By Mick Gillispie / Smokies Radio Network
It’s been a fun few days since my last blog post from Mesa and today is the only off day of the year for the Cubs at spring training so it’s a good time to tell some more stories from out here. On Monday the Cubs played the Seattle Mariners in Peoria. Ichiro Suzuki hit a homer for the M’s, and it’s always exciting to see Ichiro play in person.
One of the things I liked about the Peoria Sports Complex is that they have a sign below the press box honoring the late Dave Niehaus, who served as the voice of the Mariners from their inaugural season in 1977 until he passed away following the 2010 season. This spring we’ve had Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times join us several times on the air, and he said that Niehaus was inspiration on getting into this business. He just admired the way Niehaus approached each broadcast and made each game fun. I only heard a little of Niehaus’ announcing, but I really liked listening to him and admired how easy was to listen to. He’s certainly missed by everyone in the game and fans as well.
I also saw Dave Sims, who handles TV play-by-play for the Mariners, in Peoria on Monday. Dave is a busy guy working M’s games plus handling play-by-play for NFL games in addition to some sports talk. He’s really fun to talk to and it was great to see him before our game. It’s always good to put a face to a voice you’ve heard before, and I’m glad we got to meet.
Yesterday the Cubs had split-squad action and Len and I called the game against the Rangers at HoHoKam Park. It was an interesting game because Rangers starter Neftali Feliz left early with stiffness, and Cubs closer Carlos Marmol also left his appearance early because of a hand cramp. It’s a big story anytime a pitcher has to leave a game because of an injury in spring training. It’s especially a big deal when they are the caliber of pitchers that Feliz and Marmol are.
The broadcast went well, and we were lucky to be joined again by Carrie Muskat, who covers the Cubs for MLB.com. She is always fun to talk to and is a positive person. She not only covers all the big news about the Cubs, but does a great job as well with the off the field stories. One of those stories this spring was about Tom Pratt, who has been the pitching coach for the Daytona Cubs the past few years. You can read Carrie’s story here.
Tom is recovering from having a cancerous brain tumor removed early in spring training. The tumor was discovered in Arizona and removed, so now he’s going to stay here and go through chemotherapy and radiation. When Buddy Bailey was the manager of the Daytona Cubs, I went down there a couple times during the All-Star Break to hang out with him and I got to know Tom and his wife Peggy. We went to dinner a few times and I really enjoyed meeting them, just great people. I’m praying for his recovery and pulling for him, and I think Carrie did a great job capturing that story. He’s a positive person as well, and has a strong belief in God and a belief that he will get through this and beat cancer.
Yesterday at lunch, Len Kasper and I sat down with Dave Van Dyck who covers the Cubs and White Sox for the Chicago Tribune. We were joined by Peter Gammons, who I’ve talked about before on here, a Hall of Fame writer who is now with MLB.com and the MLB Network. It was great to sit and talk with those guys, and we talked about all baseball. Prospects we like, teams to watch in the different divisions and so on, it was great.
I also ran into good friend Gary Hughes in Mesa yesterday. Gary was one of Jim Hendry’s top assistants and advisors with the Cubs the last few years, and now Gary is with the Boston Red Sox. It’s unfortunate when organizations change the leadership at the top, guys move on from there. Gary is a guy I think a lot of, and everyone in this game loves hm. Whenever he was scouting the Smokies he’d come on the air with us and served as our color commentator for 3-4 innings each night he was in town. He was fantastic, and I he would make a great color analyst at the big league level because he is so knowledgeable. To give you an idea of how good of a scout he is, at the turn of the century Baseball America released a list of “greatest scouts of the century.” Gary was on that exclusive list, and is now the only guy from that list that is still living.
I saw him before the game, and then saw Brian Doyle Murray and Don Carson from Carson’s restaurant in Chicago. Saw those guys before the game and got my picture made with Gary and Brian Doyle Murray, which you can see above. You can also see Don in the picture because he took it and also had his finger in there haha! They said they had just been to see the grave of legendary musician and singer Waylon Jennings, who is buried across the street from the ballpark in Mesa.
Last night I went with some guys to dinner at a place called Giligan’s in Scottsdale. I went there for the good calamari and fish tacos, which were superb. This restaurant had a place where there was live goldfish racing, as people moved them along with squirt-guns. It was a lot of fun, but I knew it was time to head out of there when I saw an attractive young lady swallow a goldfish for 100 bucks. She was a beautiful Hollywood-actress type, so seeing her eat a live goldfish was certainly interesting.
While the big leaguers may have the day off today, the minor league Cubs are still working hard to get ready for the season, so I’ll head out to Fitch Park and see how the future Smokies are doing. Some guys I know that will be on our roster are still playing in the big league games, and we’re still a week or so away from knowing how the roster will shape up. I really feel bad for Oneri Fleita and Jason McLeod in the Cubs player personnel office, they have some tough decisions to make over the next couple of weeks. It’s one of their toughest times of the year having to cut players and telling them that they will no longer be with the Chicago Cubs.
So that’s a wrap from today’s off-day blog, I’ll have the broadcast solo tomorrow while Len works on television with Bob Brenly, so I’m looking forward to it and want to thank all the fans for listening in so far. I’m really proud we can deliver this free service to the fans, just click on the link and you’re tuned into the Cubs.