F.P. Santangelo, the color analyst for the Washington Nationals'… (Toni L. Sandys/THE WASHINGTON…)
At some point next week, there will be a new storyteller in the booth, someone else perched high above Nationals Park trying to make sense of it all. F.P. Santangelo will deal with that when he has to — from a suite? the press box? the stands? — as TBS takes over the national broadcasts of postseason games and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network crew focuses on its pre- and post-game coverage. For now, for this final stretch of regular season games, Santangelo is trying to soak up every second of a drama-filled baseball season.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my baseball career,” Santangelo, MASN’s second-year color analyst for Washington Nationals broadcasts, said one recent afternoon. “I feel lucky just to be a small part of it and relay the message to the fans.”
Santangelo, 44, has narrated a memorable summer in Washington as the team’s ever-present voice, charged with providing texture and meaning to every twist and turn of the season, from Bryce Harper’s debut to Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown. For Santangelo, it has been a crash course in color commentary. Last year was his first in Washington, which he likened to a teenager who had just earned his driver’s license.
“You got both hands on the wheel, you keep checking the mirror, you’re careful with the blinker, always looking over your shoulder,” he said. “This year is like driving with your knee on the steering wheel, texting somebody, checking out the scenery. It’s all easier.”
Rob Dibble’s controversial exit from the MASN broadcasting booth late in the 2010 was loud and ugly, spurred by his questioning of Strasburg’s resolve. By contrast, Santangelo came to Washington with no introduction, no fanfare and no real expectations.
“Still today I run into people who have no idea I even played the game,” he said.
Santangelo played in the majors from 1995-2001, experiencing the highs (102 wins with Oakland in 2001) and lows, which included using banned substances late in his career. When the Mitchell Report was released five years ago, 86 players were singled out, but Santangelo was one of the few to publicly discuss and apologize for transgressions against a game he loves so much. “That’s all in the past,” he says today.
Even during those low periods, Santangelo couldn’t wait to be around the ballpark. Even now, he arrives a few hours before each game, heading straight to the clubhouse. “Those 15 minutes are my favorite part of the day,” he says.
“Yeah, he’s media, but we really don’t look at him as media,” Nats pitcher Ryan Mattheus said. “He does a great job of keeping that ballplayer credibility with us. He knows what we go through on a daily basis. He’s kept that ballplayer mentality in him.”
Game of his lifetime
Santangelo, whose given name is Frank-Paul, was a guy who always seemed to perform above his ability. In 1989, he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 20th round — as a favor to his college coach, Santangelo says — and started off in professional baseball with a $1,000 signing bonus. He played for four teams in seven seasons, plugging holes wherever needed. Over the course of his career, he played six positions.
In Montreal, Felipe Alou told Santangelo he would make a good coach some day. So when his playing days ended in 2002, Santangelo drifted in that direction without giving much thought to anything else.
“When you retire, you’re kind of lost,” he said. “You’ve only known one thing your whole life, and that's playing baseball.”
He took a position as a hitting coach for the Class A San Jose Giants, a job that paid $35,000, not enough to support a wife and two kids. The long bus rides, crummy hotels and bad pay helped him realize climbing the minor league ladder wasn’t an option.
Broadcasting seemed like a good alternative.
Santangelo tapped into a couple of contacts and ended up on the telephone with Bob Agnew, the operations manager for KNBR-AM, the Giants’ flagship station in San Francisco. Agnew asked if Santangelo had any tape available.
“How soon could you mail it here?” Agnew asked.
“I’ll drive it down now. I can be there in two hours,” Santangelo told him.
That afternoon Santangelo was on the station’s afternoon show, and before long, he was a permanent fixture on KNBR’s airwaves.
“He was hungry and eager,” Agnew said. “That really impressed me right off the bat.”
Santangelo eventually landed a gig doing the TV pre- and post-game shows for the Giants. In the Bay Area, viewers remembered Santangelo from his days in a Giants’ uniform and appreciated his gritty, hard-nosed playing style.