Thursday Q & A: Chris Mehring, Timber Rattlers Dir of Media Relations/Radio Annc
Our guest this week is Chris Mehring, Director of Media Relations and the Radio Announcer for the Timber Rattlers. Chris shares with us how he got to where he is with the Timber Rattlers, how he prepares to call a game, the difference not that the Timber Rattlers are an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewere & more.
So regale us with a little history and tell us how you ended up in your current position as Director of Media Relations and the Radio Announcer for the Timber Rattlers.
This story begins in 1998. I was the Sports Information Director at UW-Superior during the school year and the radio announcer for the Duluth-Superior Dukes of the Northern League. The only thing was that the University had just hired a coach for the new Women’s Hockey team at UWS and gave her the SID job. As the baseball season wound down – with a little help from a high school friend who was the ticket director for the Timber Rattlers – I got in touch with Tim McCord, the announcer for the team at the time, to ask if he had heard about any openings in the Midwest League.
He had no news, but wished me luck. A couple of weeks later, I got a job with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. After the 1998-99 season, I had a lot of time on my hands for a summer for the first time in a long time. I started going to Rattlers games and met Tim in person. We would talk about broadcasting and baseball and a few other things. Then, in August, he informed me that he was going to be leaving the team and it might be a good idea for me to put together my tape and resume.
After checking with the Gamblers if it would be okay to go for the job with the Rattlers (thank, Mel Allen they said yes), I put my name out there. I interviewed and got the job. From the fall of 1999 to the spring of 2003, I was the radio announcer for both the Rattlers and the Gamblers. There were a few seasons where I had 140 games for the Rattlers and 60 or more games with the Gamblers and half of those games were on the road. I loved it.
Then, an opportunity presented itself for the Timber Rattlers to hire me full time for corporate sales and radio. I dropped the Gamblers gig at the end of the 2003 season. I was in sales until the middle of the 2009 season when the Media Relations position became open. I have been doing that – and the radio – ever since.
Almost all professional athletes have some sort of pre-game ritual. Do you have any ‘rituals’ of your own as you prepare to call a game?
I used to have one back when I was calling hockey at UW-Superior. It was called the 6 o’clock hot dog. My broadcast partner and I would head to the concession stand for dinner. We would also manage to talk about the game that was an hour away from faceoff. Plus, when the team was at Wessman Arena we would talk with the boosters, fans, students. When I was with the Gamblers, I would take a lap around the seats of the arena about 30 minutes before the fans were let into the game. Now, I just try to take about five minutes before I go on the air and be by myself. Usually, I think about how lucky I am to be doing what it is that I do for a living. Sometimes it is just to be alone for five minutes.
You were with the team when the Timber Rattlers changed affiliation from the Seattle Mariners to the Milwaukee Brewers. How has that changed things for the organization, both on and off the field.
Off the field, interest has jumped exponentially. The attendance jumped from hovering around 200,000 for a couple of seasons to 253,000 in ’09 and 244,000 in ’10. Brewers fans statewide have taken an interest in the Timber Rattlers. More people from Milwaukee and Madison are coming out to the games. Merchandise is flying off the shelves of the team store through both internet orders and fans buying caps and jerseys in person. The team is covered by local media at an higher rate. The Mariners were always good to us and we had several top prospects come through Appleton: Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and many others. The Brewers are sending those level of prospects through town, too. The one thing that has changed on the field is the philosophy of handling prospects. In the last few seasons of the affiliation with Seattle, the Mariners pushed guys to Appleton too soon or rushed them up to the next level so that players barely had time to acclimate themselves to Appleton. I’ll use Chris Tillman as an example of that. In 2007, Tillman had one good start with the Timber Rattlers and was promoted to the California League in May. He could have used a lot more starts in the Midwest League. Milwaukee likes to keep players at a level for a lot longer. I know this frustrates fans, but I think that the patient approach is much more helpful to prospects and the organization. It is interesting to see that strategy in effect for Seattle since Jack Z. took over out there.
How often to people mention Timber Rattlers alum like Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz when talking about the history of the team?
Quite often, but it is kind of funny when they do. Namely because Rodriguez was never a member of the Timber Rattlers. He played the first half of the 1994 season at Goodland Field for the Appleton Foxes. Time Warner Cable Field and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers didn’t come into existence until the 1995 season. David Ortiz DID play for the Rattlers, but NOT as David Ortiz. He was known as David Arias when he was with Wisconsin. It had something to do with the Mariners making a mistake in their media guide and Ortiz not correcting it until after he was traded to the Twins organization at the end of the 1996 season. But, people will always bring up their favorite players. They will bring up seeing Goose Gossage, Harold Baines, or Earl Weaver at Goodland Field. Maybe they saw JJ Putz and Rafael Soriano in the Rattlers rotation in 2000. Others will ask about a player that got released at the end of a season and wonder why that guy never made it. Appleton pro baseball fans always remember their favorites.
A fact of life in the minor leagues is that people get shuffled around, which is in fact the goal of the players’ and their hopes of getting called up. How does this affect the team when this occurs.
I have often seen minor league baseball players written about as stuck in a dilemma. To move up, they need to put up numbers. To put up numbers, they need to be selfish. To be selfish, does not help them move up. It can be a bit of a vicious cycle. Some players go all out in the attempt to rack up numbers. This does not endear them to the organization or their teammates. But, when a guy does things the right way and is a team player and gets the call up it can be very satisfying. I’ll use Jeremy Jeffress for an example. I think that everyone familiar with his story knows the Jeffress story. He came down to Wisconsin last year to work his way back into shape and to work on his problems. His teammates say how hard he was working on everything. Then, he got the call from Doug Melvin that the Brewers were putting him on the 40-man roster. Everyone on the team was ecstatic for him and even more so when he got moved up to Brevard County.
Having an affiliation with the Brewers now, we’ve seen some Major League Brewers take some rehab starts with the Timber Rattlers these past couple of years. While this may be a boon for attendance, can it be distracting for the rest of the team & coaching staff when it happens?
I would not call it a distraction. I would call it a learning experience. When Manny Parra had his rehab assignment a couple of weeks ago, the pitchers on the staff – particularly Jimmy Nelson – asked him questions about pitching and talked over certain situations. Cody Scarpetta said that he was like a sponge when Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan did their rehabs in 2009. And I know that Carlos Gomez tends to take a lot of flak from fans, but he was great with the players when he did his rehab for a couple of days in 2010. It’s not really a distraction for the coaching staff either. The plan for what the major leaguer is going to do is set by the people in Milwaukee. As long as the plan is followed, no distractions.
Coming to play in the Midwest League has to be a shock for a lot of players, especially those players from warmer climes. What sort of things does the team do to help get them acclimated?
During Spring Training, stories are told to the guys heading to Wisconsin – exaggerated for effect sometimes – as to what they should expect. There really isn’t anything that can be done to acclimate guys to Midwest League baseball in April. The best advice is to layer up, get some cold weather gear, and pray for decent weather. Sometimes it works (like 70 degrees on April 10). Sometimes it doesn’t (Eight inches of snow on April 19.)
Some of this year’s top prospects on the team are Tyler Thornburg, Jimmy Nelson, Matthew Miller and Austin Ross. How do you see them developing this year?
In the brief time that I have had to see the four players mentioned, I can see why the fans and the Brewers are so excited about them. Thornburg has been special, Nelson is learning how to dial back his fastball to get more grounders, and Miller is a big kid with great stuff. High ceilings all around.
Out of those players above, or maybe one not mentioned, who do you see moving up the system this year? Not necessarily to ‘The Bigs’ but AA or AAA.
Based on early performance and using the past as a guide, Ross may follow a season trajectory similar to the one Kyle Heckathorn had last season. That would be to pitch well over 13 or 14 starts and get a promotion to Brevard County around midseason. I can see the others staying in the Midwest League for a while longer. Of course, this is all based on there being openings at the other levels in the system. I’m not sure about a trip to Huntsville or Nashville for anyone on the roster right now. If it is, it might be something near the end of the season to just get a taste.
Any upcoming special dates people should be marking down in their calendars to make sure to take a trip to Fox Cities Stadium?
Every date is special at Time Warner Cable Field. But: The 3rd annual Salute to Cows is on June 7; Mr. Belding is coming to town on June 9; Star Wars Night is June 11; Sgt. Slaughter is at the ballpark on July 14; and the Cowboy Monkeys come in on August 25. For the whole Timber Rattlers promotional schedule head over to this link.
…and now for the lightening round.
Your all-time favorite professional athlete is:
Your favorite sports blog/site to read is:
If you weren’t working for the Timber Rattlers, you would be:
If you were a professional athlete, your sport & position would be:
Team sport: Stay at home defenseman for hockey. Individual Sport: Poker and my position would be getting yelled at by Phil Hellmuth & Mike Matusow and stared at by Phil Ivey.
Should I ever run into you at a bar, I should buy you a _________________ for taking the time to answer these questions.
Jack & Coke
Thank you to Chris for coming on board today. Make sure to give Chris a follow on Twitter and you can also read his takes and more on the Rattlers Radio Blog.
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