A guy showed up a couple years ago to install a new awning over the patio at Jim and Kay Weber’s house. The name on the work order didn’t mean anything. The face of the homeowner didn’t ring any bells. But then Weber opened his mouth.
“I know you,” the guy said.
Rarely does a day go by that Weber doesn’t experience something similar.
It’s the voice.
After 39 years and 4,993 Toledo Mud Hens games, just about all of us know that voice.
Since 1975, thousands of players have come and gone. Eighteen managers have been at the helm. There have been numerous press box sidekicks and radio station call letters no one can remember.
But, always, there is Jim Weber. In sickness and in health, on rainy and chilly April nights and sweaty August evenings, in good seasons and, more often, in bad, there is Jim Weber.
“I’m like a bad dream,” he quipped. “I show up again every night.”
This is not about any record. Weber set that long, long ago. Nobody has come close to announcing as many Mud Hens games. Heck, very few anywhere this side of Vin Scully have called as many baseball games, period.
But this is about a milestone. Barring any weather interruptions to the Hens’ schedule, Weber will be behind the microphone for his 5,000th game a week from today when Toledo plays in Louisville.
The Hens consider it a consecutive game streak and I guess it is if you take into consideration that in Weber’s early years not all games were broadcast. It is consecutive based on games scheduled to be aired. Since that first night in Charleston, W.Va., Weber has never missed a first pitch.
Raised in the south end, Weber went to work at Jeep right out of Bowsher High and devoted spare time to playing in a band when he began dabbling in radio in 1969, helping a buddy out on high school football and basketball games.
The Hens, meanwhile, dropped off radio in the early 1970s and Weber, sensing an opportunity, approached general manager Charlie Senger.
“I introduced myself and I told him I thought I could broker a radio deal for him,” Weber recalled.
Senger laughed in his face. But Weber knew the station manager at WTUU, a rather obscure AM station, and, sure enough, he came up with a deal for 52 games to be aired.
During the next off-season, Weber told Senger he was going to approach WSPD, which was anything but obscure.
Senger laughed again and told Weber that if he could get even one game on the most powerful station in town that Jim and Kay could use his account at the Charcoal House and run up the tab of a lifetime.
For the next eight summers, 80 Hens games a season aired on WSPD. Before the 1985 season, a new general manager, Gene Cook, was wise enough not to underestimate Weber when the announcer suggested negotiating a full-schedule package. It led to a 15-year deal with WMTR.
Cook, a Toledo legend, was also wise enough to bring Weber on as a full-time employee, adding team travel coordinator to his duties.
It was a good decision. It’s not like Weber ever misses a trip. Or a game. Or an inning, for that matter. And he might not anytime soon.
“Starting out, I hoped I could do this a couple years,” Weber said. “But baseball gets in your blood. I’ll probably quit the night they carry me out of here.”
In Weber’s case, good baseball and bad baseball are mixed in his bloodstream. The Hens will miss the playoffs this season for the 32nd time in his 39 years on the air, which now includes simulcasting home games on BCSN.
That’s why the back-to-back title teams in 2005-06 rank as his highlights. There was a special night in 1994 that his close friend Jose Lima — when Weber’s phone rang at 2 a.m. on the road, he knew Lima wanted to shoot pool — pitched a near-perfect, no-hit game. And Weber loved longtime Hens manager Cal Ermer.
Weber is a Mud Hens fan, make no mistake. But it is unfair to label him a homer, as a lot of Toledo players have learned the hard way by coming up short in performance or effort.
Even Ermer found that out. He led the Hens to a rare playoff appearance in 1978, but lost a close game at Pawtucket when the skipper, perhaps losing track of a ball he thought was hit to the wall, waved a runner home who was thrown out by 20 feet.
“I can see by the look on Cal’s face that he knows he messed up on that one,” Weber said on the air.
When the Hens returned home, Ermer’s wife was waiting at the airport with a stern rebuke for having criticized her husband.
“Be quiet, Gloria,” old Cal said. “Jim’s right.”
And, soon, Weber will mark 5,000 games of calling them like he sees ’em in a voice we all know so well.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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