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Pat Hughes on his bond with Chicago Cubs fans, being a voice for generations and how much longer he wants to call games – Boston Herald

When Pat Hughes joined the Chicago Cubs radio broadcast team before the 1996 season, he already had visions of how his time as the play-by-play announcer would transpire.

“I’m already uprooting one daughter from 1st grade. And you know how traumatic that can be” Hughes said after he was hired in November 1995. “I’m content to stay here the rest of my life.”

Hughes’ words proved prescient. Now in his 27th season as the radio voice of the Cubs, the 67-year-old has become synonymous with baseball on the North Side.

The organization is recognizing Hughes’ contributions to the franchise by inducting the longtime broadcaster into the Cubs Hall of Fame on Saturday. The 2022 class features Hughes, National Baseball Hall of Famer Buck O’Neil and former outfielder José Cardenal.

Each inductee’s plaque will be unveiled in the left-field bleacher concourse. Hughes and Cardenal, as well as Andre Dawson, Randy Hundley, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith and Rick Sutcliffe, will receive Cubs Hall of Fame jackets during Saturday’s unveiling.

In a conversation this week with the Tribune, Hughes discussed his broadcast journey, his connection to Cubs fans and how long he envisions continuing in this role. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

What made you fall in love with the radio side of broadcasting?

Pat Hughes: I think it goes back to when I was a kid. Television was not nearly as followed. If you were a sports fan, you had to listen to the radio to get your daily sports information. So I just started listening to (San Francisco) Giants games, and then I would listen to (Los Angeles) Dodgers games with Vin Scully at the mic, and it seemed like it was unbelievable that guys could actually make a living covering ballgames.

I mean, I love playing games. I played all the football and basketball and baseball leagues that I possibly could be a part of, even recreation leagues in addition to organized youth baseball leagues, but I realized when I was about 17 or 18 as much as I loved it and as much as I wanted to continue playing, I wasn’t good enough. The only thing that held me back was talent, that’s it. So I thought the next best thing would be to go into play-by-play, and I still feel that way 40 or 50 years later.

What do you enjoy most about the play-by-play element of broadcasting and what are some challenges people don’t know about this job?

Hughes: It’s exhilarating. It’s great fun. I have a tremendous booth here. Ron Coomer I think is the best analyst in the business when you think about his knowledge of the game, his big-league experience, the fact that he was a Cubs fan. He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s fun to be with and he’s a great team player. Zach Zaidman’s got to be the best third man anywhere that I’ve ever seen. He’s a great team player, too. It’s just such a good mix.

I enjoy the daily experience of covering a ballgame. We try to get down to business when that is required, but we also have fun, and I always have thought no matter what sport it is, when you go to a game you should have fun. You should laugh out loud. Belly laughs three, four or five a day and if you don’t, I think you’re kind of missing the point of sports and being where everyone chose to come today.

My mom said that many years ago before she passed — I wish she could have been here for this — but she said, “You know, Pat, you’re very lucky you get to work where people go as an option of their day. They want to be there. Very few people go to a job where that’s the case.”

When I first found out about (this honor) when (Cubs President of Business Operations) Crane Kenny surprised me a couple of weeks ago I thought about my mom and dad and I thought about my older brother John who started me in broadcasting, and then I thought a lot about Ron Santo, who was my first partner here. I’ve been thinking of all of them constantly.

Challenges? Just the simple grind of being a live performer with no script day after day, and you’re on the air 3 hours, 3½ hours. Not complaining, but if you’re asking it is not easy. People think, “Oh, I know baseball. Sure, you hit the ball and you go to first, count 1-2-3 outs and four balls and three strikes. I know baseball.” OK, good. You do a game that’s 4 hours and 31 minutes and it goes 13 innings. And that’s a night game. And by the way, you’ve got a day game the next day at one o’clock and you’ve got to be just as sharp. And you do that day after day, week after week for 162 (games). Now, I’m down to 150 this year, but that’s still a lot for anybody.

Just doing the games and trying to get as much stuff right as you possibly can. And you’re going to make mistakes. It’s not going to be perfect ever. You try to minimize the mistakes, keep them down, and don’t turn one mistake into 10.

Those are some of the things I’ve kind of taught myself, but it’s not an easy thing to speak extemporaneously with no script. When you start a game you have no idea what you’re going see. I didn’t think that Hayden Wesneski was going to pitch five shutout innings and win his big-league debut and I did not expect the Reds pitchers to walk 11 hitters (Tuesday) night either.

How would you describe your bond with Cubs fans?

Hughes: That’s something that grows over time. I think a lot of it had to do early with Ron Santo. Ronnie went out of his way to welcome me because he thought we had an instant chemistry, which we did. It was undeniable, it was fun. We couldn’t have been more different. But sometimes that does create kind of a unique chemistry. So he welcomed me and Ronnie was a huge icon long before I got to town.

I think a lot of the listeners said, “Well, if if this new guy is OK for Ron Santo, then he’s OK for me.” So that went a long way toward initially establishing a bond. And then I think just day after day, year after year, and I’ve been lucky enough to be there for some exciting, historic Cubs games. (Everyone) gives me complete freedom to do what I want and I thrive on freedom. I’m going to be ready for every game. I don’t take any game lightly. So part of the bond is to simply living and existing and enduring for 27 seasons.

How did you settle on your home run call? Did it come naturally or was it something you worked on when you did one season on TV for the Minnesota Twins or worked on Milwaukee Brewers radio broadcasts before joining the Cubs?

Hughes: One night I’m in Milwaukee I said, “A deep drive, get out the tape measure…” It might have been for Rob Deer or Robin Yount, but I thought, you know, I kind of like that one. And then once I got here to Chicago. I said, “That ball’s got a chance…” and I kind of extended the word chance. And there was nothing clever. I was simply buying time because I knew the ball was well hit. You see the fielder back near the fence, you’re not sure if he’s going to catch it, if he’s going to miss it, if it’s going to hit a wall or if it’s going to go over the wall. So a lot of things can happen on any deep drive. I just started using that and it felt kind of natural.

Those are the two that I use. “It’s got a chance, gone,” and I try not to say that unless I’m pretty sure it is going to be gone. Every once in a while I’ll mess that up. And I don’t like to do that because I want the audience to think if they start hearing that, it’s time to start saying, “Yeah!” So I try to hold off on that. It was a natural thing of just simply buying two seconds or whatever I need to see what is going to happen.

As a baseball broadcaster in a long season with games nearly every day, how do you self-assess your performance whether it’s over the course of a season or a more frequent basis?

Hughes: I don’t do a lot of that because most of my focus is on looking ahead. For example, as soon as we’re done talking, I’m going to get the lineups. I’m going to start putting them in, putting in the defensive chart, the umpires. I was listening to the White Sox game against Seattle on the way in. I know that Milwaukee has already lost their game in Colorado. Milwaukee is down to six road games, which I found very interesting. We’re getting close to the finish line. So no, I try to continue to prepare each day. And again, I don’t take any game lightly. It’s still an enjoyable job to prepare for a big-league baseball game. I still enjoy it. I do. These are the best players in the world. We have the best fans in the world. They deserve the best.

What does it mean to have spanned generations of Cubs fans and know that people associate their love of baseball in part because of your voice?

Hughes: I think that’s a very cool thing. It’s almost beyond one generation now. It’s certainly one full generation, maybe even starting to mix into the second one. But that’s a cool thing.

I still remember with great fondness the announcers I listened to in the Bay Area. Bill King was the voice of the Warriors, Raiders and then later the A’s. Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons did the Giants. I would listen to Vin Scully at night. So I think it’s a neat thing.

It’s very cool that people say, “I’ve been listening to you my whole life” and they say, “You’ve inspired me to go into broadcast.” That’s really special. And so I try to help people as much as I can. If they send me a demo, I will listen to it. Men or women, whatever the sport. I may not know anything about women’s field hockey, but I know a little bit about broadcasting, and just the tempo and the pace and the inflection, and the vocabulary and the preparation and all the things that go into it.

I don’t take the position lightly. It’s a position of privilege, really, and I feel like you should give back and I’ve tried to do that. And I’ve tried to give back in terms of delivering the best game that I can each day. That’s that’s another form of giving back.

You mentioned the grind of a big-league season — have you thought about how much longer you want to be doing this job?

Hughes: I feel good. I work out a lot. I have a great wife, Trish. She cooks me good, healthy dinners. Today I ran two miles. I did the elastic bands, and I feel pretty good. I’m 67 and on some days I think, “Oh man, everything’s kind of hurting,” but I take care of myself. I have this this great situation and, really, they give me total freedom. The money’s good. I enjoy it. Wrigley Field with the Cubs and with Cubs fans, that’s a special thing, and I really feel like I can keep on going for a while. You don’t take anything for granted at a certain age, especially in the world we all live in right now.

But I have two more years on my contract. I certainly feel like I can fulfill those. Beyond that, it may not be my decision. Maybe somebody will say, “Pat, I think we’ve heard about enough.” I hope that doesn’t happen. In fact, seriously, I would like to go out on my own terms. Not everyone does. But I really would and I think I’ll know. I’ve heard some of the older guys say, “I’ll know when it’s time to go.” When I start making mistakes and start forgetting guys’ names, forgetting what the score is and who we’re playing, then it’ll be time. I don’t think I’m quite there yet.


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