Now, Eckersley has decided it’s time to focus on a different role, and make sure two people in particular get to know him well.
Eckersley retires from the NESN booth at season’s end. His last broadcast will be on October 5, the regular-season finale. He and his wife Jennifer are moving to their native California in October so he can spend as much time as possible with his twin grandchildren, who will turn 4 years old that month.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I really have,” said Eckersley, who turns 68 in October. “Not that it matters, but it’s kind of a round number, a departure. I started in pro ball in ’72, when I was a 17-year-old kid right out of high school. Fifty years ago. And I’ve been with NESN for 20 years, although it doesn’t feel like it because I didn’t do much my first four or five years. So it’s time.”
But the symmetry in numbers is not why he decided this was the time to leave.
It is most important for him to be present as a grandfather.
“There are times in your life when you realize you have to get on with it,” he said. “Having grandkids in the Bay Area and visiting them in the offseason, that pushed me. I just knew you had to. Go and be with the kids. Those formative years, you have to be there.
“”There is only so much time. How can you not see that in front of you without thinking, ‘Wait a minute, man.’ There must be other priorities. You have to think about other people.”
Red Sox fans may be surprised, even stunned, by Eckersley’s decision to leave. He works around 75 games this season and remains as sharp and entertaining as ever.
But his superiors at NESN had known for some time that it was a possibility.
“I went around and went through the offseason last year when they were trying to line up kids and they were auditioning,” he said. “It didn’t blindside them. I’ve been sitting on that for a while.
“NESN was really great to me. They let me be whoever I wanted to be. They let me be myself. They just let me do my thing. When you think about it, when it’s all said and done, how great partnership this was for me and the Red Sox and NESN. It was made in heaven. I was just talking to Jennifer about how it was a place that mirrored my passions. A perfect match.”
The network echoed his sentiments.
“We are fortunate that Dennis has been a part of our Red Sox coverage on NESN for 20 years. His unbridled passion, nuanced insights and Eck humor will be sorely missed and we are grateful for his many contributions to NESN,” said Sean McGrail, president and CEO of NESN. “We wish him the best as he begins this next chapter of his life as a grandfather, father, husband and member of Red Sox Nation.”
If he has a regret, it’s that he didn’t get to work with Jerry Remy more often. Remy was in his 16th season as a popular color analyst in 2003 when Eckersley joined NESN, and over the years, Eckersley has always been respectful of his former Red Sox teammate’s place and status. But in the last two seasons, before Remy’s death from cancer last Octoberthey were often together in a three-person booth with play-by-play voice Dave O’Brien, and the chemistry, especially in their most candid moments, was extraordinary.
“Looking back on working with Jerry, it ended up being amazing,” Eckersley said. “And when we finally did it regularly, it ended too soon.”
Eckersley admits the job is not without its stresses. The Eckersleys currently live in Hingham, and the commute to Boston, as any commuter knows, isn’t exactly great for the mood.
“You could take that I-93, and…” he says, suggesting an action that isn’t printable in a family publication. “I remember one time last year when I was driving bumper-to-bumper, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ When I got to the stadium, I was stretched to the gills.”
Eckersley’s easy-going style on the air belies the tireless preparation he puts into the job, which includes going home and watching West Coast games after his Red Sox broadcast ends.
He thought about “helicoptering in” next season, as he put it — making a few plays here and there that NESN would allow — but he decided it would feel like he was cheating the viewers.
“I can’t do that. You have to be all in to do this job,” he said. “That’s something I’m proud of. I observe all the time, everything. That is the preparation — watching.” He laughs. “I lived this [expletive] for 50 years. This is what I know. I don’t know what it will be like not to have to pay attention.
“It’s funny how this started. I came back my last year in ’98 to play here. Well, I don’t know. i was terrible. But there was probably a reason I had to do that when you look back on your life. I might never have fallen into broadcasting if I hadn’t.
While Eckersley is leaving broadcasting, he is not leaving Fenway Park behind for good. He already looks forward to returning from time to time for corporate and community functions and appearances in the stadium’s Legends Suite.
“I can’t say enough about Boston, and I’ll be back,” he said. “I’ll be up there [in the Legends Suite] waving my [butt] away
“What a good time, though. Started when I was 17, and now I walk. It was a pretty good run.”
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.