5 Questions with...Cubs Announcer Len Kasper

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5 Questions with...Cubs Announcer Len Kasper

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

March 17, 2010

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weekthe Emmy award-winning play-by-play voice for every Chicago Cubs game on Comcast SportsNethes a devoted husband, proud father, not to mention a pretty decent musician on the sidehes a man who has often said he has THE best job in the world (and who could argue with that)here are 5 Questions withLEN KASPER!

BIO: Len Kasper, a Midwest native, begins his sixth season handling play-by-play for all Cubs television broadcasts. Kasper earned a ChicagoMidwest Emmy award in 2008 for his on-air work with partner Bob Brenly. He joined the Cubs in 2005 after doing Florida Marlins play-by-play for three years for Fox Sports Net. Prior to joining the Marlins, Len did play-by-play for select Milwaukee Brewers games from 1999-2001. Kasper's broadcast career also included a stint as the morning sports anchor at WTMJ in Milwaukee, WI. He hosted pregame and halftime shows for the Green Bay Packers radio network and co-hosted a hot stove league show on the Brewers radio network. He spent nearly eight years working for WTMJ. Kasper graduated summa cum laude from Marquette University in 1993 with a degree in public relations. He was born on January 21, 1971, in Mt. Pleasant, MI. Len and his wife, Pam, have one son: Leo.

1) CSNChicago.com: Len, its that time of year once again. Were thrilled baseball is back and we cant wait to begin hearing you and your partner Bob Brenly calling every Cubs game this season on Comcast SportsNet. Lets get down to businesslast season was no doubt a disappointing one for Cubs fans throughout the country, especially after two-straight playoff appearances. In your opinion, what are three key factors in getting the Cubs over 90 wins this season and back in the playoff picture again this October?
Kasper: The boring answer is health, but with a veteran-laden team, that is critical. Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly--all key veterans--need to be mostly healthy for this team to get back where it needs to be. Yes, the Cubs feel like they've added depth as a "just in case" scenario, but the fact is, these are all All-Star caliber players and you can't expect to win the division without huge contributions from really all three. Secondly, the offense has to be more productive as a whole. The Cubs went from 1st to 10th in the NL in runs last year, scoring almost one full run less per game in the process. New hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo comes advertised as the elite batting instructor in the game. Hopefully, that will translate into some better at-bats and better overall performances. Thirdly, the Cubs have some openings in the bullpen behind Carlos Marmol and John Grabow. There might be a couple young, unfamiliar hurlers who will get a chance to pitch in some big spots this season. As many championship teams can attest, middle relief is a huge, often underrated, area on a ballclub. Finding a couple gems to lend support as a bridge from the starters to the late-innings guys is imperative.

2) CSNChicago.com: During the current spring session in Mesa, there seems to be two big on-going stories that keep coming up that may have a big impact on this season: the health of starting pitcher Ted Lilly and the emergence of 19-year-old SS of the future Starlin Castro. Are you concerned about Lillys once-stellar effectiveness once he returns to the rotation and do you see Castro making the Opening Day 25-man roster?

Kasper: I'll answer the second one first. Castro is not expected to break camp with the club, but I would be surprised if we don't see him in the big leagues at some point this season (September at the latest when the roster expands). The only way he'd make the Opening Day roster is if Ryan Theriot suffers an injury. On Lilly, anytime you have a pitcher coming back from shoulder surgery, you can't say you have zero concerns. The shoulder is a much trickier area than, say, the elbow. But Ted has impeccable work habits and I really think he'll come back strong. This team absolutely needs a healthy Lilly, who has been the Cubs' best starter for different stretches during his tenure here.

3) CSNChicago.com: Youve discussed this before, but its always interesting to hear it again for any new CSNChicago.com readers. When the Cubs are at home, please tell us your daily routine in a nutshell for 1:20 PM starts and for 7:00 PM starts?

Kasper: For a 1:20 game, I try to be out of bed (and actually awake!) by 6:45 or so. I immediately get on the laptop to check out the Cubs news of the day and also what's going on with that day's opponent. I will be out of the house by 8 or so. Sometimes I'll stop for a bagel sandwich at Einstein's and do a crossword puzzle just to allow me to take a breath before my full day of baseball begins. I know that sounds like a quirky thing, but after 8 full years in the majors, I've learned that those 15-minute diversions before heading off to the ballpark are very refreshing and they help me stay focused later on the task at hand. It's a great job, but one that requires a lot of mental preparation and concentration, so I have to turn off that switch for at least a few minutes a day. I get to Wrigley normally between 9 and 9:30. I'll grab the game notes and stats from the Cubs' media relations department, then head up to the booth to get my computer, notes, pens and media guides set up. The clubhouse opens at 9:50 (3 12 hours before the first pitch), so I'll head down to the Cubs' clubhouse around 10 to get the lineup(s), check in with Lou and the coaches, say hi to the players and gather any pertinent info I can on the day's matchup. I'll usually catch a little BP before heading upstairs between 11 and 11:30 to fill out my scorecard and tidy up my notes. Also, at some point, I will check in with our producer (Bob Albrecht on CSN) and our Associate Producer (Tamra Anderson) on our pre-game segments, our show open topics and any graphics we want to use. By noon, Bob Brenly and I are usually prepared and ready to go for the most part, so we'll head to the lunch room. I'll eat a normal lunch on days I don't have breakfast or I may just have some yogurt and an apple if I'm not too hungry (it's important to eat something shortly before the game because I can't eat once the game begins and with baseball, you never know if you're going to call 9 innings or 20). Around 12:40, I'll put on my makeup and by 12:55, I have my earpiece in with my back to the field (facing our booth camera), ready to hit the air with Bob at 1:00 sharp. At that point, all the preparation pays off in what we always hope is our best broadcast to date. Then, the next day, we do it all over again.

For a 7 o'clock game, it's basically the same process except, 1) I get the early part of the day to myself for a more extended prep at home (and any personal chores and errands I need to run...AND hopefully spend at least a little time with my family), 2) I get to the park around 3 pm and 3) we don't have a pre-game show.

4) CSNChicago.com: Music is no doubt a big part of your life, evidenced by the sell out crowds each year at the annual Len & Bob Bash for Cubs Charities at the House of Blues. It has to be said, you and Bob are pretty darn good! Who would you say is your biggest musical influence growing up and, a follow-up question, whats the very latest song you downloaded to your iPod?

Kasper: I have lots of influences, but to zero in on a few, The Romantics are right at the top. I've seen them live more than any other band (probably 12-15 times over the years) and I love their bluesy, power pop, garage band roots. Tommy Keene is also one of my idols. He's a criminally overlooked singersongwriter who's been cranking out guitar pop gems for 30 years (and might be the nicest person you'll ever meet). The Who, Wilco and The Replacements are all in that pantheon of greatness from my perspective as well and I could go on and on and on. One thing this job has afforded me is the chance to meet a lot of the greats--Eddie Vedder, Buddy Guy, Jeff Tweedy and Tom Morello, just to name a few who have sung the 7th-inning stretch. And being in Chicago has allowed me to see tons of stellar bands at some of the best venues in rock. The latest iPod downloads include The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Scott Lucas & The Married Men and Dawes.

5) CSNChicago.com: The Chicago Cubs have a legendary broadcasting history headlined of course by the late Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray. However, many journalists and fans alike have stated that LEN KASPER can one day be considered among the all-time greats. How does a statement like that make you feel and tell us about your distinct approach to each individual telecast?

Kasper: I really can't even address part of that because I don't consider myself, nor will I ever, in the same breath as any of baseball broadcasting's best. Jack and Harry and Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell are in a category of their own. I will say that being in the hallowed Cubs booth allows me to really be myself and by that, I mean this: Cubs broadcasters have always had a lot of personality and while I would never try to imitate Jack or Harry, I think fans want me to be myself and let my hair down on occasion and show my emotions. I pride myself on my professionalism and objectivity in certain spots, but I'd like to think that when people are watching, they know I'm doing the game for Cubs fans first and foremost, that I will always do my best to give viewers the fairest, most in-depth and entertaining call I can and when the game's on the line, I'm as nervous as they are sitting at home. I'll never forget the Ryan O'Malley game in Houston a few years ago. He was called up at about 6am that morning and won his major league debut and Bob and I were literally in tears on the air as we showed Ryan hugging his dad after the game. It was so emotional and in a lot of spots, we would have been called unprofessional for not keeping our emotions in check. But I think it showed our humanity and there's nothing wrong with that. To be honest, if you don't get choked up witnessing something as touching as that, something's wrong with you!

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you want to plug Len? Please share it with us

Kasper: As you mentioned earlier, I guess the main thing would be for any Cubs fans out there who love good music, I would really encourage them to come to our annual Len & Bob Bash for Cubs Charities. We hold it every January at the House of Blues the night before the Cubs Convention and next year will be our 5th year. We've raised a lot of money for a good cause and it's always a fun time. We'd love to have that event sold out every year for the next several decades. Also, I want to thank all the fans who have made me feel so welcome here in Chicago. This is my 6th year here and people have treated me like I'm part of their family since day one. You're the best fans in sports and it's truly an honor to spend 3 hours a day with you during the summer.

Kasper LINKS:

Len KasperBob Brenly blog on ChicagoNow.com

Len KasperBob Brenly on Twitter

Len Kasper on Facebook

Len Kaspers Len and Lin podcasts on WXRT 93.1 FM

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

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USA TODAY

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

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USA TODAY

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