What I’ve Observed 2 Weeks into the Season

A couple weeks into the Major League season and a week into the Minor League season – there have been a lot of MLB games listened to (Pat and Ron on WGN, Bob and Joe on WTMJ, Rick and Aaron on KIRO just to name a few), but also to the I-Cubs, Smokies, D-Cubs, and Cougars.

First and foremost – the Cubs bats are in need of a witch-doctor to get them going. The big league club is hitting .241 (10th in the NL), Iowa is hitting .210 (last in the PCL), Tennessee is hitting .223 (8th of 10 teams in the Southern League), Daytona is hitting .243 (7th in the FSL), and Kane County is hitting .228 (13th of 16 teams in the Midwest League). Maybe the recently retired Bill Buckner needs to come to the rescue – remembering that a lot of these guys worked under Buck in Boise the last two years, where the Hawks hit .269 and .278 as a team for an entire year. Though Buck is probably getting plenty of fishing in and ready for Lucky Peak to open for the season.

Those struggling with the lumber aren’t just limited to the Cubs system, it’s happening to former Hawks – Ryan Flaherty (’08) is hitting .152 for the Orioles, Josh Donaldson (’07) started the season 2-for-22 for the A’s, before finding his groove – going 9-for-28 with three homers on a recent six-game road swing, and Josh Harrison (’08) is 0-for-7 – all in pinch hit opportunities, for the Pirates.

But there have been bright spots. Welington Castillo (’06) slugged a go-ahead three-run home run on Friday night in the Cubs 11-inning win over the Cardinals; Robinson Chirinos (’02) hit his first MLB homer in three years for the Rangers at Boston, then added a walk-off RBI single in extra innings to beat the Astros on Thursday; Andrew Cashner (’08) threw a one-hit shutout for the Padres against the Tigers, and has a 1-1 record and a 1.29 ERA through three starts; and Francisco Rodriguez (’99) is a perfect 4-of-4 in save opportunities for the resurgent Brewers.

Other notes – Javier Baez has been put on the 7-Day DL by Iowa after turning an ankle fielding ground balls in Memphis. The revolving door of former Hawks to the big leagues has started – as Chris Rusin (’09) was promoted to the Cubs, pitched five innings of one-run ball in St. Louis, then sent back to Iowa in favor of another former Hawk, Blake Parker (’07). Same goes for Jeff Beliveau (’08), who was called up by the Rays, sent down the next day, then recalled on Sunday afternoon. Kris Bryant (’13) leads the Southern League with three home runs, while Duane Underwood (’13) made his Midwest League debut for Kane County yesterday, allowing a run on three hits in a win over Lake County.

Finally – I saw an online post about a broadcaster hitting a milestone in his career, calling his 2,000th game – and it harkened (when I use the word, I think of Ed Harken from Anchorman) me to longevity in the industry. My friend and colleague, Pat Dillon of the Everett Aquasox, has called well over 1,000 games in the Northwest League, and I will push past the 700 game mark this season – and we only have the luxury of a 76-game season (not the 140 game marathon of the long-season affiliates). But what caught my eye was the fact that we as broadcasters in the NWL are lifers – yes guys like Ben Ingram (Braves), Dennis Higgins (Giants), and Jon Sciambi (ESPN) have their roots from our league – but the majority of us love what we do and aren’t using the league as a stepping stone.

Of all the Class-A leagues (FSL, Cal, Carolina, Midwest, Sally, NYPL, Northwest, Pioneer, and Appy) – over half of the radio guys in the league are long tenured – with the highest percentage of veterans in the game. Mike Boyle has been with Spokane for now four years, but was with Tri-City for the four years before that; Rob Fai has been with Vancouver since the 2006 season (and had time with the C’s before that); Rich Burk was a tenured broadcaster for years-and-years with the Portland Beavers in the PCL before the team moved, and is now with the Hillsboro Hops; and Bob Robertson, who still sits in with Boyle in Spokane on the west side of the mountains, has been calling minor league games since the early 80s.

No one, however, has done it longer that Dillon, who began his time in the league with the Bellingham Giants and now with the Aquasox – all the way back to 1995. The only other Class A broadcaster with a similar timeframe is former Hawks broadcaster Sean McCall (who was in Boise from 1991-95), who has been the radio guy at Lake Elsinore (Cal League) since 1996. No one else in Class A has a 199- by their name.

But it is scary to see where I fit in the universe – starting as a fill in scorer/PA guy in 2002, moving to the radio booth a year later. Only Chris Mehring of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League bridges myself and the others – only three other broadcasters have been in Class A longer (well, that doesn’t count Nathan Baliva of Peoria, Joe Ritzo of San Jose, and Craig Deas of Lake County – part of my 2003 class). All of these guys feel the same way I do – we love our job, we love our team, we love our community – and though we’ve dreamed to sit in the ESPN chair – we wouldn’t have it any other way, being the voice of our team.

Mark your calendars – two months from yesterday – is the opening of the NWL season as the Hawks host Tri-City.

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