"I was you," Tom Caron '86 told more than 100 people, mostly Saint Michael's students and sports fans, in the new Dion Family Student Center on Tuesday night, January 28.
"TC," as he's known affectionately to the millions of New England sports fans who tune him in regularly on New England Sports Network (NESN), was remembering people and experiences from his Saint Michael's student days, which he credits for launching his professional success.
"The course that was the most important to me here at St. Mike's was the course or path the college laid out to allow me to get to where I wanted to be," said Caron, an award-winning Boston-based sportscaster known best as the popular studio host for Boston Red Sox TV broadcasts after years in other Red Sox coverage roles including travel with the team. He also covers college hockey (Hockey East and Boston's Beanpot Tournament), plus minor league hockey and baseball, and he once did Boston Bruins studio shows.
Spreading good cheer as he went, Caron clearly was having fun back at his old school, spending the better part of Tuesday meeting and greeting old friends and mentors along with current students, after a warm and spirited alumni event the night before at Halverson's Restaurant in downtown Burlington where perhaps 25 alums peppered Caron with mostly Red Sox questions.
Both days, he recounted one great story after another about his friendships and adventures with such Sox icons as Nomar Garciaparra, David "Big Papi" Ortiz, co-hosts Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice, Jerry Remy, and many more. He also relived defining Sox World Series moments, such as sharing the milestone 2004 win on the phone with his 80-something dad and his son who was then 8, "and it was the first one for all of us"; or almost getting fired at WPTZ when he could scarcely contain, on the air, his exasperation after the 1986 "Bill Buckner" debacle against the Mets.
Besides his lunchtime and evening talks, Caron in the afternoon visited at the Pomerleau Alumni Center, attached to Prevel Hall where he said he first started work as a sports information intern as a freshman and realized where his passion lay. His guides in those days were former PR staffers Buff Lindau and Andre LaChance, who both still live locally and came to events Tuesday, hearing TC speak of his deep gratitude for the leg-up they and others gave him.
Caron spoke to St. Mike's journalism students at Tuesday's luncheon in the very second-floor Alliot Vermont Room where, as he told them, he used to work on the student newspaper the Defender, as sports editor. Introducing and escorting him was Lou DiMasi, Associate Dean of Students, another old friend from the sportscaster's days covering St. Mike's hockey teams that DiMasi coached in the '80s. It was DiMasi who invited Caron to visit campus and speak as part of the You Count initiative of the Student Life Office, which aims to inspire and support student success.
The celebrity guest told students that his first-ever TV sports report was covering a table tennis tournament in Middlebury for WPTZ Channel 5, where he'd interned as a junior and senior. (He strongly urged that all students find internships). The station needed somebody, and so asked him at the last minute, forcing him to make the then-epic and wrenching decision to miss "P-Day," a legendary day-long spring celebration tradition on campus. In retrospect, Caron says, he knows he made the right call, because that report led to another WPTZ assignment, and a few months after graduation they called him to be a weekend anchor based on the skill he'd demonstrated. From there his career was off and running.
Stops en route to NESN included a tiny station in White River Junction, VT, then off to stations in his home state of Maine, including work as a broadcaster and publicist of Portland's minor league hockey team. NESN officials saw his work from that period, liked what they saw and hired him in 1995. He's worked there ever since.
At both his afternoon and evening talks, Caron passed around his 2004 Red Sox World Series Ring. "It's bigger than the bishop's ring," remarked Edmundite Father Marcel Rainville from the lunchtime audience. The college also gave Caron a "Silver Knight" pin, for alums who are 25 years out, which he said made him feel very old.
In between talks and after Caron inevitably found his way to broadcast microphones. In the afternoon he talked on local ESPN radio 101.3 for his regular weekly appearance on the station, joking with the hosts on-air about the college's fight song (a recording of which the hosts played for him, inviting a sing along though he admitted not knowing the words), then educating them about Saint Michael the Archangel as "the Defender" and therefore the toughest and coolest of the heavenly host. The station made a promo from it that aired several times the next morning.
Many of those he encountered admired how Caron was so available to everyone and ready to help any and all Saint Michael's people. For example, he'll be offering special access to Fenway's field as part of an SMC Golf Tournament benefit auction; he also invited Carlos Vega of Admissions to stop in at Red Sox spring training next month when he's down recruiting for the college. And Caron encouraged many journalism students to look into internships at NESN since he's helped a number of students or alumni get them through the years.
Angie Armour, director of alumni relations, says her talk with Caron also showed him to be "a very proud dad" whose sons have looked at and are considering Saint Michael's for college - which their dad says he would love. "He's a real family man," Armour said. Caron's afternoon talk attracted coverage from WCAX-Channel 3, which did a long report on the station's evening news with the anchors mentioning how on-air personality Roger Garrity '86 of that station was a Caron classmate who broadcast games in student days.
After his main talk Tuesday evening, Caron stayed around for close to half an hour while scores of students snagged "selfie" photos with him on their phones. Then he went over to Ross Sports Center to take in an exciting comeback victory by the Purple Knights basketball team over AIC. While there he briefly joined campus radio station WWPV's play-by-play man, Student Association President Alex Ieronimo '14, at the broadcast desk. Caron was a pioneer of sports coverage on WWPV as a student, starting live hockey coverage as a freshman and doing it all four years. At the game, he also had a mini-reunion with Chris Kenny, associate director of athletics, who was Caron's classmate, as was Edmundite Father Brian Cummings '86 chaplain for the team and also present. Kenny says they worked together as reporters on the Defender and knew each other well. "He's always been a very personable guy and very good at mentoring Saint Michael's students," Kenny says. "I really think he remembers his time at St. Mike's really fondly." Caron recounted how both he and Kenny applied for a sports information job at St. Mike's after graduation, but said Kenny was the better man. And while Caron was upset at the time, the rejection started his career when he got a TV job instead, so now he's grateful.
Caron marveled at the new Student Center, located right in the middle of what used to be the outdoor grass quad when he lived in Alumni Hall. "It's amazing to think I was one of you, I was you," he said. "I was a kid from Maine who came to St. Mike's to major in journalism and hopefully not flunk – those were about the goals I'd set when I left my hometown of Lewiston."
Caron offered students his "three-step-plan to success": "One, find something you're passionate about and find a way to do that for a living; two, create your own opportunities and create your own brand by being who you want to be and getting that message out to people; and then, don't take rejection personally, and move on to the next opportunity, because there's always new opportunities."
"But four years of St. Mike's really changed everything that I thought I could do – really gave me the opportunity to seek out bigger opportunities than I thought possible when I first got here," he said. "It wasn't a specific teacher or class but really the totality of the four years here. St. Mike's is an incredible place and I hope you guys are feeling that… You find a sense of community here at St. Mike's that I don't think other people find at the schools that they go to."