Cole Wright knows all about Cubs fans. That’s because he’s one of them.
The sounds of his summers as a kid were Harry Caray, Steve Stone and Thom Brennaman calling games on WGN-TV. While his friends were collecting Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards, Wright was saving his allowance for those of Jerome Walton. When he played Little League baseball in Joliet, he wore No. 8 for Andre Dawson.
So when Wright, an anchor at NFL Network the last five years, heard the Cubs were starting their own channel, he told his agent to look into it. One interview got the ball rolling, and it wasn’t long before Wright became the studio face of Marquee Sports Network as the pre- and postgame show host.
“Being a guy that grew up watching the Cubs and living and breathing with the Cubs, it was an opportunity that I really couldn’t pass up,” said Wright, 41. “There’s no other job that I would have ever left NFL Network for.”
As you might expect, the job was highly sought after.
“We had so much interest from all over the country,” MSN general manager Mike McCarthy said. “I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but there were some very big names that wanted to be a part of this and walk away from places that I think you’d be surprised to hear about.
“Cole is a special guy. There’s a very high degree of baseball credibility. There’s some real confidence in terms of broadcast experience working on a national level. And then, one of the key selling points, he’s a Chicago guy. That matters to people, especially here.”
Wright’s move from Los Angeles to Chicago is on hold while baseball and the rest of the sports world wait out the coronavirus pandemic. Waiting for him in the area are friends and relatives in Joliet, where he was born, and Naperville, where his family moved when he was in seventh grade. Wright went to Waubonsie Valley High School, where he led the baseball team to a second-place finish in the state his senior year in 1996.
He continued his baseball pursuits at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, hoping to become the Cubs’ closer one day. As a freshman closer for the Chiefs, he had a 1.71 ERA and helped the team to the Region IV title game. As a sophomore, he moved to first base because of a shoulder injury and hit .363 as the Chiefs won the Region IV championship.
But he made a bigger move in the most unexpected way. To help fund their spring trip to Fort Myers, Florida, baseball players had the option to work at Waubonsee’s other sporting events. All the jobs paid $20 per game except two that paid $40, operating the shot clock and announcing at basketball games. Wright didn’t want to make his parents pay for the trip, so he decided between those two jobs.
“I said, I don’t really feel like running the shot clock,” Wright said. “You have to be a little too locked in on those games. I think I’ll just be the announcer. So I started having fun with opening lineups and rattling off the scores. And I’m like, you know what, I think I’ll do this.
“It was me being lazy and not wanting to pay attention to the shot clock all game long.”
Whatever the reason, it led Wright to change his major from business to mass communications. After playing a year at Tennessee-Martin, he realized just how difficult making it in baseball would be. He intensified his pursuit of a broadcasting career at Briar Cliff University in Iowa, where he graduated in 2003. But it stalled when a job that was supposed to follow an internship didn’t pan out.
Wright returned home and waited tables in Chicago for more than a year. The wait became worth it when he made the most important connection of his career.
He was working a lunch shift at Bandera on Michigan Avenue when he served a group of women from the Tribune and Channel 5. They struck up a conversation, and the women asked Wright what he went to school for. When he said he wanted to be a sportscaster, one of the women connected him with former Channel 5 newsman Art Norman.
“I called him up and was able to get him a copy of my résumé tape,” Wright said. “He invited me to come to the [National Association of Black Journalists] conferences. He got my résumé tape reshot for me. I feel like the wheels got set in motion that summer.”
Wright took the tape to a job conference in Washington, D.C., and a week later, he received a call from a station in San Angelo, Texas, for what would be his first job.
“Art Norman is my mentor,” Wright said. “He’s been instrumental in everything. I just always saw how he walked around the office at NBC and how he was with everybody, and I figured it’s not that hard to be like that.”
Since then, Wright worked his way up the ladder, becoming sports director in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then hitting the big time at NESN in Boston, ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and NFL Network.
Wright is planning to make Marquee his long-term home. He and his wife, Regan, are looking for a house in the nearby suburbs, as well as a top softball program for their 8-year-old daughter, Paisley, who has excelled in the sport.
The season can’t come soon enough for Wright. When that day arrives, fans will see an energetic and gregarious host whose goals are to inform and entertain. He’s aware of fans’ concerns about a new way to watch the Cubs, but he’s sure they’ll like what they see.
“I feel like once fans get to really see how much we break things down and how next-level we take things with our analysts, whether they’re former players or former managers, it’s going to be second to none,” Wright said. “I just feel like we’re going to have the best coverage. It’s really exciting.”