There are quite a few veteran broadcasters in the Midwest League, but there's only one dean.
That would be Chris Mehring, the circuit's senior play-by-play man, who has called the action for the Appleton-based Wisconsin Timber Rattlers since the 2000 campaign. In that time, Mehring has seen the Midwest League expand and adapt to an ever-changing Minor League reality. In the process, he's become the institutional memory of the Timber Rattlers as well as a full-to-bursting storehouse of Appleton baseball knowledge in general.
Mehring's Rattler Radio blog is among the longest-running, most frequently updated and obsessively curated in all of Minor League Baseball, while his Twitter feed (@CMehring) displays an uncanny (some might say borderline insane) knowledge of 1970s and '80s films, TV shows and pop culture references in general.
When I visited the Timber Rattlers last month, landing an interview with this quasi-mythical Midwest League figure was high on my agenda. I am happy to say that I succeeded, and as a result I am now happy to share the results with you.
MiLB.com: You're the dean of Midwest League announcers, and such longevity means that there must be a lot about it that you continue to enjoy year after year.
Chris Mehring: I really like seeing the growth in the league. When I came in, in 2000, Dayton was in its first year, the renovations hadn't happened yet in Cedar Rapids, and they hadn't happened yet in Burlington, Clinton or Quad Cities. Great Lakes wasn't in the league yet. So just seeing those changes and the way that the communities have grown while continuing to accept baseball.
It's been great to follow these teams, and these players, as they start at this level and just seeing what happens. I didn't know who Albert Pujols was in 2000 when he was with the Chiefs, but one year later he's in the St. Louis Cardinals' starting lineup, and now he's the Albert Pujols. That's the fun thing, just seeing guys start their career.
MiLB.com: And more specifically, what is the appeal of baseball in Appleton, Wis.?
Mehring: I was lucky enough to hook on with this team in Appleton, because there is so much history here. You look at the 1891 team, you look at the team in the Wisconsin-Illinois League in the 1909, 1911, 1912 seasons, and then you look at the Papermakers at Goodland Field, and then the Foxes who played over there, and then the move here to this stadium.
There's so much history, with guys like Goose Gossage, Boog Powell, Earl Weaver, Pat Gillick, Cal Ripken Sr. You still hear stories about Cal Ripken Jr. being here when he was growing up. I'm a big history buff, so I love hearing about that stuff, and I love going to the library and looking it up on microfilm and digging up all the pieces of history.
But right now there's so much excitement that we're a Brewers affiliate, that there are guys playing here and then making their Major League debuts. Like Scooter Gennett, you get to surprise people, "Oh, he had a bobblehead here," and then you show them the "Scooter vs. the Snowman" bobblehead. [This giveaway was distributed by the Timber Rattlers on Opening Day 2011 in honor of Gennett's impromptu snowman decimation during an Opening Day snowout the previous season].
MiLB.com: Did you witness Scooter taking a bat to that hapless snowman?
Mehring: I did! That's about how we all felt, and Scooter caught the zeitgeist at the exact right time.
MiLB.com: What are some other standout moments during your time with the Timber Rattlers?
Mehring: One that obviously stands out is winning the championship last year. It was so much fun to call that group of guys, because they were such a fun group to be around.
And then being able to watch a player like Chris Snelling, who suffered some injuries at the big league level and never got to be the player we thought he might be. But he was in this league at 18-years-old, hitting over .300 with a bunch of home runs, and there was so much enjoyment just in watching him play because he got a lot of enjoyment out of playing.
MiLB.com: What team has the best hotel in the Midwest League, and what are the best places to visit in general?
Mehring: Burlington has the best hotel in the league. [Community Field, home of the Bees] is walking distance from the hotel so I don't have to worry about catching the bus. And there's a casino, and I've actually taken a little money out of there in the past.
As far as places to visit, all of them are great places, because I've been around and learned a lot of the nooks and crannies. Fort Wayne has been a blast to go to, and I love going to Dayton and seeing the player's faces light up when they get there. [The Dayton Dragons currently have a sellout streak that is approaching 1,000 games, the longest such streak in professional sports history.]
We're going back to Bowling Green this season, and I'm looking forward to that because they have a Waffle House, and we don't have any of those here.
MiLB.com: Switching gears now -- on Twitter, you display an incredible knowledge of TV shows, particularly from the '70s. If you were on a desert island, with a working DVD player, which three TV series would you want to have with you?
Mehring: Mission Impossible, Perry Mason, and Emergency!
Mission Impossible, I just love to see that time period and what they thought was actually science and which now clearly isn't. And I had a crush on Barbara Bain too, growing up.
Perry Mason, I always just thought that was a fun show. I think that's why I like Law and Order: Criminal Intent so much, because [Vincent] D'Onofrio's character does a lot of breaking down of the suspects like Raymond Burr did as Perry Mason.
Emergency! is another fun show. The paramedics often get a lot of grief from the doctors, only to be proven right. And there's the comedy aspect too -- I just saw an episode the other day where Chet was the big basketball star. He was the big butt monkey in that squad room who couldn't do anything right, and here he is hitting all of these shots, and Squad 51 wins a big basketball game. And I had a crush on Julie London, too.
MiLB.com: It didn't make the top three, but I know you're always willing to spread the gospel of [satirical 1980s cop show] Sledge Hammer!
Mehring: Oh, Sledge Hammer! That one's up here [points to head], I don't need a DVD to watch that one.
MiLB.com: To close, is there a quote from Sledge Hammer! that'd you like to leave us with?
Mehring: Trust me, I know what I'm doing.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.