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Socci fondly recalls his days with ‘Topes

Passing the time on the long flight from Boston to Phoenix – especially now that the plane’s satellite TVs aren’t working – I’m thinking of all the places I’ve been and people I’ve met on the way to where I’m headed. As the second-year radio play-by-play announcer for the New England Patriots, I’m going to call Super Bowl XLIX.

It’s my first trip to the Southwest since my last broadcast for the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2005, and part of my past is literally along for the ride as well. Some of my most valuable possessions are in my briefcase, packed inside the same pouch I was given by Isotopes general manager John Traub during the organization’s infancy as a Florida Marlins affiliate.

I’m also carrying a few other things far more meaningful. Like friendship and encouragement, from John and so many others I got to know during my three years in Albuquerque. And memories, from the fly-over before the 2003 opener (the first of many slugfests with Oklahoma City); to countless strange caroms (and falling outfielders) owed to the center field hill; to the unforgettable press-box view of the Sandias (especially as the sun set on middle innings).

Given the time difference, I used to listen to a lot of East Coast games from the majors while driving to Isotopes Park or prepping to take the air on The Sports Animal. I did so dreaming of reaching the big leagues. A decade later, albeit in a different sport, I’m there. And more than ever, I understand what those three years in Albuquerque meant to me. Professionally and, more so, personally.

There were times when the goal to get from there to here was all-consuming. Actually, too consuming. I wasn’t always as grateful as I should have been. Thankfully, I am now. Getting ready to call one of the biggest sporting events in the world, I truly realize just how good I had it back then.

While in Albuquerque, I was blessed to befriend a very kind and devoted fan of the Topes, Eric Lilliequist, who also happened to be blind. Several years later, his dad wrote to me with awful news. Eric was no longer with us. He died suddenly on Feb. 4, 2009.

On Sunday, when I take my seat at University of Phoenix Stadium, and like many others from my Albuquerque experience, Eric will be right there with me.

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