Baseball Preview: Joel Cummins

HT:  Which pitchers do you think will win the AL and NL Cy Young awards?

JC: AL – CC Sabathia. With a year in New York under his belt, he will thrive. The Yankees’ lineup should provide plenty of support for a good shot at 20 wins.

NL – Carlos Zambrano. Will be a tight race with Phils’ new ace, Roy Halladay, but this offseason, Zambrano finally got serious about staying in shape and has reported to camp ready to destroy. His talent, desire, energy and experience finally line up and deliver 20 wins for the big guy. He will also hit 5 home runs this year and again top the .300 mark at the plate, occasionally adding pinch hitting duties to his resume.

HT: Which players do you think will win the AL and NL MVP awards?

JC: AL – Joe Mauer. Great hitter and game caller. The Twins will feed off the energy of their new stadium, which I saw in person the other day.

NL – Albert Pujols. For all of the reasons mentioned above. I want him on my team.

HT: What teams do you think will win their divisions? (NL East, Central and West; AL East, Central and West)

JC: NL East – Philadelphia Phillies. Excellent core group just added Roy Halladay, one of the top 5 pitchers in the game today.
NL Central – St. Louis Cardinals. Great pitching and clutch hitting.
NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers. Manny is back, their youth move is a year more seasoned, but their lack of great pitching will hurt. Also, Matt Kemp is now dating Rihanna, which should help morale.

AL East – Boston Red Sox. They will finally quit losing important series to the Yankees.
AL Central – Chicago White Sox. Will edge out the Twins at the end of the year when it gets too cold to swing a bat outside in Minneapolis.
AL West – Seattle Mariners. Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez will destroy the AL West. Ken Griffey Jr. will have one more good year. New addition Chone Figgins will jump start this lineup. Milton Bradley won’t completely implode.

HT: What teams do you think will be the AL and NL Wild Card teams this year?

JC: NL Wild Card – Chicago Cubs. Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly and Wells provide excellent starting pitching. Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee will stay healthy all year and new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo will turn the Chicago Cubs into the NL’s version of hitting dynamo Texas Rangers.

AL Wild Card – New York Yankees. They may be the second best team in the AL behind Boston. Will advance to the division series but lose to Boston.

For the second part of the preview, we got a little personal…

HT: What’s your favorite baseball team?

JC: I’ve grown up a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, and have been attending games since 1979, when I was four years old. There is more hope than ever around Wrigleyville now that Tom Ricketts’ purchase of the team has rescued them from the clutches of the tight-pocketed Tribune company. We have a good group of players, and I think we’ll have more success than most are predicting.

HT: What makes it great/frustrating to be a Cubs fan?

JC: Do I even have to address the “what makes it frustrating” question? Ok, I’ll say it. 101 years of futility. There.

There are a lot of great things about being a Cub fan. First and foremost is Wrigley Field and the surrounding rooftops from which you can view the game. Watching the game at Wrigley on a beautiful summer day when the wind is blowing out is like no other experience in the world. A friend of mine owns one of the rooftop clubs as well. If you haven’t done that with a group of friends yet, it is a pretty amazing experience as well. All in all, getting to experience a MLB game in the middle of a neighborhood of Chicago makes being a Cubs fan completely worth it.

HT: How do you feel about your favorite team’s offseason?

JC: We did all right considering the change of ownership. Our biggest acquisitions were obtaining Marlon Byrd, OF, as a free agent, Xavier Nady, OF, as a free agent, and trading the previous year’s abomination of a $30 million acquisition, Milton Bradley. We had some injuries at key positions last year that will hopefully be avoided this time around. I’m also looking for fellow ND graduate Jeff Samardzija to make an impact on the mound.

HT:  Do you participate in Fantasy/Rotisserie Baseball? If so, how did your team do last year?

JC: No way. I do fantasy football with most of the band in the fall, which takes up much less time. I am the commissioner for our league though, but that is mostly fun as I get to makes jokes at other people’s expense for once (I’m talkin to you, Bayliss). Brendan and Vince hold the dubious distinctions of consistently losing, with Kevin closing in this year.

Since there are 162 games in the baseball season, I thinks its just too time consuming to do in the summer. I would rather go outside and enjoy spending that time away from my computer. But I’m sure there are thousands of people who do enjoy playing fantasy baseball quite a bit.

HT: How closely do you follow your favorite team when you’re out on the road?

JC: We usually have WGN and Comcast Sports Network on our bus, so there are quite a few games we get to watch. We’ll be in Australia during the beginning of this season for the first time. I was in Australia in the summer 1984 with my parents and I assure you it was a lot harder to keep up back then without the aid of the internet. Len Kasper and Bob Brenly are two of the most informative, interesting and consistent TV announcers we’ve had for a long time. Its fun to watch the games now as you always come away with a little better understanding of the game thanks to these guys. And Ronnie Santo on the radio? He and Pat Hughes are simply hilarious to listen to. You feel every loss a little harder when you hear Ron Santo yell painfully, “Nooooooooo! …… ” followed by a quick …. “God…” under his breath.

HT: What’s your favorite ballpark memory?

JC: As a performer, getting to sing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field was off the charts. Singing a capella in front of 30,000 baseball fans makes me significantly more nervous than playing in front of 30,000 music fans. Umphrey’s McGee has a really nice four part arrangement of the National Anthem that we’ve now done a number of times for the Cubs and the White Sox. The Cubs are 3-1 when we sing, so we think this is enough evidence that its time to book us for the postseason! We’d also love to do the 7th inning stretch and sing Take Me Out To the Ball Game at Wrigley.

As a baseball fan, I think seeing the Cubs win a playoff to get into the playoffs in September, 1998 at Wrigley was the best experience. I got to share that night with my dad and friend, Bob Lud, from Notre Dame and the Cubs defeated the San Francisco Giants on that beautiful fall Chicago eve. Rod Beck saved the game in the top of the 9th as the Giants scored 3 runs, with the final being Cubs 5, Giants 3. The fans erupted onto the streets and it was pandemonium.

My other favorite baseball memory is from the summer of 2001 when my then neighbor Steve McMichael (Chicago Bears defensive lineman) sang the 7th inning stretch and told the capacity crowd to raucous cheers that “he was gonna have a word with the home plate umpire” after a questionable call had gone against the Cubs. The staduim erupted, the umpire threw McMichael out of the game (he was in the press box), and the Cubs proceeded to score 3 runs in the bottom of the 7th to take the lead. Colorado came back, but the Cubs won on a do-or-die play at the plate in bottom of the ninth where the call could have gone either way……and the ump called the Cubs’ player safe. Again the crowd went nuts and I’m we celebrated accordingly. I attended that game with one of my best friends, Brian Schultz, about whom we wrote the songs Rocker and Rocker II.

HT: What’s your favorite stadium to visit?

JC: I haven’t been to that many stadiums yet, but I do really enjoy the way newer stadiums have been designed for a more intimate and baseball-centric experience, which still adding modern amenities that keep things update. I really enjoyed visiting Fenway in Boston a few years back. Incidentally, we saw Jeff Waful at that game before he became Umphrey’s LD. To me, it’s all about the authentic baseball experience.

HT: What’s your favorite ballpark food?

JC: I love peanuts, but am allergic to them now. Damnit! I know they’re terrible and processed cheese is one of the worst things you can eat, but nachos for two at the game? Still tough to beat. My other favorite ballpark food is a cold, frosty beverage.

HT:  Who is your favorite player (current and/or all-time)?

JC: When I was a kid, the Braves were on TBS all the time. I grew up watching Dale Murphy and then when I got his autograph at a Cubs game, it sealed the deal as my favorite player. The Cubs had a lot of bad players when I was a kid. That being said, I really enjoyed Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace as Cubs, they were clutch guys and class acts.

HT: What player do you love to hate?

JC: You know, I really wanted to give Milton Bradley a chance last year. I just don’t understand how a professional player can lose focus and throw a ball into the stands when he’s just recorded the 2nd out of the inning. That’s like me leaving a show after the 1st set of music because I forgot there was a 2nd set. And then six months after his brief tenure concludes to blame it on Chicago? Really, Milton Bradley? Really?!? So, I don’t really love to hate him, just kind of hate him.

Pujols has gotta be my #1 love to hate guy. He’s just too good.

Thanks to Joel for taking the time to chat with us. Umphrey’s next heads down under to Australia for two performances at the Byron Bay Bluesfest. On Saturday, April 24, UM will play four quarters (ie. sets) of music at the innovative – and sold out – UM Bowl in Chicago.

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