The Cubs pipeline has some very knowledgeable and entertaining voices bringing us the action. Today’s begins a series on announcers in the Cubs pipeline. I’m starting with long-time Cubs fan Brendan King, the second-in-command in South Bend.
Much of appreciating an announcer, in any sport is familiarity. Once you become familiar with an announcer, you’ll probably enjoy them if they’re giving your side a fair shake. Minor league announcers are very important for people learning about prospects, as they paint the picture for the scene if we aren’t watching. I’m more captive to an announcer than some, as I’m not as likely as some to lean toward a film-study of a player. The “background pieces” fascinate me. Who was the coach that made the player committed to practicing so hard? What did he learn from his college level games, or those in the Northwest League?
For the first few years with the South Bend Cubs, Darin Pritchett “flew solo” on the broadcasts. About a year ago, King was announced as his assistant. Some assistants at the Midwest League level are very raw. They help with the broadcast for a few innings, but most of their job is “off-air.” Very off air. As King took over the back-up spot, it took about three innings before I considered him “a virtual equal” in the broadcast. That he is a Cubs fan makes it even better. Our exchange was online, and is noted below.
TH: You were a Cubs fan growing up. Who were your favorites, and where were you watching from?
BK: I grew up in Mokena, Illinois, which is a south suburb of Chicago. During the time when I was in elementary school in the early 2000s was when the Cubs were building momentum to the 2003 season and the NLCS. However, growing up on the South Side meant 75 percent of my friends were White Sox fans. It was an interesting childhood just because with the Sox 2005 championship, I never heard the end of it from my friends. But if you go back today to those same kids, a lot of them are now wearing Cubbie blue. It’s great to see.
My first Cubs game was when I was no older than two. My dad and grandma brought me to Wrigley and as I grew up going to games, it turned from interest to passion to watch Cubs baseball. The first guys I truly remember rooting for and watching on TV were Sammy Sosa, Aramis Ramirez, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood. I remember a long time ago when the Cubs had Matt Clement, they sold fake facial hair of Clement’s beard outside of Wrigley. He had the soul patch look back then, and my dad bought me one. There is still a picture hanging in my office of me with the Clement beard on my chin.
TH: You recently went to college. What would you recommend for a 10-year-old interested in being an announcer?
BK: So much of the industry has changed since I was a freshman at Butler University, and it’s going to continue to change. I started doing Play-by-Play when I was 14 at my high school, Lincoln-Way East. I got an opportunity to call a couple of football games and that turned into four years of LWE Griffins Football, Hoops, and Baseball. I knew I wanted to pursue it from then on and knew it was what I wanted in the long haul.
But today, if a kid is in the same shoes I was in when I was in high school, I would advise the to take a look at the sports media world today and notice what the pros are doing. When I was in high school or even when I was a freshman in 2013, TV wasn’t the way it is now. So many games are being covered with the ESPN+ feature. There are so many opportunities for young broadcasters to get involved in many sports. The best piece of advice I ever got in high school was to bounce on every opportunity possible, whether 10 or 1000 people would be listening. I still take that to heart today. If someone as young as that wants to pursue this, not only should try and have as much fun as possible doing it, but no opportunity at the end of the day is a bad one.
TH: Among the parts of your calls I enjoy is the “when I saw this guy before” angle. Can that please continue?
BK: I’ve been very blessed that many of the players in the two professional leagues I’ve been in so far played in Cape Cod and were ultimately drafted in the summer following. When I called games on the Cape for the Orleans Firebirds, it was my first time calling games on a big stage. I made sure to take a personal interest in the guys coming through. It’s really paid off, as only two guys on our team from that summer are NOT playing pro baseball. That means there are 20-plus guys from my team alone who are in the minors now. And if that’s only one team, you can imagine how many from the entire league are playing pro ball now.
I hope I can continue with that story-telling aspect for many years to come. As long as I’ve seen these guys before, I’m going to tell their back story, because that is what interests me. I think the listener will dig it, too. The fun of it for me then is if I don’t know a guy on a team, I want to go learn about him. Some of these guys played in different summer leagues around the country, and for a good number of them, their performance out there is why they were drafted. So yes, I’m definitely going to keep that up.
TH: How riotously funny is it that you’ve already been able to announce with a player with your name, already?
BK: It’s absolutely hilarious. Brendan King (the pitcher) and I go back a couple years prior to this, actually. I’ve told this story on the air before, but in Cape Cod in 2016, early on in the season we didn’t know a lot of guys across the league yet because many were on temporary contracts until the big shots show up from the College World Series. Orleans was playing Falmouth on the road on a bright sunny Cape Cod day on the western edge of the Cape. It was my day to do the majority of the play-by-play as my partner and I took turns day-to-day.
From what I remember, Falmouth’s starting pitcher left the game early and they put in a new right-hander. So we came back from commercial and I’m looking down at my roster to look up who the new kid is. The PA announcer was pretty quiet so I didn’t catch the name and I look down and the guy’s name is Brendan King. I turned to my broadcast team and said “Look at this.” None of us had any idea this was going to happen and I had to go back on the air saying “We welcome you back to Falmouth and on to pitch for the Commodores is right-hander Brendan King out of Holy Cross. Here in the fourth inning it’s Brendan King with you on the Cape Cod Baseball Network.” The fact that Brendan was drafted by the Cubs and wound up in South Bend this year was a riot. I texted him before the season after I got hired by the team asking if he was going to play here this year and when he said more than likely yes, I knew we were going to have a fun summer. Plus, it gave me a chance to tell the story, which is always a blast to tell.
TH: 2018 was huge for you. Could you recap it for us?
BK: You’re 100 percent right that this season was the biggest leap for me so far in my three years of baseball play-by-play. I knew we were in for an amazing year just getting hired as a broadcaster in the Cubs system. But if you told me back in February that this year would transpire the way it did I would not have believed you. I thought I did well in Boise in 2017, but never did I think my broadcasts would take the jump the way that they did in 2018. From calling a game in Grand Rapids on opening day in 30-degree weather, to Jordan Zimmermann’s rehab start against us in June, to Yu Darvish’s rehab starts in South Bend, and finally my first MLB broadcast at Wrigley Field in September, 2018 rocked. I’ve always said I’d never be in the position without my friends, family, and loved ones. That will never change. I’m able to do this because of them.
Baseball is a blast, but when you have to hop on 10-hour bus rides in the Northwest League after calling a 20-inning game (actually happened on 7-4-2017 for Eugene versus Boise, ha.) you rely on your loved ones to get through those big stretches. Those same people that helped me through my rookie year are the same ones now listening and coming to South Bend Cubs games. Being an hour from my family in Mokena and my friends down at Butler gives everyone a chance to come visit and catch a game from beautiful Four Winds Field.
Being able to call a Cubs game at Wrigley as well was the biggest honor of my life. I can’t thank the Chicago Cubs, the South Bend Cubs, Jason Carr, and Chris Hagstrom enough for allowing me to come in for what was arguably the biggest game of 2018 at the time on September 11 for the Cubs vs. Brewers. Milwaukee was a game back at the time and the Cubs beat them 3-0. It’s fun to say I’m undefeated at Wrigley, for now. The support I have is unmatched, and I could not do this without everyone involved.
TH: I’d be negligent if I didn’t ask about Nico Hoerner, who stopped by South Bend briefly. What are your thoughts on him?
BK: You never know what you’ll get out of a guy like him when you talk to him for the first time. With the big time prospects one thing that I’ve noticed in my travels so far is some are there just to play and not make friends, and then sometimes you run into guys who are every bit of a good teammate as a spectacular player. Nico is exactly that. The first time I had to chat with him I had to go down to the clubhouse to ask him if he would be comfortable doing a media session with all the news stations here in South Bend, because anyone and everyone wanted to talk to him.
Instead of being apprehensive, his response was “Yeah, of course. Whatever you guys need, let me know. You know what is best.” To me, that said so much about Nico’s character. And as we got ready for that press conference, we began to connect because we’re both Cape guys. He player for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox the summer after I was there. We chatted about YD’s manager and how he liked playing in the league, and ultimately, that’s how we were able to build a rapport. Absolutely a great kid, and I can’t wait to watch him in Wrigley.
On the field, he didn’t play too much with us but when he was at the plate or in the field it looked natural. I called his only home run with us and it was a bomb to straight-away center. At our park, it’s not easy to hit the ball over that fence onto the grassy hill in center field. But Nico did it. He also handled himself with true professionalism; always signing autographs for fans before and after games, and being a solid teammate to the guys in the room. have nothing but great things to say about the guy and wish him the absolute best in his rise to Wrigley.
Thanks to Brendan for the time to bring you closer to the pipeline. My hope is to periodically pop in with affiliate updates from announcers, who are actually watching the games. It’s what I’d like to read, so it’s what I’m facilitating.