Chip Caray: Baseball’s return was important step to finding some normalcy

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Shortly after the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, Chip Caray visited the plaza and watched grateful fans leave mementos at the statue honoring the Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray.

The reverence was overwhelming. They brought bushels of little green apples, a direct reaction to Harry Caray’s declaration on the final day of the 1991 season that “Sure as God made little green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.”

As the grandson of one of the most iconic voices in baseball history, and the son of one of the most popular broadcasters in Atlanta Braves history, Skip Caray, Chip has forged his own way into the business. He was the original broadcaster for the first nine years of the Orlando Magic. He then spent three years behind the microphone for the Seattle Mariners, before filling his grandfather’s seat in Chicago for seven years.

Now in his 16th year with the Braves, the St. Augustine resident is relieved to be back at work. The COVID-19 pandemic put the Major League Baseball season on hold until July 1, with games resuming July 23. Like most, Caray was happy to finally break the monotony of uncertainty and frustration.

“I was unbelievably relieved. Baseball is a big part of our lives. It’s a small part of who I am, but let’s face it, the people who work in our industry, this is how we feed our families,” he said while talking on his cellphone and working out in between games. “We were all ramping up and amping up and getting ready to go. And then, for obvious reasons in late March, the big pull-stop on the train hit and everything came to a screeching halt. The worst part of it, other than the obvious, which was the pandemic and the suffering so many have gone through, was not knowing.”

Baseball’s return was far more important than putting people back to work, Caray said. It brought back some semblance of normalcy. It was a necessary break from the news of the day.

But things clearly are different. There are no fans allowed at any of the ballparks. Caray works from the announcer’s booth when Atlanta is at home, and he works from a studio at the stadium when the Braves are on the road. The broadcast team relies on a bank of television screens and video provided by the home team to make the experience as real as possible.

“Our production crew in Atlanta, how hard those people have worked to get these games on air is a technological miracle,” he said. “The unbelievable and great professional work they have turned in has made it as easy as possible for us to do a very difficult job, which is to describe something we’re not seeing in real time. If baseball is played on the North Pole, Antarctica or on the moon right now, I think all of us would agree we don’t care. Just send us. To use a well-used phrase from the spring, “Tell us where and when. We’ll be there.”

With only three weeks of spring training, players are still trying to catch up, Caray said. It’s still a good product, but it will only get better as players get acclimated to their routines.

“I don’t think they’re there right now. That’s understandable,” he said. “There’s a great deal of concern about injury. I think managers and pitching coaches and front offices are doing everything they can to manage the workload for the players. That’s why we have the expanded rosters. The crispness of play isn’t quite there yet. I think we’ve seen hitters are having trouble catching up to fastballs and velocity. That’s to be expected.”

Despite his deep roots in Atlanta, Caray still calls the First Coast home. And like his grandfather and father before him, he is, and always will be, a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I was born and raised there,” he said. “I still know the starting lineup for the ’64 Cardinals like I know my ABCs. I have great respect for the franchise. My first Major League game was in St. Louis. My favorite player was Ted Simmons. I root for the Cardinals to win every game – unless they’re playing the Braves.”

But it’s impossible to think about the Cubs without thinking on his grandfather’s booming voice, taunts of “Holy Cow!” and him signing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field.

Chip Caray got a greater understanding of his grandfather’s legacy when he returned to Chicago for the 2016 Series.

“First, the reaction for my grandfather who meant so much to a lot of people up there,” Chip Caray said. “That was a great lesson for those of us who do what we do. We become the voice of summer for people. The old saying Ron Santo had was, “Once a Cub, always a Cub.” That applies to people who don’t get what that team and what that ballpark meant to the psyche of that fanbase until you’ve actually lived it. It really was a highlight and a lot of fun. To see the joy for so many people who’ve followed that team for so long, it was really, really great to see from the outside looking in.”

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