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Jeremy Wagner
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Media: July 2015

| July 1, 2015 | 0 Comments
Grote Coomer HughesL to R: Ron Coomer, Mark Grote, and Pat Hughes

2015 has been a historic season for the Chicago Cubs. They may still be playing in the same home ball park, but they have a brand new radio home for the first time in 90 years; WBBM Newsradio (AM 780). They also have a new voice in the radio booth before, during, and after games. That voice belongs to longtime Chicago sports reporter Mark Grote. He is thrilled to be part of the team.

“I grew up in Itasca and lived and died with the Cubs growing up,” he says. “A lot of that has worn off because I was in the business for so long before I started here, but there’s no doubt it’s in my blood.”

Grote is not a newcomer to sports radio, or even a new comer to WBBM. In fact, it’s the station that gave him his radio start in Chicago.

Jeff Joniak and Josh Liss were the guys that brought me in to work at WBBM originally about a decade ago. When the full-time morning anchor job opened at The Score (AM 670) in 2010, I moved over there. It was a little strange because the bosses all worked for the same company. (WBBM Program Director) Ron Gleason still gives me a hard time about picking the Score over them, but they understood. ”

Grote provided updates for Mully and Hanley in the morning, and he also co-hosted a sports talk show on the weekends with the Chicago Tribune‘s resident cynic Steve Rosenbloom. “That was fantastic fun. We had a great chemistry and really liked working together. I miss it a little bit, but right now I’m focused on this gig and I’m very much enjoying it. This has been an unbelievable opportunity.”

Although, doing the pre and postgame shows for the Cubs is a much more time consuming gig than the average fan understands. “There’s about five hours of prep that goes into a baseball game,” Grote admits. “You’re in the clubhouse four hours before the game starts; talking to players, trying to get interviews, and it’s not always easy to get exactly what you want when you go into a clubhouse. There are some days when the player that you would like to speak to is not interested in speaking for whatever reason. It’s not like I can just go in there and say ‘we want him, him and him,’ and they give them to us. We have to work for it too.”

But when part of your job is to do an interview with the manager every day, it sure helps when the manager has the personality and temperament of this current Cubs skipper. “Joe Maddon is like a dream. He is incredibly accommodating. Usually when we talk to Joe, and we finish the interview, he kind of gives us the look like ‘Is that all you got?’ He usually wants to talk even more.”

It also helps that Grote has a mentor in the booth with him; Cubs radio color man Ron Coomer. “Everyone in baseball knows and likes Ron. He’s one of those legitimately good guys. He’s been absolutely great to me here in my rookie season. He introduces me to the people I need to know, and makes sure I don’t make a fool of myself by telling me the little etiquette issues involved in the broadcast booth and the clubhouse. Coomer has been the most important person for me, to get me through this year.”

Grote’s view from the booth has also multiplied his admiration for Cubs radio play by play man Pat Hughes. “I’ve always thought Pat was great, but when I sit and watch him, and see what he sees, it’s pretty amazing because he absolutely nails it. Baseball is a difficult play by play sport because you need to be entertaining enough to fill up the space during the down time when nothing is going on, but then all of a sudden complete chaos breaks out. Pat is able to effortlessly switch back and forth without missing a beat. He is legitimately as good as it gets. He never phones it in. Never. For someone who has been doing it as long as he has, that’s pretty amazing.”

The other thing that has amazed Grote this year is the travel. He expected it to be a grind, but admits it’s actually been fun. “This is my first time flying with a team, and they obviously have chartered flights – which are pretty amazing. I call it ‘rich people’s stuff’ because the bus pulls right up to the plane, and you’re treated like kings on the plane. I hate to say it, but I love that part of it. I still love the travel too because I haven’t spent a lot of time in some of these other cities or stadiums before. The way the team plans the travel, the actual logistics of it, they make everything so easy. This is going to ruin me forever. (Laughs) How am I going to deal with flying with the rank and file again? What do you mean you don’t have an appetizer?”

And he’s mixing and mingling with the glitterati too. “The highlight was having Eddie Vedder in the booth. I’m a massive Pearl Jam fan. Even before I got this job, whenever I heard that Eddie was going to be at the Cubs game, I managed to make sure I was working at the game that day. But in those days I was just in the mob of reporters. Now he’s in the booth with us, and I get to hang out and talk some baseball with him. He and Coomer are pals. Eddie even texts him during the games. I think ‘What the hell? How do I get that kind of treatment? ‘ (laughs)”

Even if this job doesn’t last more than this year (“We’re doing it on a year-to-year basis”), Mark Grote will have stories to last a lifetime.

-Rick Kaempfer

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