About Brent Weber

Storyteller, artist, photographer, journalist, sportscaster, actor, writer, father, seeker, budding real estate professional and video production professional. For more info, visit http://www.weber-creative.com or find me on facebook.

Memories of Tony Gwynn, a Hall of Famer

One of the greats of my lifetime died today.

Tony Gwynn - courtesy MLB.com

Tony Gwynn – courtesy MLB.com Click the picture of rate MLB story.

I immediately thought of one of the most memorable times I interviewed him. It was when I was a young reporter for CNN Sports. During spring training, of course, we would crash every Major League camp with multiple stories on the agenda. The key issues of the spring, the season, the game. That’s the way we worked, pooling together our reporters and producers to get a broad range of input on the journalism we did in those days.
Gwynn knew we usually wanted to talk more than baseball, and he was so thoughtful, professional and accountable as a spokesman for his game, his craft, his profession, I never recall him saying no. I vaguely remember there were some serious issues we were talking about, though I can’t remember And of course, the baseball stories of the spring, whatever those were.

After the day’s workouts in Peoria, Arizona where both the Padres and Mariners trained, Gwynn was still there. In fact, he wanted to wait until the end of the day, some time in the late afternoon. The rest of the guys were gone. But not Tony. And he showed up, in uniform, when he said he would, probably ten hours after the suited up earlier in the day. He laughed that his tan had come in, so he wanted us to get in the shade. He even knew his lighting. He said “I don’t want you guys to do that thing where the camera makes my face look like a little black dot on top of my uniform.” His voice was unmistakable, his smile present and his laugh unique.

“So Web, what do we want to talk about?” I briefly mentioned the subjects I knew we would want to cover. He had been through this drill before, and realized that if he answered all the questions now, we probably would leave him alone for the rest of the spring – unless new baseball questions came up. I mentioned the four or five topics of the day, and he answered.

In one breath. In one answer. I think he talked for ten minutes or longer without stopping. He went right at the hard question, the easy question, the baseball question. He remembered what I had gone over. I am not sure, but I don’t even think I had to ask him anything else. I’m sure I checked with our producer in the field and our camera guy. Anything else? I’m sure I checked my notes. He covered it. All of it. One sound bite. One answer. One breath. Hilarious and impressive.

All my other memories are similar. He was a pro, he never dodged questions, but he didn’t always let you ask stupid ones. Usually, though, he was just something to watch. I had the chance to watch Tony Gwynn take a lot of batting practice. I had the chance to watch Paul Molitor take a lot of batting practice. I watched Rod Carew teach a lot of batting practice. I learned.

Tony Gwynn died today. He was 54-years-old, two years older than me. What he left behind is humbling. He loved what he did. He loved his fans. He loved to compete. And he  loved to teach. I may not have had a Hall of Fame career, but today, in thinking of Tony Gwynn, I am reminded what “putting on the uniform every day” is all about. I think I will take a few swings, in his honor.

Thanks Tony, for teaching me to be a pro.

As a footnote: of the hundreds of stories I did for CNN alone, I probably interviewed him a dozen times but for some reason I can’t find any of those in my archives. I will keep looking and if I find one, I will post it later. 

I hate to say I told you so, but OKC Thunder was the second best team in the NBA this season

Screen grab courtesy ABC/ESPN/NBA

Screen grab courtesy ABC/ESPN/NBA

http://kosu.org/post/weeks-sports-talk-looks-okc-thunder-season-past-and-future

I am still a little shocked that more people didn’t see what I saw. Miami may have been defending champs, but they proved over the long haul and in a miserably unchallenging run to the finals through the Eastern Conference that this wasn’t going to be a three-peat.

The Thunder was the second best team in this NBA season. They played well in their eventual series loss – game 6 in overtime – to the now NBA champion Spurs. The Spurs had to take down the Heat to make my assertion a valid point, but what I saw over the length of the season in terms of consistent team play, depth, ability to make adjustments in-game, in-season and in-series – the Heat 2013-2014 were not the team to beat. No team in the East had earned it – this season.The Spurs were the team to beat. The Oklahoma City Thunder, a game and a quarter or so behind them.

Whatever team survived the West would have survived the “First Division” as champs. I understand this is cyclical in the NBA. The East will come back – eventually. But for now… as I said in the last Sports Talk of the season at KOSU (we are on hiatus until later this summer) I felt the West would win it. To paraphrase, I said the Spurs could win it in 5 if Tony Parker plays. Spurs won it. In five games. Parker played. So did everyone else on the active roster for San Antonio.

The Spurs were consistent all season and post-season; do people really find the way they play basketball boring? Are you kidding? they are surgical when they play their game. And basketball is a 5 on 5 game. Over a series, or a season, it is a 12 on 12, or a 12 on 8, or a 8 on 8, some may argue. With all due respect to the most dynamic player in the NBA today and his very talented teammates, Lebron James and his buddies didn’t get to play 3-on-3 this year.

So when thinking about what OKC needs to do next year, remember the big picture. They have to play team defense. They have to play team offense. They have to move the basketball, rely on their big stars within the framework of a game and they have to make adjustments. Oh, by the way, they did all of those – for the most part – all season. They  have the NBA M-V-P. A roster that enjoys playing defense and playing as a team, even with a superstar leading them. They just have to do it a little bit better next year if they are to unseat the Spurs and hold off the charging talent elsewhere in the NBA.

 

Brent Weber recaps as Spurs oust Thunder in NBA playoffs

You can hear more on Monday morning with Nikole Robinson Carole on KOSU-FM in Oklahoma City and Tulsa as well as the web.

Call it a Thunder re-Serge-ence in game three win over Spurs

Serge Ibaka answered the call, and his teammates responded by showing up like they didn’t in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio.

Here’s my wrap as heard on KOSU-FM, the NPR station, in the morning. Please be sure and tune in Nikole every weekday morning on your way to work.

OSU drops a tough one against Texas and OU rallies to win, setting up Bedlam – again

OU and OSU will meet for the 7th and final time this baseball season (unless something REALLY weird happens in the post-season) in the elimination bracket of the Big 12 baseball tournament at Bricktown Ballpark. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. Friday night. I really feel for OSU starter Jon Perrin, who likely impressed pro scouts with his 6 and 1/3 innings pitched. Allowing just one run early, his team gave him no support – mainly due to Texas’ terrific play behind two pitchers defensively. Texas beat the Cowboys 3-0. OU won earlier in the day with a wild finish, scoring 3 in the 8th and 3 in the 9th for a walk-off 9-8 win over Texas Tech. Oklahoma State beat Oklahoma 13-4 in the opening game of the tourney Wednesday and have topped the Sooners in 4 of 6 meetings this season.

Here’s my recap for KOSU-FM. Listen weekday mornings to the NPR station as I try my best to provide you with a little sports coverage for morning anchor Nikole Robinson Carroll.

Big 12 baseball tourney recalls the “crack” of the bat

Watching Oklahoma State – top seed in the tourney – and their bitter cross-state rivals Oklahoma play on the opening day of the Big 12 baseball tournament at Bricktown Ballpark, scuffled up some good memories.

All I ever wanted to do in my career was baseball play-by-play, and as an 18-year-old was lucky enough to do just that, calling 50 or so games starting my freshman year at Georgia State University. We had good, competitive teams and we traveled to some great ballparks in the old Sun Belt Conference. What got me thinking about this was when I was talking to local radio icon and friend Randy Renner in the press box, I was reminded that the “ping” of the “aluminum” bat that had become so prevalent in the 80s and into the 90s has given way to a more civilized “thwing”. Still not wood, still able to turn a fly ball into a home run, the “artificial” bat of today is less responsive and thus, more natural. And yes, I am aware they aren’t really aluminum anymore, but I digress. (Ironically, or perhaps coincidentally at least, Cody Stravenhagen from the Oklahoman penned a pretty cool story in today’s paper about the current bats used in college baseball. I actually started this blog entry yesterday, so great minds think alike. You can read it HERE.)

I told Randy how I recalled when GSU went to Florida State to play the mighty Seminoles, who like many warm weather programs feast on snowbirds, teams that come from the north when the seaosn opens, hoping to just get in some games – or practices – of any kind. These teams know they will likely get thumped; schools like FSU feast on the less than “summer ready” competition. But still, you hope to steal away a game if you’re GSU, wjhich would be good for your program and after all, the Panthers were pretty good as a smaller Division I program. So there was the pride issue. And FSU was arogant, top to bottom. Their fans were rude (still are, I’m sure), their players walked around like you were lucky to be on their field. Which, in my opinion, might be why you haven’t seen that great program raise many NCAA championship banners. Any banners?

Any way, they had a guy named Jeff Ledbetter – who later would earn the nickname Jeff “I’m Better” in his brief minor league career. This guy feasted on the offerings of opposition, using the pingy bat, the lefthanded batter also took advantage of the Tallahassee jet stream (which I called it) which blew out to right field. And there was also quite a short porch there. Funny, he set all sorts of records for hitting, but never made it out of Class A ball.

Randy recalled the great pings generated by Pete Incaviglia, an iconic All-American who played for great OSU teams and set the NCAA career homer record. he of course was the real deal, going on to a nice big league career. It made me recall one of my favorite players early in my broadcasting career (as a Braves fan growing up I also covered the team much of the 1980s). Bob Horner was the first Golden Spikes Award winner coming out of Arizona State. (Inky later broke his homer marks, I believe). Horner was pudgy (dare we say fat), but had the quickest wrists since Henry Aaron. The Braves launching pad (plus the presence of Dale Murphy in the lineup) gave Horner some pretty good looks, and though injuries kept him down almost all of his career, he had three 30-plus homer seasons and even one four homer game.

College baseball’s live bat era preceded Major League Baseball’s steroid era, and while you can’t compare the two for obvious reasons, they certainly do both show how much chicks (and fans) have always dug the long ball.

Some other prodigious collegiate home run stories I have witnessed during my career, PBP and otherwise?

  • Future LA Dodger Franklin Stubbs destroyed one at Panthersville against GSU (some time from 1980-1983)
  • At Cal State Fullerton I was able to do Titans games for parts of three years, two on TV with the now-defunct Orange County NewsChannel (before Fox Sports Net started doing everybody’s games) and another on the budding “Internet”. Wow, some great hitters there, including Aaron Rowand, who has had a pretty solid big league career. I remember big first baseman Aaron Rifkind “dusting the pollen off the roses in the arboretum” on occasion. He had a nice minor league run, as did a ton of guys on that team. Kirk Saarlos and catcher Kurt Suzuki were the most successful in the show, though neither hit homers, so I once again get off track.
  • I remember Gerald Laird raking a few at Cypress College.
  • In the minors, some made the transition to wood better than I thought. Bo Jackson. Yowza I saw him hit a long one. Reggie Jefferson with the Lookouts in Chattanooga struggled at first at Double-A but got to the bigs pretty quickly. And in spring training, I’m not sure I ever saw a young, unknown player hit the ball harder than Ryan Klesko of the Braves.
  • But back to college, in those days (starting in the 80s and building into the early 2000s)- long balls became more and more ridiculously easy, so they had to change the bats.

Another note about those days calling CSF games. Full disclosure: coach George Horton loaned me a couple of bats which were no longer “legal” and thus reserved for batting practice. I used to play in men’s senior leagues every year and the bats were sweet. Sorry coach; I never returned them. I still have them.

And it’s a good thing they did. I have already seen effective bunt and runs. I have seen (some) outfielders play shallow (more should) when they used to just back up the wall in left and give up tons of slap hits. Are you listening O-U? Pitchers work both halves of the plate, which creates a mental metric no stat man can ever use to predict outcomes. And the ball coming off the bat just sounds better.

And the sights, sounds and smells of baseball are part of why you should wander out to the ball park, any ball park, whenever you have time to relax and think back… to the days when you took one deep. (Maybe it wasn’t just the bat!)

 

 

OSU Cowboys top OU 13-4 in Big 12 tourney opener

Great crowd, outstanding team effort for OSU over a gritty OU team in the opening round of the Big 12 tourney at Bricktown Ballpark. I recommend you take the family out this weekend to some of the action – no matter who your favorite team is.

For info, go to the conference website here.