Cubs fans undoubtedly are looking forward to their team returning to the airwaves this weekend with the opening of the Cactus League season. Len Kasper will hold the fort for Pat Hughes and will be joined by Ron Coomer and Zach Zaidman for broadcasts Saturday and Sunday on The Score. The first televised game is March 2 on WGN, with Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call.
But there’s another name in the spring broadcast crew that might not be as familiar to Cubs fans. Mick Gillispie, the voice of the Cubs’ Class AA Tennessee Smokies since 2007, will call 21 games via webcast on MLB.com. He’ll team with Kasper for 19 of them. The first is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday.
Gillispie has been producing, engineering and calling the webcasts since 2011. He brought the idea to the Cubs after going on a webcast for the Giants in a previous spring. It received great support from Cubs brass from the start.
‘‘When Tom Ricketts bought the team [in 2009], there was just this excitement about trying to do as much as they could for the fan experience and sharing what the fans want,’’ Gillispie said. ‘‘It has just metamorphosed, and we feel like the quality of the broadcast is as good as any.’’
The broadcasts are part of an explosion of spring-training coverage in the last decade, thanks to technology and fans’ insatiable appetite for anything that has to do with their team. With Gillispie at the controls, the webcast easily could be taken for a radio broadcast on the internet, with commercials (mainly Cubs promotional spots) and a professional sound.
The most important sound is the call of the game. Kasper provides his usual quality work, and Gillispie, who was Ballpark Digest’s minor-league broadcaster of the year in 2017, brings insight into the Cubs’ prospects. He also brings a baseball acumen that, according to Kasper, is on the level of that of many scouts.
‘‘He’s very good at, ‘This guy’s got a chance to be a really good big-league player.’ Or, ‘Here are the things that this player needs to do,’ and it’s always spot-on,’’ Kasper said. ‘‘He picks up on little nuances of guys. He’s a baseball junkie.’’
‘‘Junkie’’ is apropos for Gillispie, who admitted to focusing more on the game than his schoolwork in his youth. He played a lot of baseball then and, as he grew, paid close attention to why the good players separated themselves from the pack. He went on to umpire games and was a player-manager for a league he was in.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, Gillispie began his professional broadcasting career in 2004 with the Salem (Virginia) Avalanche in the Carolina League. He spent a lot of time with managers, particularly the Avalanche’s Russ Nixon, who had managed the Braves and Reds. Gillispie would sit in Nixon’s office and learn how players were evaluated.
After two seasons on the Chattanooga (Tennessee) Lookouts’ broadcasts, Gillispie joined the Smokies. When he’d visit Chicago, he’d spend time with well-known scout Gary Hughes and general manager Jim Hendry, who would ask Gillispie for his thoughts about prospects because he saw them every day. But he was apprehensive to share his views with an audience.
‘‘I was always afraid to talk about that stuff because I felt like I’m just a broadcaster, I don’t have credibility,’’ Gillispie said. ‘‘Long story short, Len looks at me one day, and he’s like, ‘You have to roll with this, man.’ ’’
Roll he did.
‘‘I can remember people thinking Junior Lake was going to be a good player, and I said there’s no way; he can’t play,’’ Gillispie said. ‘‘He can’t hit a slider away, he doesn’t run the bases right, he doesn’t have the instincts.
‘‘I said that I thought Javy Baez was like Reggie Jackson and Kris Bryant was like Cal Ripken, and they had never stepped foot in a major-league game. It’s easy to go back and say that now, but I just could tell because they made the game look so easy.’’
Gillispie has had his share of misses, too, and he readily admits there’s another level to evaluating that’s above him, where Cubs president Theo Epstein and top scouting exec Jason McLeod reside. But Gillispie makes a great scout for a broadcaster, and that makes him perfect for spring-training games.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s a longtime Cubs fan, too. Gillispie grew up an Orioles fan in Baltimore, but when his family moved to Hightstown, New Jersey, while he was in middle school, he picked up WGN-TV. Harry Caray and Steve Stone entered his life, and Gillispie was hooked.
‘‘I used to mow grass for extra money,’’ he said. ‘‘I remember I mowed 10 yards, and I bought one of those Cubs Starter jackets. There’s a picture of Ronald Reagan; he’s got that jacket on. I still have it. And I had a Cubs hat that I wore every day and a jersey. I just became a Cubs fan.’’
Now he’s speaking to Cubs fans everywhere.