Edit note: I had a few “corrections” or more clean-ups by Chris to help clairfy some of his statements. Hope you enjoy!
I had an opportunity to sit down and do a short interview this week with the voice of the Seattle Mariners AA-affiliate the Jackson Generals own Chris Harris. He talked about a lot of awesome things and I got to use the word awesome way too many times. It was really … awesome?
Yeah, well at least you aren’t forced to listen to the interview (poor Chris). Enjoy the read and make sure to thank Chris for doing this for us! This was not something he had to do and did it purely out of the goodness of his heart. So, regardless of if you think everything I or anyone else here does is stupid, please be sure to say thank you and keep up with the Jackson Generals on their site.
SodoMojo: Just have a few questions for you Chris. Thanks for doing this
Chris Harris: Yeah I enjoy SodoMojo it’s a nice site. It keeps me up to date on a lot of things with the Mariners organization.
SodoMojo: Thank you very much! Just a few questions for you, how long have you been involved in broadcasting and what got you into it?
Chris Harris:I guess, I started out my third year in college. I played a year of college baseball at a Junior College in East Tennessee and decided to call it a career after a few nagging injuries got too much to deal with. I had a pretty nice high school career here and still have the second most RBI’s in state history with 208.. Went on to Bethel College and studied business while doing some radio on the side. I decided that radio was fun and I was fairly decent at it. I started working for a local ESPN affiliate here in West Tennessee and did that for a few years. I did a daily afternoon show for 3 years and then this job came about with the Double-A team. I was fortunate enough to get an interview and lucky enough to get the job. This will be my third season as the Voice of the Diamond Jaxx, now Jackson Generals.
SM: Awesome! Do you get much of an opportunity to interact with the organization like up and down?
CH:You know when we play 140 games we don’t have [a lot of time]. When everybody’s playing, we’re playing too. So it’s tough to get around and talk to guys. I know last year at the end of the year, when Tacoma was in the PCL championship, they played the Memphis Redbirds and our season had ended so we took a lot of people from out office down there. We had a lot of our fans to go watch Tacoma because half [of] that team was basically here in 2009 or 2010. That was kind of cool to catch up with some of those guys and watch them play. I see all the roving instructors that come through. But as far as the coaches up there we don’t see them much. But we keep in touch, I email. That sort of thing.
SM:Do you keep in contact with Mike Cuerto or any of those guys up in Tacoma?
CH: We have e-mailed back and forth a few times. He does that blog. You know the Mike off Mic that’s pretty cool. I have gotten some great information from that. But as far as talking a whole lot, he’s busy and I’m busy. It kind of tough to keep up with each other during the season. We do, sometimes, keep in touch with e-mail.
SM: Did you ever have a chance to meet Dave Niehaus?
CH: I did not and you know this was just my third year with the team here. I wasn’t real familiar with the Mariners organization. This is Cardinal country, [here] in West Tennessee. I grew up a big Cardinals fan listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon doing St. Louis Cardinal baseball. But I always keep up the great broadcasters. You know Harry Kalas, who passed away a couple of years ago and of course Dave Niehaus is in that category as well. But no, I never really got a chance to talk to him. But people always spoke well of him.
SM:Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Pringles Park and what makes it so special.
CH:Well the name Pringle Park comes from an industry here in Jackson called “Proctor and Gamble” which is one of the largest manufactures of the Pringles potato chips. A lot of people don’t know how the name Pringles Park came about. So thats how it got it’s name Pringles Park. And it’s a really great stadium. It seats 6,000 and we averaged an attendance of a little over 2,000 a game last year. This community it is smaller than most, it’s the smallest in our league [the southern league] I think its one of the smallest in all of minor league baseball really. but, it’s a nice cozy family atmosphere. It’s located right off Interstate-40, so if your going be tween memphis and nashville on I-40 you’ll see right off the side of the interstate. So that makes it kind of unique.
SM: What are some of your favorite Diamond Jaxx (Jackson General now) Moments?
CH:I gotta get used to the name. I’m not quiet used to Jackson Generals yet. We have a hospital here in Jackson called Jackson General Hospital. Some people will see us pop up on their [Caller] ID and think it’s the hospital calling. So it’s kind of funny. But last year Dustin Ackley came in being so hyped at the start of the year. We kind of knew that he was going to be in Jackson. That was fun. Just to see him develop and get to know him as a person. Because he is one of the the best people I’ve had to deal with on an every day basis. I probably had two or three e-mails a day from people wanting to interview him, talk to him or something. So it kept me on my toes. I told him jokingly that I’d get mad because he made my job tougher. But, he was such a good person to deal with, he would do every obligation. To get a #2 pick that was so highly regarded. Then of course on the field that first month, I was along with everyone else, thinking wow this guy is really struggling. He was hitting like .170 the first month of the season. But then you could just see him develop and once he left us at the all-star break, man, you could really tell this kid was special he was really fun.
Michael Pineda, was really fun to watch how he developed from the start. Just being a guy at 6’5 or 6’6, I’m 6’7 myself so I’m a pretty big guy, so it’s nice to look at him eye to eye and see how powerful he was. Those big legs that he has and that he uses to drive off and push off the mound. He was fun to watch. But really we had a good team. It was a really good team, I just wish we could have kept our pitching staff intact. keeping guys like Robles and Cortes and Pineda all those guys. They of course had to move up. But, we had a pretty good pitching staff last year.
SM: Well you talked a little bit about the pitching staff from last year, let me ask you about Steve Hensley.
CH:Well, he went down with injuries. I mean it seems like he had a great start to the year. Of course last year  he had that great start with Clinton where he didn’t walk a guy in something like the first 30 innings, then he came up to us and got bounced around pretty good, then headed down to high desert. Last year it just seemed like he would have a couple of nice outings and then he’d be knocked around a little bit and then he’d battle some arm problems. But, you could always see the potential. He is a great strike thrower; a good mound presence. You can just tell he knows how to pitch. I think it kind of became a bit mental to him after a while just because he was getting a little frustrated with himself. But, you know he’s a good guy, very coachable (with Lance Painter our pitching coach). I think he would just over think and it was a bit of his problem. But, I think he has potential he just has to put together a full season and be consistent.
SM: Do you follow any of the players through Spring Training? Do you keep in contact with any of them outside of the season?
CH: Yeah, I text a few of them. Anthony Varvaro, Dan Cortes, Guillermo Quiroz when they got called up to Seattle. Seeing there highlights on ESPN and watching a few of them make their major league debuts in Tampa last year. Matt Mangini became a pretty good friend as well and we talk every now and then.
SM: Did you hear about Carlos Peguero big home run off Manny Declaremenover the weekend?
CH: I did not hear that. :Laughs: No, didn’t hear that. But it does not surprise me. That guy is worth the price of admission to see him take batting practice. The sheer power he has is pretty unbelievable.
SM: Speaking of huge batting practice home run, you guys are [or should be] getting Johermyn Chavez. Are you looking forward specifically to anyone in 2011?
CH:You know Rich Poythress is a guy I’ve heard a lot about. He was with us for about a month in 2009 after he signed, he signed late after he was drafted. He spent all of last year with High Desert had 130 RBIs he’s the kind of guy that you would think, that would be ready to come to us in AA. He was a good guy out in the field too and a Georgia guy.
With Chavez, Phil Plantier, who was our manager in 2009, would come through last year and rave about Chavez. Phil became a good friend and has helped me learn a lot about player development. Chavez seemed to be who he was the most proud of last year.
Kyle Seager the [high desert] second basemen, I would think, pending on what they do with Ackley. Whether he starts in AAA and what they do with Matt Lawson. I don’t know if he would be a second basemen with us or not, but those are a couple of guys I look forward to seeing and there are a few guys due back.
Nick Franklin got his feet wet with us last year at the end of the season and I know went to Mariners FanFest last month. He is pretty highly regarded, but still young.
SM: That’s kind of a hard thing. You want to see these guys progress and succeed but you probably want to keep them around to see the team do well.
CH:Yeah, well that’s kind of the nature of the business. Those guys want to try and get to the Major Leagues. I think the coaching staff will say that winning is important and the guys throughout the system, the minor league instructors will say that winning is important. But you know the guys have goals to reach the Major Leagues so it’s just all part of it. It’s kind of like last year at the all-star break and losing Robles, Pineda and Ackley. It’s tough but, it’s part of it too.
So hopefully we’ll be getting some guys from High Desert and they’ll be thinking the same thing about us. We’ll kind of be raiding their team. But, you know last year we made the playoffs. It’s just kind of one of those things where you keep your fingers crossed and lightning has to strike at the perfect time. Where you have a decent team that can be with you through the entirety of the season. Maybe we’ll have that this year, you never know.
SM: I was reading about Minor League Director Pedro Grifol in an interview he said he wanted to place an emphasis in the future not just one player development but also getting the affiliates to the playoffs. That’s gotta feel pretty good to know the organization has your back and wants to put you in position to succeed.
CH: Yeah, I think last year the only organization with more minor league wins was St. Louis. I can’t remember how many wins it was but I think St Louis was the only team that had more wins than the Mariners did in their minor leagues. So that’s saying something. I know the major league club has really struggled, I mean every one’s pretty aware of that, but I think there is a lot of good prospects. That has to vouch for something. Hopefully these guys can continue to develop and turn into good major league players that can get Seattle a pennant or a World Championship sometime soon.
SM: I think as fans that’s all we’re really looking for. I don’t think that’s asking too much :Laugh:
SM: What about my man Brandon Haveman? The guys is such a hard nosed gritty player and not a lot of people talk about him. I love him. What more can you tell me about him?
CH: Well it’s pronounced Brandon HAHV- MAN.:Laugh. It took me a while to get that through my head. And Tim Laker our manager: He is just one of those guys that’s 5-foot-nothing, 100-and-nothing and gives it everything he’s got. He’s just a guy you want on your team. When I first saw him he basically showed up when we were in Carolina playing the Mudcats, and that’s when Nate Tenbrink got hit in the head by a pitch. He actually had to leave the game during the middle of the game, and actually Haveman had been called up and took over for Tenbrink in that ball game. He had just showed up in the second or third inning and Tim Laker didn’t really know what position he played -he was an outfielder- and he asked him “Can you play center field?” And he ended up playing center field for the rest of that game and ended up being our lead-off man for the rest of the season. His ability to bunt and to place them was really impressive. He ended up taking more walks as the season went on and I thought his range got a lot better as the season went on. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he’s just a gamer. He finds ways to get one base and manufacture runs. He didn’t steal as many bases as I think he could have if he had a full season, I think he had been dealing with a quad injury or different aliments. But I hope he’s back with us. He’s such a good guy off the field plus he’s just one of those gamers.
SM: One last Questions – You talked a little bit about Nate Tenbrink and you talk more about him?
CH: Yeah, it was disappointing about him getting hurt. He had gotten off to such a great start with High Desert he was off with like .380 start. Then in what I think was his first week or first few games with us, we were in Carolina and he got hit in the head with a fastball. It was a scary situation with the ambulance having to come on to the field and get him. He missed a couple of weeks with a concussion and really wasn’t right for a month or so. It really, really put him behind. I mean, he had a good year, he had a real good year for us. He still had one of the top batting averages in the organization. I just wonder how good of a season it could have been had he not been hit in the head. He has star potential.
Because you know that’s in the back of your mind. I mean you get hit by a fastball in your head. Stepping into the box it has to be a bit uncomfortable. to you. It was a scary, scary moment. Seeing the ambulance come onto the field like that in a AA baseball game. But he is a hard worker and he’s got a world of potential and your right, Nate Tenbrink is a great player.
SM: Awesome, awesome! Thanks so much for doing this Chris! I look forward to hearing from you over the season and hopefully we can hook up and do this again during the season.
CM: Yeah, absolutely. You know we had a fun team last year, I’m looking forward to seeing who they send us this year. Wish I knew far in advance but really they don’t know [who they are sending] either.