Cubs TV voice Len Kasper welcomed new analyst Jim Deshaies last weekend as the two broadcast their first games of spring training together.
Deshaies, who came from the Houston Astros booth, replaced the popular Bob Brenly after Brenly left for a similar job with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
I had a chance to catch up with Len this past week in the booth at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz. We talked about how the first weekend went, broadcast-booth chemistry and what he expects Deshaies, who goes by "JD," to bring.
How do you feel the first weekend went?
I thought it went great. I wasn't surprised it went great. I thought the first day, JD was trying to ease in and trying to find his spots. Day 2 -- and it was nice to do back-to-back days -- I thought he jumped in a little more often. We had a chance to riff on some other baseball topics. He has a real dry sense of humor, stays up on pop culture and what's going on around the world. I'm already coming up with a few ideas to throw at him as we go along.
I like the fact that he's a former pitcher. It brings a completely different dynamic in terms of his playing experience and how to set up hitters and talking about that in a way that, before, it would be about, 'How do you face a pitcher,' with Bob. So it's a little different.
One of the criticisms of your first year with Bob was that it seemed to take time to develop chemistry. How long does that take?
The biggest difference between now and then, when Bob and I started together, the atmosphere was you have a brand-new booth. We were both brand new and trying to feel our way through it. So I was getting used to not only working with Bob, but I was getting used to the whole dynamic of being the Cubs announcer.
Being the incumbent here helps a lot. I feel my role is to be there for JD and answer any questions he has about the 200 people he's going to meet on Opening Day who all know who he is and he's not going to be able to place the name with the face for a couple of months.
The other thing to recognize is that he has actually done this longer than I have. He's done 16 full years as a broadcaster. So I'm not worried about the broadcasting part of it. It's part of the fun of getting used to being with the Cubs and WGN and Comcast SportsNet and all the people he's going to meet and see over the course of time. There's no other place like it in the world."
What's the early feedback been?
The feedback's been great -- really, really positive. On Twitter and I've checked out the blogs, and everyone has said, "Wow, I like the vibe, I like the chemistry." You're going to have fans who say, "I miss Bob, but ... JD's really good." I think Bob should be missed. He's one of the best in the business and will always be a Cub. I think JD recognizes that. When we go to Houston at the end of spring training, there are going to be a lot of sad faces there because JD has left.
JD seems to have a nice sense of humor. You need that over a long season, don't you?
"No doubt. I've got to bone up on my "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" references because he'll drop a few in as we go. There was a line the other day after Theo (Cubs president Epstein) left the booth, (Deshaies) said, "As interesting as it is, I kind of felt like I was Gilligan and he's the professor." He's very self-deprecating.
He's one of those guys like Bob, where you tweak him a little bit on some little nugget about his career, even if it wasn't a positive note and he'll totally run with it and have fun with it. He should also be very proud of the career he had, 12 years in the big leagues and some really good years with the Astros.
Do you have to wait for your "bits" to develop and evolve rather than forcing them?
"No question. The food thing is one I've been asked -- "Are you going to do the food tour around the big leagues?" We may do the food tour at Wrigley Field. A lot of people have asked JD what his favorite Chicago restaurant is. So we'll be giving him tips on where to go, inviting him to tell us, 'Hey, I went to this place and really enjoyed the steak' or whatever it was. So I think this year it's going to be just about almost being the chamber of commerce and telling JD, 'Maybe you want to check out this place or this area,' and get the review from him.
You don't fool the fans in Chicago. Will you and JD be critical when it warrants?
"Absolutely. I don't think either of us are in a position to bury players, but it's about effort. The camera doesn't lie. Guys realize that they need to play 100 percent. I know that Dale (Cubs manager Sveum) feels that way. The coaching staff feels that way. The organization feels that way.
So when things happen that shouldn't happen, you point them out. If there are mistakes in communication, you're just pointing out things that happen. I think that he'll be fair. But I also think, as you know, Cubs fans don't want be told something that they're not seeing, and I think JD will come through on that regard.