Q&A: Deene Ehlis

We caught up with the voice of the Iowa Cubs, Deene Ehlis, this past week for an off-season Q&A.                                                                                    

Q: Which Cub players, both prospects and veterans, impressed you most last season?

A: I was going to dig out some stats from last year, but I guess you have to look at the guys who went up to the big leagues at some point. For the prospects, there's obviously Jason Dubois. Young guys come in here from A-ball and even Double-A and sometimes have to adjust, but Jason was pretty consistent all year long. He had maybe one or two slumps, but for the most part, he was very consistent. Aside from his great power, another thing that impressed me was his work ethic. He wasn't afraid to put in extra time in the batting cages, and he would always listen to his coaches and veteran teammates for advice. A veteran guy who was impressive but did not get to Chicago last year was Trenidad Hubbard. It's fun to watch him play the game because he plays it so hard. He runs out every grounder, dives for every ball in the outfield, knows the game, and has great instincts. He knows when to take the extra base and when not to. Sergio Mitre was also an impressive guy. He has a quality arm and also seems to be a young guy who works pretty hard in terms of lifting weights.

Q: Michael Wuertz was practically unhittable after coming back from Chicago in May originally. What was the secret to his success?

A: Well, he bounced back and forth, but he was very dominating when he was here closing out games. He didn't show any jitters in pressure situations at the big leagues, either. They wondered if he could really make it and it was good to see him get some innings. He's a nice guy and fun to talk to. It was great to see him have some success [in Chicago]. Even in the big leagues, he had one bad outing that made his stats a little deceptive. Like they teach you in little league, control is the biggest key. He would throw strike one, strike two, and the hitter was quickly down. Then he'd come back with a slider off the plate to strike people out. He was outstanding here and proved he had the makeup to be a closer. I doubt the Cubs would look at him as such this year, but down the road you never know. I think he has the mentality to one day fill that role.

Q: Which prospects from Double-A last season do you envision making a big impact with the I-Cubs in 2005?

A: I would say Renyel Pinto, Bobby Brownlie, and Jermaine Van Buren--another guy we saw at the end of last season who was impressive as a closer. Jermaine was amazing and did well for us, so I look forward to seeing him again. There's another pitcher, Russ Rohlicek, who is intriguing. He's a left-hander and that's one area the Cubs currently have an opening for. I know they have Mike Remlinger and recently picked up Stephen Randolph, but if Rohlicek moves in here and does a good job in relief, who knows? Teams always seem to be looking for that lefty reliever. Micah Hoffpauir will get a chance at first base this season, but the most impressive position guy was Richard Lewis. Lastly, someone people forget about is Nate Frese, who was hurt all of last season. We're hoping to get Nate back this season. He missed all of last year, but he's definitely a big league caliber player on defense. At the plate, he's just like David Kelton; he just needs to get more at-bats, learn more about hitting, stay out of slumps and avoid bad pitches. Angel Guzman is obviously another kid who we expect to see at some point this season as well.

Q: What aspect of Lewis' game was the most impressive to you?

A: I think his defense was most impressive. He had great range and could turn the double play with ease. He also didn't seem to be afraid of runners bearing down on him at second base. He was hard charging on defense at every grounder hit his way. He is the best position prospect the Cubs have, in my opinion.

Q: You mentioned Kelton, who seems to have lost his "star" status as a prospect. What does David need to do this season in order to right the ship?

A: I think he has to be more consistent and become a more disciplined hitter at the plate. There's some breaking pitches that usually get him out. I think he just has to be more selective and a little smarter. From what I hear, he did pretty well in winter ball, so I think he's just learning to be a better hitter. As you step up every level, it gets tougher because pitchers know how to get people out and play to a hitter's weakness. Like Dubois, he isn't afraid to work with [manager] Mike Quade or [hitting coach] Pat Listach and try to tinker with his game if it makes him a better hitter.

Q: Aside from Dubois and Will Ohman, who in your opinion that played on last year's squad could step in and make a big impact for Dusty Baker's club?

A: Perhaps Wuertz could fall into that category because of the experience he got last season. Other than that, it's already a veteran team that's counting on Dubois to fill in or be ready if someone gets hurt. You look at Chicago with Derrek Lee, Nomar Garciaparra and Michael Barrett, and then of course the outfield, and it's a tough lineup for a position prospect to break. Dubois is about the only one who could start up there.

Q: Tell us a little about your background and your career as a broadcaster. What did you do prior to joining the Iowa Cubs?

A: I started in the radio business in Montana. My first job was there and I started out as a disc jockey just doing some sports coverage. I worked myself into the sales end of it. Eventually, I got into management with radio stations but continued to do some sales and sports, mainly basketball and college hoops. I also did some minor league coverage for the Helena, Montana team in the Pioneer Rookie League. When I was in my mid-thirties, I decided my true love was baseball and that I wanted to get into that full time. My goal was to be a major league broadcaster, and I decided the best route to do that was through the minor leagues. So, I was interviewed and hired by the Midland Angels originally in 1988 and then came to the Cubs in 1990. I still continue to do sales in the off-season.

Q: Growing up, who were your biggest inspirations as a broadcaster?

A: I can't really say I had one person I looked up to. We lived in California for a while when I was young, so I enjoyed [Lakers Hall of Fame broadcaster] Chick Hearn. Minnesota Twins games were the only professional team to broadcast in Montana on radio, so I'd listen to Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall. I also enjoyed Curt Gowdy and some of the broadcasters who did the national "game of the week" telecasts.

Q: What was your funniest and worst on-air moment with the Cubs last season?

A: I can recall a couple of times when Dave Raymond and I were cracked up about something. I don't recall the specifics, so nothing comes to mind. One year we had some fights on the field, but the things that stood out most last year were the rehab starts of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster. Two years ago, we had Rod Beck here, but I can't really think of anything last season.

Q: Are there any changes in store for I-Cub fans in 2005? (i.e. Uniform changes, new promotions, etc.)

A: It's funny you should ask about the uniforms, because I just went into [Media Relations Director] Jeff Lantz's office and he told me there was a change. The change will be to the road gray jerseys, which will have the word "Iowa" across the chest and the player's number on the back. It's just the basic lettering, not scripted or anything. I think they'll look sharp. As for promotions this year, there will be some remodeling in the stadium. A new video board and two new scoreboards, one manual, will be added. In the right field corner, they're going to add a fountain, plus a new set of bleacher seats beyond the right field fence that will replace the old ones, which were in foul territory. There will be many new looks at the stadium. Promotions again will be lots of give-away's, such as pens, wall posters, wristbands, etc.

Q: What have you heard about the new contract between MLB and Minor League Baseball? There are some changes underway in terms of listening to team broadcasts online.

A: I haven't heard a lot. The little I have heard is more in regards to the team's websites that MLB wishes to have some input on. I think it's very positive to have more association between MLB and the minor leagues. In some cases, it seems we were on our own, so I think it's very positive. I'm not sure if they're helping with the internet broadcasts yet.

Q: Tell us a little about FanFest earlier this month.

A: I was involved and I thought it went really well. The more you do something, the better you get at it. It's a tribute to our staff—Jeff Lantz, and Sam Bernabe. They're so well organized in bringing in the real names. The only glitch we had was Lou Brock having a flight cancellation. It went well with the luncheon, though. Bob Brenly was a speaker there, and Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Kirby Puckett were all classy gentlemen. I thought it was the best FanFest ever as far as the exhibits go. It just looked like it was bigger and better this season because we had more things for the kids. It's amazing how smooth it can run when you've done it six years as we have now.

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