Brewerfan.net recently had the opportunity to chat with both Ogden Raptors radio broadcaster Terry Byrom and High Desert Mavericks radio man Mike Lindskog. Sharing so much time with Brewer prospects both at the ballpark and on the road allows each to provide what we think are wonderful insights on their respective teams. Here are their thoughts on a variety of subjects, provided to us just as the Raptors clinched a playoff berth and as the Mavericks wrapped up a tough second half of the season. Our thanks to both Terry and Mike for their time and for entertaining many a Brewerfan.net follower well into the evening all season long via their webcasts!
Q&A WITH THE OGDEN RAPTORS' TERRY BYROM:
BREWERFAN.NET (BF): Terry, this is your first full-time announcing job. Tell us about your decision to make this career move at age 39, how it came about, and your aspirations going forward. I remember when the Raptors posted the job opening on their web site - is that how you learned about the opportunity?
TERRY BYROM (TB): This is something that I've always wanted to do and after a lot of discussion with my wonderful wife Sandy, I decided to look for something. Unfortunately I decided to do this too late in the spring, so I was left with just short season teams or independent league teams as an avenue for a job. It really wasn't a "hard" decision, but certainly a scary one. I did learn about the job through the Raptors web site.
As for my aspirations, I suppose there like anyone else's, I'd love to make it to the major leagues but I'm not sure that's really an attainable goal at my age. I would be perfectly content to just find a good job, preferably year round, with a single A team. Time will tell how far I can go. I've only done about 65 games professionally at this point, so I really don't have that much experience.
BF: You make it a point to say hello to many of the various family members of the players, and you always note when family members are in Ogden, which seems to be often. Has that been one of the more enjoyable aspects of broadcasting Pioneer League Rookie baseball - getting to experience your rookie year along with them? Certainly for the high school kids like SS Josh Murray and several of the junior college guys, this summer has been their first extended taste of life away from home, and because it's so new, I'm sure that you're getting to meet more friends and family, than, let's say, Mike in High Desert.
TB: It's an interesting situation since I take emails from all of the families and have gotten to know some of them in person. I feel like my job is to describe the action on the field to the best of my abilities, and if need be, try to be critical of their play without being critical of the player. On one hand, that's been easier since I've gotten to know so many of the families, but on the other hand it's been difficult because I've gotten to know so many families.
I don't think I'll ever be this close to a team or families again, but I think the nature of rookie ball allows that to happen. All in all I would say it's been much more positive than negative, getting the emails and "talking" to the families and I have enjoyed it.
BF: How in the world does a group of over 30 players, coaches, and staff spend their free time in such outposts as Medicine Hat, Missoula, and Billings? Have the rigors of travel in Big Sky country worn down the players at all - their late-season playoff push seems to indicate "no", although I imagine winning has a way of keeping everyone motivated.
TB: We've done quite a bit as a team, which has helped. On our day off in Billings, there was an all-afternoon rafting trip. On the way back from Medicine Hat, we stopped in Yellowstone Park for a few hours. And this next week, on our trip to Casper, we are going to do a two-day miniature golf tournament.
Since our season is "only" 76 games, the length of the season isn't really a problem. But, even though it's a "short" season, we will still put close to 10,000 miles on a bus which is a lot of traveling in only 38 road games.
I'm actually quite surprised how well the team travels. The one positive about all of the travel is that it generally occurs at night after the games so most everyone sleeps. I know all of the traveling has worn me down, and at times, I'm flat out beat and all I do is the radio broadcasts, so I can only imagine how the players feel. There are certainly games that I think they look very "sluggish" for several innings and then "boom", they'll be fine.
BF: Let's talk about the whole Prince Fielder phenomenon in Ogden. I imagine that Ogden management was sorry to see him head off to Beloit. It certainly seemed as though Prince wasn't bothered by the spotlight being on him, with his dad Cecil in town often and all. Is it safe to say Prince was the talk of the town with his .390 average, .678 slugging percentage, and .531 OBP in his 41 games with the Raptors?
TB: Price Fielder is just a wonderful young man. He was not only the talk of Ogden, but also the talk everywhere we went. And he handled everything very graciously. Being only 18, he could have been grumpy or had an attitude about the endless amount of TV and radio interviews not to mention the magazine and newspaper stuff, but he didn't and was just so easy to work with. I'm sure his father (Cecil) had a lot to do with his attitude about playing and about dealing with the media, since Cecil had a good reputation as well.
As for the Raptor management, the attendance here is pretty steady so Prince leaving really didn't affect it one way or another. We were all sorry to see him leave because of his personality, and also (obviously) because of how good he was on the field. He is going to be a fine major leaguer, and one of those guys that will just be infectious to be around.
BF: My apologies to the players that we won't be able to touch on everyone on the roster. What can you tell us about the other "Top 5" picks from this year's draft still with Ogden: SS Josh Murray, RHP Eric M. Thomas, and OF Nic Carter. Murray's so young, Thomas has had his struggles, and Carter's looked very solid but not spectacular. Do you see in them what prompted the Brewers to think so highly of each?
TB: In all three of them there have definitely been flashes of what the Brewers are hoping for. Among those three, Nic Carter has been the most consistent this year. He's hitting about .275 with a couple of homers and about 30 RBI. Over the past couple of weeks he's shown an improvement in his throwing from the outfield, not only in arm strength, but also in accuracy which has resulted in a some assists. He has definitely shown at different times all the tools that you'd like to see a young player have. It's really up to Nic how far he goes. If he works hard, then I think Nic has a decent shot of playing himself in the big leagues, but if he doesn't, it'll be tough for him.
Josh Murray has struggled this season. But keep in mind he only recently turned 18. He really only played one year of high school baseball, so he was a little behind to begin with. He's also a player that the Brewers roving instructors, namely Nate Oliver, have worked with extensively with his footwork at shortstop and with his throwing. At the plate, his numbers aren't bad. He's gone through stretches where he's hit the ball pretty well, but then stretches where making contact is difficult. But he's also facing a lot of guys that are 21 - 23 years old which is a big difference for him. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Brewers didn't keep him in Rookie ball one more season. There's absolutely no reason for the Brewers to rush him.
As for Eric M. Thomas, he's a guy that has really struggled this season. He's had one two game stretch where he came out of the bullpen and put everything together, but other than that, he's really had a tough time. Mark Littell (pitching coach) has spent a lot of time with Eric in the bullpen working on his delivery and mechanics, but it's just going to take more time. Eric is a hard worker and a good learner, but it just hasn't been there for him. He's a little more behind the eight ball development wise since he's older and has in theory less time to develop.
BF: Speaking of Eric Thomas, just how crazy has it been having the two of them (3rd round pick, 28th round pick, both RHP's) on the team?
TB: It has been a pain statistic wise since other teams don't differentiate at times when they transmit the stats to Howe. But for all of us, it's not hard to tell them apart so it really hasn't been much of an issue. I've starting referring to Eric M. Thomas as EMT and Eric A. Thomas as E. A. Thomas.
BF: While there have been several position players with very good seasons (2B Callix Crabbe, C John Vanden Berg, for example), the real strength of this squad seems to come from its pitching staff. Manny Parra, four walks and 40 K's in 35 IP, Khalid Ballouli, seven walks and 59 K's in 54 IP, Calvin Carpenter, 23 BB and 62 K's in 66 IP - and I could go on from there. What has pitching coach Mark Littell preached to these guys, or is it just a matter of the Brewers' scouts providing the player development people in Ogden with young pitchers who already knew how to work the plate to their advantage?
TB: They are all different, and in different stages of development. The four year college guys like Khalid Ballouli and Craig Breslow were more ahead of the curve than the other guys. So much at this entry level isn't mechanics but attitude. Mark Littell certainly spends a lot of time on mechanics, but even more time on attitude. The object here at this level is to develop players with winning taking a back seat. The difference from that attitude and say a college coach's attitude is pretty obvious. Most college coaches don't have a problem letting a start go 120 - 140+ pitches, but that just doesn't happen here. For the four year college guys, that's a big difference. Being told not to throw so many different pitches is foreign. Being told to control the hitter and get him to hit a pitch early in the count might be foreign as well, depending on what they were taught.
Carpenter is in a different boat since he was drafted last year right out of high school. He played last year in Arizona and has spent the entire season with Ogden this year. He's got a great attitude, and has been in the top 10 in ERA and strikeouts all season long. He just needs time to develop and at 19, he still has time to do that. He's in much the same position as Nic Carter, if he continues to improve he could find himself climbing the ladder one step at a time until he reaches the majors. He has what I would call good moxie on the mound. He's not afraid to go after anyone, which is certainly different from a lot of guys pitching nowadays.
Manny Parra is as good as it gets, he just doesn't know it yet. Manny pitched two years for a junior college in Sacramento and feels as if he needs to "fool" the hitters. He hasn't yet figured out just how good he is, but Littell and Tim Blackwell are working on that daily. Manny is a guy that once he gets it all figured out is going to be in the majors much sooner than later.
The Raptors strength is definitely their pitching, and given the Brewers problems over the years finding arms, I think help is definitely here and combined with the other solid prospects in the organization, finally, pitching may no longer be a problem.
BF: We're seeing a healthy influx of young talent begin to make its way state-side from the Dominican and Venezuelan Leagues. What special efforts, if any, have the Brewers and Raptors made to assimilate OF's Mario Mendez, Francisco Plasencia, and Manuel Melo, IF Andri Gomez, and P Melvin Perez, into American culture? You often read reports of young Latin players having difficulty making the transition without the proper support from the organization. Hopefully that hasn't been the case with the Brewers and Raptors.
TB: The Raptors do a wonderful thing for all of the players, but I really think it helps those from the Latin countries, and that's putting all of the players with host families. So the Latin players are with host families, and in most cases, the families can speak Spanish so they can communicate. But it also gives the players an opportunity to be with an "American" family learning English and getting acclimated to the "American" lifestyle. This is something that seems to have really helped. Melvin Perez and Mario Mendez have picked up a lot of English being here all year long and seem to have really enjoyed the entire experience.
BF: When all is said and done, what are the most vivid memories you'll walk away with from this Raptor team in 2003, either on-field or off?
TB: First and foremost, the front office and coaching staff have been wonderful. Dave Baggott, Joey Stein, and John E. Lindquist have been very gracious to me as well as the coaches and rovers for the Raptors/Brewers. Tim Blackwell, Mark Littell, and Wes Clements have been very open with all of their answers to my questions and have made my first year memorable.
Being able to go through the "Prince" phenomenon and dealing with all of the media circus surrounding him was great for a first year broadcaster/media relations person.
Lastly, having won the second division championship and now getting ready for the playoffs really tops off a wonderful experience. It makes those 10 hour bus rides to the Northern Division teams worth it.
Q&A WITH THE HIGH DESERT MAVERICKS' MIKE LINDSKOG:
BREWERFAN.NET (BF): Mike, you're a young man (28) in your second season of broadcasting High Desert Maverick action. Can you fill us in on your background and what brought you to Adelanto, California? Like Terry, you bring a lot of enthusiasm and wit to your broadcasts, in addition to an excellent knowledge of the game, which makes for a great combination.
MIKE LINDSKOG (ML): I was born and raised in Spokane, WA. I lived there for 26 years before moving to the High Desert. While attending college at Eastern Washington University, I took a summer job with the Spokane Indians baseball team (Northwest League) doing music at the Stadium.
From there I moved into a PA Announcer's job with the Indians as well as the Spokane Chiefs Hockey Team. After doing that for a few years, I was offered a full-time job in the Indians' office doing Marketing Sales. With the full-time job came opportunities to do radio for the Indians and Spokane Chiefs Hockey Team on a part-time basis. Brett Sports and Entertainment, who owns the Mavericks, Indians, Chiefs and Spokane Shadow Soccer Team, also owns the broadcast rights to the local high school football and basketball games, so that gave me even more broadcasting experience.
When the job in the High Desert became available, it was a no-brainer for me! It's my first full-time play-by-play job and I'm really happy with how things are going. I'd like to think that what I lack in some areas, I make up for with enthusiasm. If a fan doesn't like a high-energy broadcast, I don't think they'll enjoy my style. I try to make it enjoyable for every possible audience though. Knowing your audience is the key. I live here during the off-season and am the Director of Marketing and handle all Media and Public Relations.
BF: Let's start by asking the obvious. We hear so much about the playing conditions at "Friendly" Mavericks Stadium - well, friendly to the batters, maybe. Is it realistic to move the fences out, or would that just create too much ground to cover in the outfield? The current 330 down the LF line, and 400-410 in center and right-center sound pretty reasonable to me.
ML: With the affiliation being renewed, I'm sure that brewerfan loyalists would love to see the fences moved back to help the pitching prospects that will move up from Beloit. It's just not realistic to move the fences, because Mavericks Stadium is a city-owned facility and the city of Adelanto wouldn't be willing to invest the type of cost that such a project would necessitate. The actual field sits lower than the Stadium and so the "jetstream" coupled with the higher elevation provides for poor pitching conditions. Someone probably should have thought about moving the fences back before the Stadium was built in 1990.
BF: More on the park effects - you're with all these players right from Day 1 in Adelanto. Did you get the sense that they knew what they were in for? Are the pitchers realistic in their expectations of themselves, or are they a bit beaten down right about now after dealing with the conditions all season? Actually, when you analyze home/road splits, you could certainly make the case that it hasn't been the pitching that's been the cause of some severe road woes for the club, but lack of adjustments by the position players at the plate. Or is it a lot of ado about nothing?
ML: Most of the players had heard about the conditions coming into this year, but you just don't realize how tough it is to pitch here. Until you see a guy hit his first home run in 1000 career at bats and then go deep again the next game, you just can't understand. I exaggerate to clarify! This year, our pitching staff leads the 10-team Cal League in walks. We have almost 100 walks more than the next team. I firmly believe that this park has less to do with our pitching woes than people say. Just like every good pitching coach says