.”
Yet after graduating and breaking into the broadcasting ranks with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, he got that opportunity. He would man the Civic Center booth for the next five seasons before successfully pursuing an opening at the Boston Bruins radio network.
Since that time, Goucher has garnered his share of celebrity. Besides his play-by-play duties at the TD Garden, he has amused listeners on 98.5 The Sports Hub with his recurring “Dave Goucher Goes to the Movies” segment on a weekday talk show. There, he channels his vocational energy to lend unique commentary to classic film and TV clips. When the Bruins are out of action, he has enjoyed freelance NHL playoff assignments for Westwood One and college hockey for the NBC Sports Network.
All the while, key constants have stuck back home. The PawSox are in their 45th Triple-A season, while the P-Bruins just finished their 25th campaign. Only Rochester, N.Y., with baseball’s Red Wings dating back to 1899 and the AHL’s Americans since 1956, has sustained the same Triple-A baseball-hockey combination longer than the Rhode Island market.
In addition, with their Boston ties, Providence and Pawtucket claim the longest active affiliations in their respective sports.
“The long run for both the P-Bruins and the PawSox is a great testament to how knowledgeable, caring and passionate sports fans are in Rhode Island,” Goucher said. “I think they take great pride in knowing that their respective teams are the last step on the way to big-league careers for players. I grew up within walking distance of McCoy Stadium and still remember seeing Wade Boggs, Marty Barrett and Roger Clemens all play in Pawtucket.”
Hoping for a Pawtucket perk-up
Given the decades of tradition, it jarred many local minds and even more hearts when an out-of-state relocation looked palpable for the PawSox. Just like Boston’s Fenway Park, McCoy Stadium is the oldest baseball venue at its level, currently celebrating its 75th year. Attendance has steadily sagged despite general on-field success, and complicated renovate-or-replace tugs-of-verbal-war have erupted.
As the team’s previous lease was nearing its end, CEO Larry Lucchino of the parent club initiated a push for a park in downtown Providence. After that 2015 outline — which would have come to fruition this year — fell through within months, speculation proliferated over a slew of cities in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut.
That notion drew natural upset from Rhode Island’s sentimental seamheads, but it is a more personal matter for Pawtucket citizens.
With a legacy from the cotton and textile boom that precipitated the Industrial Revolution, Pawtucket prides itself on its marked blue-collar heritage. Dwarfed by the cultured capital and county namesake in population by more than 100,000, it validates its status as its own city by harboring the state’s favorite ball club.
At the time of Lucchino’s Pawtucket-to-Providence proposition, even before the trajectory went from out-of-city to out-of-state, a sense of lost lifeblood took hold. Pawtucket mayor Donald Grebien told the local press that the announcement “just took the air out of the room.”
Goucher weighed in on Twitter by calling the occasion “An unnecessary, sad day for my hometown.”
Two years later, though, all earthshaking changes are on hold. The Triple-A Red Sox renewed their McCoy lease through 2020, and are now using the time they bought to seek a state-of-the-art facility in their lifelong town.
In late April, Lucchino unveiled a proposed multifaceted, year-round recreation district for downtown. If approved, the natural nucleus would be McCoy’s replacement, which would add punctuation to the Boston connection with its own version of Fenway’s hallowed Green Monster.
Other existing or proposed aspects of the complex would be geared toward keeping the historic Slater Mill neighborhood sleepless every summer day. To supplement the calendar, Lucchino’s group is including none other than a community hockey rink in the package.
For Goucher, a former youth puckster in town, that blueprint is all but his boyhood in one panoramic Polaroid. But he is more interested in his hometown’s future health.
“The new ballpark near Slater Mill would play a vital role in helping revitalize downtown Pawtucket,” he said. “The ice rink piece of it is an added bonus.”
Separate cities, similar stories
Goucher and fellow Pawtucket residents have seen the likes of this pattern before. During the franchise’s wee phases in the mid-’70s, the fan support and stadium conditions fueled and reeked of eventual bankruptcy. Relocation appeared inevitable until some arm-twisting convinced the late Ben Mondor to take a chance.
The affectionate expression “PawSox” did not even come to life until Mondor owned the team. But over time, he formed a revered front-office troika with club president Mike Tamburro and general manager Lou Schweccheimer. Throughout three-plus decades, they made McCoy an appealing choice for a family outing and gradually added more seats, modern amenities and extravagant murals dedicated to the on-field alumni.
By the second decade of that era, Goucher got in on the Mondor-Tamburro-Schweccheimer combination’s second-family feel as a high-school intern in the summer of 1987. Players of note that season included Brady Anderson, Todd Benzinger, Ellis Burks, Oil Can Boyd and Sam Horn.
“My fondest memories of working at McCoy are just the people involved, led by Ben and Mike and Lou,” Goucher said. “They took the time to actually learn your name.”
Goucher worked primarily in concessions, an ostensibly thankless position given its setup away from view of the field. But he was also on call for reinforcement with the grounds crew whenever inclement weather lurked.
“We had to be ready to pull the tarp if the skies opened up,” he recalled. “If they didn’t, we got to stand there and watch the game and get paid for it!”
Eight years later, not long after a pack of Providence investors followed the PawSox pattern, Goucher’s green came from standing, watching and describing quality minor-league action in Rhode Island’s other premier sports facility. In some ways, the establishment that granted that job did for Providence what he now hopes can happen for Pawtucket.
The old Rhode Island Reds bolted in the summer of 1977, ironically the first year of McCoy’s Mondor revival. It took 15 years for hockey to come back at the behest of the late Providence mayor Buddy Cianci. When it did, a multitude of new downtown attractions followed in a manner that cemented the capital’s “Renaissance City” moniker.
Having now finished their first quarter-century of operation, the P-Bruins boast the third-longest tenure of any AHL brand. Support has been sustainable through thick and thin, both of which Goucher witnessed firsthand during his stint. He called a 19-win, last-place season in 1997-98, followed by a Calder Cup championship in 1999.
“I think 25 years for the P-Bruins in Providence is an exceptional accomplishment,” he remarked. “During my five years there, the team routinely led the AHL in attendance, proving just how passionate hockey fans are in Rhode Island, dating back to the days of the Reds. And I think fans like the fact they can see a player in Providence one night and, theoretically, in Boston the next.”
With his own career chronicle, Goucher has added the precedent of potentially hearing a future NHL announcer on his last stepping stone. In the ’80s, he enjoyed watching Barrett’s and Boggs’ slugging and Clemens’ fireballing before the Fenway faithful did.
In the latter half of the ’90s, he more or less returned a favor. His fellow Rhode Islanders heard his thorough pre-faceoff descriptions of each team’s jersey and contrasting excitement for a Bruins goal and trademark deflated deadpan for an opposing tally before the rest of New England could.
Time will grade the merit of the perpetual curmudgeonly complaint that sportscasters are not what they used to be. For now, Goucher’s former haunts are proof that tomorrow’s top-level announcers are not groomed under the same conditions that he was.
P-Bruins listeners can no longer use a physical radio to take in the action, as audio and video webcasts are the sole method of dissemination. On the flipside, as long as they have Wi-Fi, fans need not be in Southern New England to stay up to speed.
The resultant outreach is greater in number, but the overall signal quality can be erratic. In addition, under league auspices rather than that of a local outlet, the personal flavor has wilted.
It is not what it was when Goucher was calling games on WPRO-630, the Providence market’s signature station. Those presentations were complete with a complementing color commentator, a half-hour pregame show and a postgame wrap. Today’s broadcasts are typically accessible from five minutes before faceoff until the immediate aftermath of the final horn, and the play-by-play voice usually flies solo.
The PawSox have pounced on the luxuries of the Internet as well, but still partner with a slew of stations throughout the region. However, the expressed kinship between the state’s two Triple-A franchises is a shell of its old self. (Although, five days after Mondor’s passing, the P-Bruins did observe a moment of silence before their 2010-11 season opener .)
Six months after Goucher got his start in Providence, Pawtucket enlisted another play-by-play prodigy in Don Orsillo. A former employee of Springfield’s AHL teams, Orsillo found his long-term niche in baseball and began a four-season run with the PawSox in 1996. A year later, the team found a new flagship radio abode in WLKW-790, a sister station to WPRO and a backup channel for P-Bruins games at the time.
Goucher and Orsillo’s brotherhood as broadcasters came to reflect the sorority of their stations. The dreams of the two twentysomethings manifestly matched those of the various Boston prospects they covered.
“Occasionally we’d get together, have a beer and wonder if we were ever going to make it,” Goucher recalled.
By the turn of the century, both men’s ambitions were fulfilled. Goucher was off to WBZ-1030 in the fall of 2000, Orsillo to the New England Sports Network the subsequent spring.
Goucher’s elevation to Boston made him the second P-Bruins alumnus to find NHL employment in his field. Joe Beninati called the franchise’s first two seasons on WPRO before becoming the Washington Capitals’ TV play-by-play man in 1994.
The PawSox, two decades the P-Bruins’ senior, have a denser scroll of distinguished alumni. In their own sport, they have honed Major League personalities Gary Cohen, Dave Flemming, Andy Freed, Glenn Geffner, Aaron Goldsmith, Dave Jageler, Jeff Levering and Dave Shea.
Orsillo’s predecessor as NESN’s Red Sox broadcaster, Bob Kurtz, is another PawSox product, and has long since settled in with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. Football has Dan Hoard of the Cincinnati Bengals and Bob Socci of the New England Patriots, the Bruins’ Sports Hub cohabitants.
But Goucher, the belated addition to that celestial roster, is one of the few who has known the team and the park since childhood. If he has any influence, there may be more of his kind to come. Last July, as part of Boston’s Play by Play Sports Broadcasting Camp, he took the campers on a day trip to see the PawSox host the Red Wings.
Whether any of those campers will one day call the team by the same name in the same town remains to be seen. Schweccheimer and Tamburro have gone elsewhere since selling the keys to Lucchino and company. Ample debate, both economic and emotional, among state officials and constituents will sway the proposed “Pride of Pawtucket.”
Four years after Goucher viewed elements of his childhood from the McCoy press box, he refrains from investing in crystal balls. Instead, the city’s most recognizable product in the sports world only hopes there is much more ahead for the city’s only pro sports entity.
“The team is part of the fabric of the city, something the city takes enormous pride in,” he concluded. “I don’t have a great understanding of the finances involved, but it’s hard for me to envision that team playing in another city.”