Orel Hershiser will be in the broadcast booth for ESPN's...

Orel Hershiser will be in the broadcast booth for ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" with Bobby Valentine and Dan Shulman.

When ESPN parted ways with Steve Phillips in the wake of his, um, personal issues, many voices - including this one - said his old Mets pal Bobby Valentine would be an intriguing replacement.

And he would have been.

But when the Bristol Stompers settled on Orel Hershiser, who has been on their roster since 2006, the decision was difficult to argue.

For one thing, Hershiser is smart and sharp, and he will be a fresh voice added to the 21-year team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.

For another, he could well be in this for the long haul, while Valentine likely will be back in uniform within a year or two.

"For me to do something else would be very, very hard," said Hershiser, who will make his regular-season debut as the third man in the "Sunday Night Baseball" booth when the Red Sox host the Yankees Sunday night.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't be open to it. But it would be hard to get back into it."

Hershiser, a former pitching coach for the Rangers, said he loves that broadcasting keeps him involved. But he misses the competitive arena, the "daily grind of a win and a loss," and the ability to teach as a coach and "turn the lightbulb on."

Perhaps, but there are worse jobs than explaining the game to viewers, then leaving the ballpark unencumbered when the camera lightbulb goes off.

Hershiser, 51, a Met in 1999, last played in 2000 as a Dodger. He later spent time in the Rangers' front office in addition to his coaching stint and was in the mix for managerial jobs with the Dodgers and Athletics in the mid-2000s.

In '06 he left the Rangers and joined ESPN. He lives in Las Vegas and dabbles in professional poker during the offseason.

Hershiser said he favors three-man booths. Miller and Morgan, however, were wary of adding a third man last season.

"I said, 'That's a great idea,' " Miller recalled sarcastically. " 'Three is better than two. Why stop at three? Let's have five or six. That would be really good.' "

But after working a preseason game with Morgan and Hershiser last week, Miller said he is optimistic.

"He's not looking to become a new TV star," Miller said of Hershiser. "He's just looking at the game. I have real hopes this is going to be a great pairing."

Hershiser said he will approach Sunday's game like any other, which was his attitude before big games as a player.

"It really is an honor to be in that booth," he said. "But one of my defense mechanisms as a player was, 'It's just another game.' You approach it like 'this is who I am and this is how I prepare and I am going to go out and do a baseball game.' "

Hershiser said his year with the Mets was a key part of his baseball education, even at age 40.

"That was a great team, and I learned a lot," he said. "Playing under Bobby V. and spending time in his office with him and [pitching coach] Dave Wallace was great.

"I didn't have the best ability at that point, but it gave me the opportunity to sit next to a couple of baseball geniuses."

Now Hershiser will share his own expertise on the sport's biggest prime-time regular-season stage. Can he see himself doing it for the rest of his working life?

"If I'm here until 2020, I'll be 61," he said. "I could see that being 15 years in TV and the end of my time doing it."

Fifteen years? That's about 14 more than Bobby V. would have lasted.

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