Rose back in booth, boosted by fans' 'overpowering' support

March 20th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- On his first day back around the Mets following a more than six-month absence, Howie Rose found it difficult to walk from one end of the team’s Port St. Lucie, Fla. complex to the other. Seemingly every time Rose took a step, another group of bystanders stopped him to offer well-wishes. One young fan asked for an autograph. A longtime employee told him how good it was to see him.

That Rose, from his perch in the broadcast booth, has become as synonymous with the franchise as nearly any player is a fact that only he might dispute. Multiple generations of fans have grown accustomed to hearing him describe games both on television and the radio, delighting in his turns of phrase and his “Put it in the books!” exclamations. So it was emptiness that many felt when Rose took a leave of absence last September to undergo a medical operation. Mets fans had lost their eyes and ears.

In the Mets' Grapefruit League opener on Saturday night against the Nationals, Rose returned, calling his first game in nearly seven months from The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

“To have gone through what I did and see, wow, nothing’s forever, you appreciate it even more,” Rose said, humbled by the praise he’s received from fans. “To experience that sort of adulation just reinforces the depth of that connection. It’s truly amazing.”

Last March, Rose was diagnosed with a medical condition that interrupted the early portion of his season. When the results of less invasive treatment did not satisfy Rose’s doctors, they recommended surgery, which he underwent on Sept. 3. In Rose’s final game before the operation, fans throughout Citi Field chanted his name in unison.

“The outpouring of support and well-wishes from the fans was overpowering at times,” Rose said.

It did not end that night. As Rose recovered from his operation, longtime television broadcaster Gary Cohen’s wife, Lynn, used social media to solicit get-well cards from anyone in Rose’s orbit. The final tally numbered at least in the dozens, if not the hundreds.

Such gestures sustained Rose. Sitting at home on Long Island, recovering from surgery, he struggled with the idea of watching games from afar for (not counting the pandemic) the first time in decades. He felt “detached.” Few people on earth have attended more Mets games than Rose, a Queens native who grew up idolizing the 1960s teams, who began working in sports media in the mid-1970s, and who has manned some part of broadcast row on a near-daily basis since 1996.

To this day, Rose still looks at his career with a touch of wonder. He considers it “a huge, huge responsibility” to call games for the next generation of fans that -- as he once did earlier in life -- sit in the upper deck and hang on every pitch. Rose revels in the idea of a broadcasting lineage that extends from Lindsey Nelson to Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, and himself.

“It is emptiness without Howie, that’s for sure,” said Wayne Randazzo, his full-time boothmate since 2019.

The thought of retiring due to his medical situation was never appealing to Rose, who instead looked forward to the day when he could return to his offseason home in Florida and play golf while awaiting the start of Spring Training. When that moment finally arrived, Rose said, “it was sort of akin to the point in the movie, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ where it goes from black-and-white to color. It was a reawakening in a lot of ways.”

Before Saturday’s game in West Palm Beach, Rose stood on the field chatting with Mets manager Buck Showalter, as well as various players and sportswriters. He took a particular thrill earlier this week when one of the organization’s prospects, Jake Mangum, went out of his way to greet him on a backfield. Such is the humility of Rose -- despite his standing as one of the most respected play-by-play voices in sports, it never crossed his mind that a player might introduce himself and not the other way around.

Saturday, Rose set up in the radio booth with his tablet, scorecard and game notes, then launched into his familiar routine. When Luis Guillorme led off the game with an opposite-field homer, Rose half-leaned out the window so that he could watch the ball’s flight. He injected his usual collection of anecdotes, quips, jokes and phrases throughout the evening.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve heard you,” Randazzo told him at the top of the broadcast.

“Thank you very much,” Rose replied. “It is beyond wonderful to be back.”

Things won’t be completely normal going forward for Rose, who intends to scale back his workload as a concession to his health. Rose won’t travel to the West Coast, Colorado or Arizona during the regular season, but he’s beyond eager to call everything else. So enthused is Rose to be back in the booth that even he -- a staunch traditionalist who grumbles at the thought of black jerseys or seven-inning doubleheaders -- says he no longer minds the adoption of the universal DH.

The truth is, even the quirkiest rules in the books could not stop Rose from delighting in his return.

“You know, I’d like to think that I’m a reasonably articulate person, but I really can’t find the words to describe the depth of affection and even love that I have for the Mets fan base,” Rose said. “You like to think when you do what we do, you make a bit of a connection, and that’s what I love about radio -- it’s the most intimate medium. So the connection is a special one.”