Announcer Gary Cohen bleeds Mets blue

SNY's Gary Cohen poses in the booth.

SNY's Gary Cohen poses in the booth. (Credit: Handout)

Neil Best

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Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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Even after more than a decade, Gary Cohen never took for granted where he was or whom he was sitting next to.

"Murph and I worked together for 15 years, but from time to time, I caught myself looking over at him and thinking to myself, 'This is unbelievable,' " Cohen said, recalling his long partnership with Bob Murphy in the Mets' radio booth. "It never stopped being special."

It still hasn't, a decade after Murphy retired following the 2003 season (he died in 2004), and it probably never will for a kid from Queens who grew up as a Mets fan and starts his 25th season calling their games.

Could he have imagined that when he began as a relative unknown 30-year-old in the spring of 1989?

"That was always my hope, but I would have had no concept it would've been possible," he said. "I just considered myself incredibly fortunate to be that young and have a big-league job, for the team I grew up rooting for."

Early on, people asked him what job he aspired to next, and he told them there was no other job to aspire to. So he stayed, through 2005 on radio and for the past seven years on SNY.

Cohen got the job after a tryout in 1988 while Gary Thorne, whose first love was hockey, was busy calling Devils playoff games. Cohen credited Murphy with settling him down when he arrived "extraordinarily nervous."

"Gary Thorne did a fantastic job," Cohen said. "They had worked together for probably the best four-year stretch in Mets history, so obviously there was a huge void there."

Cohen said one thing that helped him acclimate in 1989 was that WFAN carried nearly two dozen spring training games, a number that would fall in future seasons because of the rise of the "Mike and the Mad Dog" show.

It did not take long for him to establish himself as a respected pro with the credentials -- and mind-set -- of a Mets fan from way back. Naturally, he still is waiting to call his first world championship.

Ask Cohen to name a favorite call or game and instead he points to "by far" his favorite season, 1999, one full of dramatic moments en route to an NLCS loss to the Braves.

As successful as Cohen's move to television has been, he said his brain remains "hard-wired to do radio.'' When Johan Santana threw the Mets' first no-hitter last year, he said, "Of all the thoughts running through my brain -- that on radio would have come out of my mouth -- I had to edit 90 percent out and choose the 10 percent that worked.''

The biggest negative about doing local TV work is it means not calling the World Series; Fox has national TV rights.

"It makes me very sad," Cohen said of the thought of not being behind a microphone when the Mets win it all again -- someday. "That [local radio] call belongs to Howie [Rose] now, and I have no problem with that.

"If it were some other guy who wasn't from New York and didn't have the same gravitas Howie has, it might."

Cohen's current run is matched in local baseball booths only by John Sterling, who started with the Yankees in 1989. Cohen, 54, recalled listening to Sterling's old sports talk show and to his hockey calls in the 1970s.

"I think John is fantastic; I love listening to him," he said. "It is a different style. John is a tremendous entertainer and unconventional, but that's who he is. He's a gas."

Cohen likely is facing another long season for a team that has not seriously contended since 2008. How does he maintain his enthusiasm?

"This is my 25th year, and the Mets have had three or four good seasons," he said. "So I've had a lot of practice. You just approach every day's game as a new event. We have so much fun and it works so well in terms of the way the broadcast is structured, every day is fun and it really doesn't matter. We don't win or lose. The team wins or loses."

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