A Conversation with Pat Hughes

pathughes.jpgOver the years, for many, Pat Hughes as become as synonymous with the Chicago Cubs as Harry Caray and his partner Ron Santo. Hughes’ love for the game of baseball is heard on a daily basis as he describes the actions on the field in his unique way. We welcome Pat into our lives and his voice has become the soundtrack of many our summers.

The Voice of the Chicago Cubs recently took time out from preparing for the upcoming season and discussed a variety of topics with the CCO….

ChicagoCubsOnline – Other than the Cubs Convention and emceeing the 63rd Annual Pitch and Hit Club Awards Dinner, what have you been up to this off-season?

Pat Hughes – I’ve been very, very busy with a lot of family things and that has taken up a bulk of my time. As always I try to do all of my reading and stay up on all of the baseball news. I’m never far away from the pulse of Major League Baseball.

I’m working on a Red Barber project. I watch my daughter play travel volleyball games. A good friend of mine, Jon Scheyer plays at Duke University for their basketball team so I watch all of their games. I do a lot of reading. I love to watch movies with my wife. Mainly just kind of relax and try to enjoy your life because even though I love baseball once the season starts it’s a long, long season and really you are committed to the game every single day for about seven or eight months.

CCO – What is a typical game day like for you? What kind of preparation do you do?

PH – A lot of it is preparation. I always believe in doing my reading. I read the newspaper, every word of baseball news in the paper. I go to the computer I have a few websites that I go for additional research. Then I try to get a workout. I try to take care of personal things, whatever bills I have to pay or other personal things I have to take care of. I love getting in a workout and going to work.

I don’t want to over prepare but I do not want to under prepare either. There is a fine balance there and after all these years I think I know about where that line is.

CCO – I can only imagine all of the preparation you do, especially with all of the sites and all of the stats that people know. I can only imagine how challenging it is to keep up with it on your end.

PH – There is so much information out there. The big part is sifting through the unusable stuff. It would bore the audience to tears if you read statistics for three hours everyday….or if you read everything that is available online or in the media guides. It would be a bad broadcast.

Again you want to prepare enough but you do not want to over do it. You want to leave some time during the ballgame where you can have some fun. And you can just let your mind go where it wants to go. Work with Santo and try to come up with funny things that the audience might like.

It’s a combination when you are on the air. It’s description. It’s play-by-play. It’s giving the score. It’s discussing strategy. It’s talking history. It’s having some fun. It’s discussing other games, other teams, other players and then going through that whole cycle again.

There is no real one way to do it but I have my own way of doing it after all these years. Thankfully the people I work for seem to like what I do.

CCO – Speaking of description, you are one of the few announcers that describe what the players are wearing. How did you come up with mixing in the descriptions of the players’ uniforms?

PH – I am a radio announcer and even though we live in a video age where television is the king and television dictates schedules. Certainly TV announcers make a lot more money than radio guys and that is fine…but my love is radio.

That is my training to be the eyes for the audience. If you are driving in your car, I want you to be able to see the game as you are driving so that is part of it. Describing the uniforms, describing the sky, the crowd and the field. What does it look like?

In St. Louis there is an ocean of red in the stands because of all the Cardinal fans. At Wrigley it is predominately blue. I just want people to be able to imagine the players in their uniforms.

If you are playing the Pirates, they have the vest-type shirt where it is cut off at the shoulders and they have the short sleeves underneath. I want you to be able to see that as you are listening to the game. It’s no big deal. It just goes back to my training or trying to be the eyes for the audience.

CCO – I have heard from people that are sight impaired that appreciate the job you do because it allows them to visualize not only the play-by-play but what the players are wearing. You are one of the few that actually does that and I know a lot of people appreciate it.

PH – Thanks. I simply feel like I am doing my job. I will tell you that one of the coolest things that a baseball announcer receives would be letters from visually handicapped fans. They say we rely on you to let us know what is going on at Wrigley. Obviously we cannot watch the games on television so we have to rely on the radio.

It almost makes your heart burst with pride when a visually handicapped fan says ‘thank you’. You allow me to see the game at Wrigley Field even though I do not actually have vision but I thank you for allowing me to close my eyes and just watch the game as you describe it. That makes me feel great.

CCO – A while ago you mentioned you are taking bags to Wrigley today, when are you leaving for Arizona?

PH - Not for a few weeks. We go to work on the 25th I think, so I will be heading down there soon enough.

CCO – I know WGN does not broadcast every spring game. Do you stay in Arizona in between the broadcasts or do you go back and forth?

PH – Yes and no. I used to stay out there for the whole time but we only do 11 games. They play like 37 games this spring so there are periods where I have five or six days between games. I am going to use those days to come home and help out where I can with the family.

CCO – With the popularity of the Cubs growing daily, have they discussed adding any games?

PH – Neil, don’t give anyone any ideas please. [laughs] No, that would be more work for me and I have plenty of work to do right now. So thank you very much. [laughs]

CCO – I understand….

PH – No, I know what you are saying. We do 11 games and that’s plenty. I am not a big fan of exhibition games to be very honest with you. They are not like regular season games. They don’t count. They don’t mean a thing. The players do not treat them the same way. The managers don’t, the general mangers. The first few games of the spring are really exhibitions….that’s all they are. They are workouts for the players as they prepare for the long season ahead.

After two innings the starting pitcher leaves the game. That’s not a regular baseball game. There are three guys with the number 17 on the field at the same time, that’s not big league baseball. So it is very difficult for the broadcaster to announce those games.

I like being in the sunshine and watching spring games but as for working them and making them sound like legitimate competition. It’s really not that fun.

CCO – What is it like being the voice of one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports?

PH - I like it. I am proud of it. I can’t believe sometimes when I look around and think this is going to be my 14th year as the Voice of the Chicago Cubs. Am I really saying that? Have I actually done that many games? Have I been able to fool that many people for that long? [laughs]

It’s amazing. I am very proud. I dreamed when I was a kid of being one of the voices of one of the great franchises and that’s the job that I have. I am very grateful. I hope I can keep it going for a few more seasons. I do not know how long, I am 53 right now. I do not take anything for granted. At this point I am almost to the point where every season I do feels like gravy. I’ll keep it going for a while. You know when you get to a certain age there is no guarantee.

CCO – You are not fooling anybody. That is the reason you have been on the air for as long as you have and you continue to have the listeners and success you’ve had.

PH – Thank you and I was obviously kidding but it is a hard job. I can’t speak for other people. I don’t know what it’s like for Bob Uecker in Milwaukee or Harry Kalas in Philadelphia or Vin Scully in LA but my job is not easy. You have to be on the air, ready to go, perform live without a script for three hours maybe four hours some games. You work everyday. You are traveling constantly. You might work 33 out of 35 days in the middle of summer traveling like a lunatic. Getting in at three in the morning sometimes. It is demanding physically but again once that game starts no matter where I am or how tired I am, I always want to give the audience the best I have that day.

Then you collapse at the end of the game. [laughs] You go get some sleep. Get in a workout and come back and do it again the next day.

CCO – And, speaking of voices… your Baseball Voices series. I am a big fan of radio play-by-play. I have the Harry Caray CD and I really enjoy listening to Bob Uecker and Harry Kalas on the radio. How did you come up with the idea? You mentioned Red Barber will he be a part of the series? Can you describe what the series is for those that might not know?

PH – The answer is yes about Red Barber. I am producing it right now.

The genesis of the project began several years ago when I realized that nobody had ever done a comprehensive series on the great radio baseball announcers. I thought I will put a piece together on Harry Caray and Jack Buck and see what people think. To my amazement there is an audience out there that loves it.

I have always loved radio, baseball radio. It brings back memories. The radio announcers for me when I was growing up was Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons of the Giants. There was a great announcer by the name of Bill King with the Warriors and the Raiders in the Bay area. So I always loved these guys. It turns out that a lot of fans feel the same way about their favorite announcers.

On these CDs they are about 60-70 minutes long. I put some of the great highlights, some of the great moments of their careers. I tell a little bit of their life story. I try to have some humor and some funny stuff. I also have their Hall of Fame speeches and maybe some personal memories as well.

For example, Bob Uecker and I worked for 12 years together in Milwaukee so I have a lot of personal memories of that. Harry Caray and I worked together for a couple of years. I tell people with the Harry Caray and Bob Uecker CDs there are parts in those CDs that are guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. And if not, Ron Santo will refund your money back. [laughs]

They are fun. The website is www.baseballvoices.com and because the economy is so bad we are offering free shipping on all CD orders for the time being.

CCO – All of the guys you mentioned are Hall of Famers, do you think radio play-by-play is becoming a lost art?

PH – No I don’t. If you listen around there are some guys that are still turning in tremendous work on a daily basis. Again, we live in a video age and television dominates. I appreciate that and I respect that. But my heart and my love is in radio and it always will be, I do not see that ever changing.

It is a challenge but it is enjoyable. You get to use your vocabulary. You get to try to put into words what you see. Calling a play can be very exciting. Like a double with the bases loaded. It’s a challenge to try and get things right.

You use your voice and certain inflections to create drama or to convey emotions at the ballpark. It is a very difficult thing but something I have done my whole adult life and I absolutely love it.

There are guys all over the place that turn in very solid work radio work on a daily basis in almost every big league city. So I do not think it is a lost art. I really don’t.

CCO – For many people their favorite seven words in the English language are, “Chicago Cubs Baseball is on the Air”. How did you come up with the lead in?

PH – [laughs] Well, I’m going to keep on saying it every single game. I get excited. It is funny. Even after all these years, I’ve done over 4000 big league games, I still to this day, about five minutes before I go on the air, I get some butterflies. It’s not like I am afraid or frightened or worried or anything but it is that excitement and that anticipation of thinking something special could happen today.

We might see a no hitter. We might see a guy hit four homers. We might see a perfect game. We might see a triple play. You never know what you are going to see. With the Cubs you know there is a gigantic audience listening everyday and that gives me a charge of excitement also.

I am a pretty lucky guy in many ways.

[end]

Pat’s enthusiasm and love for the game was as evident in February as it is during the season….and I cannot wait to hear those seven magical words in a couple of weeks. Thanks Pat for making a cold winter day seem a lot warmer.

Quote of the Day

"Baseball, just a game as simple as a ball and a bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes." - Ernie Harwell
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