5 Questions with...Cubs Announcer Len Kasper


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

Report: Jeff George Jr. starting at QB for Illini vs. Michigan


Report: Jeff George Jr. starting at QB for Illini vs. Michigan

Jeff George Jr. will reportedly get the start at quarterback when the Illini take on Michigan this afternoon in Ann Arbor.

According to a report from the News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen, neither Wes Lunt nor Chayce Crouch will be able to play in Saturday's game, forcing George into starting duty.

Lunt was knocked out of Illinois' loss to Purdue two weeks ago and did not play last weekend against Rutgers. Crouch, who took over for Lunt against Purdue and rushed for 137 yards in that game, started in the win over Rutgers, but he apparently suffered a shoulder injury in that game.

George got a very small bit of action in this season's Week 1 win over Murray State, but this will be his first career start.

George is the son of Jeff George, the former Illinois quarterback who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft.

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.