Jon Sciambi reflects on first season as Cubs’ TV voice on Marquee Sports Network
“Boog” felt connected to partner Jim Deshaies. Former Cubs TV voice Len Kasper predicted as much when the team hired Sciambi in January to replace him.
Jon Sciambi had experienced a rollicking Wrigley Field before, but never on the same side as the home team. That changed June 11, when the Cubs opened the ballpark to full capacity after restrictions related to the coronavirus were lifted.
“Opening Day 2.0” was short of a sellout, but it wasn’t short on atmosphere, particularly in the sixth inning. With the Cubs trailing the Cardinals 5-4, Anthony Rizzo stepped to the plate. After falling behind in the count 0-2, he fouled off nine of the next 11 pitches, the noise building with each crack of the bat.
On the 14th pitch of the at-bat, Rizzo smashed a 2-2 fastball to left field for a game-tying home run. The Cubs went on to win 8-5, rallying from a 5-1 deficit. After their postgame segment on Marquee Sports Network, analyst Jim Deshaies turned to Sciambi.
“He looked at me, got a big smile on his face, and he goes, ‘This is what you signed up for, isn’t it?’ ” Sciambi said. “That was a really cool day.”
“Boog” had plenty of other cool days this season, which ended for him last week after calling the National League Championship Series for ESPN Radio. But it was the people, not the games, that stood out to him during his first year with the Cubs.
“I knew from coming to Chicago how special the fan base was, but I don’t think you could understand how personal it is until you’re in it,” Sciambi said. “I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the fans and the people who work in the ballpark every day. I felt really welcomed and connected to it.”
Sciambi felt connected to Deshaies, too. Former Cubs TV voice Len Kasper predicted as much when the team hired Sciambi in January to replace him.
“He and JD are gonna be so great,” Kasper, now the White Sox’ radio voice, said before the season. “It’s gonna be instant.”
And it was.
“I felt like we vibed from the start,” Sciambi said. “It was the best part of [the job]. To walk into the booth every day and that dude’s sitting there, I was happy to see him every single day. There were times where we were just so interested in chatting, I got us a little too chatty. But it was just because he’s somebody I like talking to, not just on the air but off the air.”
On the broadcast, they supplied great baseball conversations and humorous exchanges. One of Sciambi’s favorites – which Marquee reaired as a promotional spot countless times – was when he was trying to figure out whom Ryan Tepera looked like.
“JD waits a beat and goes, ‘He kinda looks like my cousin Randy,’ ” Sciambi said. “He’s saying the thing that you’d say off the air. Broadcasts have always been so stiff, and you wouldn’t [say that], and he said it. And I was like, ‘Yes!’ And I lost my mind. That was the thought in his head. It was perfect.”
Another time, as they went on the air for a live open, Deshaies spilled his coffee. Their camera in the booth went on, and Deshaies was seen wiping the countertop. Sciambi welcomed viewers saying, ‘Hi, everybody, Jon Sciambi along with my waiter, Jim Deshaies.’ ”
Sometimes a third person joined their party, mostly either Ryan Dempster or Rick Sutcliffe. But while the pace of baseball can accommodate a three-person booth, the Cubs’ broadcast was best when it was just “Boog” and JD. As entertaining as “Demp” and “Sut” can be, having two pitchers as analysts doesn’t give the broadcast enough depth.
For his part, Sciambi feels he can be better. He said calling KBO games last year and many road games this year off a monitor took a little off his fastball.
“They disconnect you from the flow of play-by-play; I’m just speaking for me,” Sciambi said. “So when I had in-person games, I still felt like I wasn’t as good as I’ve been. I think doing so many of these games off TV, it’s almost like you’re not really part of it. Whereas when you’re there, you’re part of it.”
Sciambi figures to be part of it full-time next season, considering Marquee sent its broadcasters on the road more than any other regional sports network this season. He definitely will be traveling for his offseason job, calling college basketball for ESPN.
His first game is No. 5 Texas at No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 13. That’s followed by back-to-back doubleheaders in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut. In conference play, Sciambi usually calls Big 12 games, so expect to see him in Lawrence, Kansas, a lot.
There’s also a chance Sciambi will be seen on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” next season. He’s in the running to replace Matt Vasgersian, who left the booth. So are White Sox TV voice Jason Benetti and ESPN veteran Karl Ravech, among others. Sciambi has been ESPN Radio’s voice of “SNB” for seven years.
But in these parts, he’s the TV voice of the Cubs. And though he arrived without Cubs ties, he’s working to build them.
“I actively tried not to be a Cubs expert, a Chicago expert, because I’m not,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s something that will build over time. I will be trying to learn as much as I can.”
- Adam Amin, the Bears’ preseason TV voice, will call his first regular-season Bears game Sunday for Fox. Amin, who’s in his second season calling NFL games for the network, will be joined by analyst and former Bears tight end Greg Olsen and reporter Pam Oliver. Amin is filling in on Fox’s No. 2 crew for Kevin Burkhardt, who’s hosting the network’s World Series pre- and postgame shows. The noon kickoff for 49ers-Bears will come less than 24 hours after Amin calls the Jazz-Bulls game Saturday night at the United Center.
- ESPN 1000 and parent Good Karma Brands announced Keith Williams will be the station’s market manager starting Monday. Former manager Mike Thomas left the position after two years to return to Boston radio.
- The Score and parent Audacy announced the station will continue to be the Bulls’ flagship as part of a multiyear contract extension.