The 2001 Chicago Cubs didn't make the playoffs, but to this day they remain one of the most favorite clubs I've covered over the last 16 years.
One big reason was Ron Coomer.
WGN radio has hired Coomer to be the new radio analyst alongside play-by-play ace Pat Hughes for Cubs games beginning in 2014. Coomer replaces Keith Moreland, who left for family reasons after three years. The Daily Herald first reported Coomer's candidacy a month ago.
"It's great," Hughes said Friday. "It's always a difficult process because so many good people don't end up getting the job. I'm thrilled to have Ron. He is a fun guy, a smart guy, was a good ballplayer, and he's a team guy."
Coomer, a Chicago native who went to St. Rita High School before graduating from Lockport Township High in 1984, spent just one season with the Cubs.
The '01 Cubs were in first place for four months before falling out of the race late in the season. That club featured the slugging exploits of Sammy Sosa, but guys such as Coomer, Matt Stairs, Ricky Gutierrez, Eric Young and Jeff Fassero kept things real -- and loose -- in the clubhouse.
As a Chicago guy, Coomer "gets" the whole mentality of the sports scene here. He's done broadcasting work for the Minnesota Twins, for whom he was a fan favorite as a player.
In the clubhouse, Coomer was a "go-to" guy for the media, along with Young and Stairs. But there was more to it than that; he seemed to be a guy who could converse on many topics.
Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Cubs gathered for a workout at Wrigley Field. It was the first team gathering since Sept. 10, and the quiet ballpark had an eerie feeling about it.
I remember asking Coomer on the field that day if it would be hard to muster up the joy it takes to play baseball in the wake of tragedy.
"I've got friends who are firemen here in town who are going there (to New York to help in rescue efforts)," he responded. "If we're worried about what's going to happen or if we're going to go to war, baseball doesn't really mean too much. I love playing and I've come out to this park my whole life. But when you see people and hear their stories, this (baseball) is pretty trivial.
"I remember watching the (1991) NHL All-Star Game when Wayne (Messmer) sang the national anthem and the feeling you got, how that was an energizing moment for our entire country, not just for the guys who were playing. It's going to be interesting to hear the national anthem the first time back. I think it could be energizing."
A few days later, some of the writers carpooled to Cincinnati, where the Cubs would resume play. The night before the first game, we ran into Coomer in a downtown restaurant, and we sat and talked for a couple hours, covering a lot of subjects.
Time will tell whether Coomer excels in the booth. Hughes figures to make the transition an easy one, and Coomer's engaging personality should allow him to take it from there.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Hughes said. "For Ron, I'm sure it will be great to be back home."
The Cubs on Friday claimed right-handed pitcher Liam Hendriks off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Hendriks, 24, is 2-13 with a 6.06 ERA in 30 big-league appearances (28 starts) with the Twins covering parts of the last three seasons. He split the 2013 season between the Twins and Class-AAA Rochester, going 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 10 big-league games (8 starts).
In addition, the Cubs signed infielder Ryan Roberts, outfielder Ryan Kalish and catcher John Baker to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training.
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