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Mudville: November 29, 2022 10:47 am PDT
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The Family Business

Baseball is a family game. Memories are made, a passion for the game is passed from one generation to the next. That happens on the field, in the stands and in the broadcast booth.

That broadcast booth will soon welcome a fourth generation.

When the Low A Fayetteville Woodpeckers take the field next month Chris Caray, 22, will be one of the broadcasters, following in the professional footsteps of his great-grandfather Harry, his grandfather Skip, and his father Chip, the longtime voice of the 2021 World Champion Braves.

This is not only a story of fathers and sons, but of mothers and grandparents, brothers and sister, too.

Chris is an identical twin and his brother Stefan is a talented broadcaster as well. This summer, the two brothers worked together in the Cape Cod League, broadcasting games for the Cotuit Kettleers. Now Chris, in his final semester at the University of Georgia, was able to land a job with the Astros farm team, joining the broadcasting pro ranks.

“I’m over the moon,’’ Chris Caray told BallNine. “This is pro ball. This is everything I always wanted and it is something that I didn’t expect to happen this year, but the right pieces fell in the right places and I was fortunate to be selected to work for a team.’’

“Baseball wives are mother, father, grandparent, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur, all those things when we are doing our jobs,’’

He knows the difficult journey ahead to make it to the major leagues. “Maybe one job opens a year and you have to be the best of a crop of 200 broadcasters, that’s a hard thing too,’’ Chris said. “Hopefully, one day the fourth-generation narrative will come true for me and if Stefan decides to go down that road, too.’’

Baseball is in Chris’ blood and he is blessed with The Voice – like previous generations of the Caray family.

“This is his moment in the sun,’’ Chip told me. “I’m prouder for him than I am of him if that makes any sense. The greatest pride a parent can have is seeing your child germinate a dream and have that dream come true. Knowing how hard it is to get involved in the business and knowing the struggles and insecurities that every kid has; look, there are 42 fewer jobs in his line of work than there were just a couple of years ago. For him to be able to position himself with his hard work, with his effort, with his talent and his unwavering belief is what every parent wants to see happen.’’

Every baseball success story has a behind the scenes hero. With Chip spending so much time away from the family’s Florida home while broadcasting Braves games, his wife Susan runs the real family business at home with the four children, Chris and Stefan, Summerlyn, 24, and Tristan, 13.

“This has to do with family and my wife is the rock of the family,’’ Chip said, “and not only that, her parents were and are instrumental in raising our kids. That’s a debt of gratitude I can’t possibly repay.

“Baseball wives are mother, father, grandparent, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur, all those things when we are doing our jobs,’’ Chip said. “Her unwavering belief and commitment and drive to help him begin this step towards his ultimate goal and his ultimate dream belongs to her, too. I’m thrilled for both of them.’’

Chris also makes it clear too that Mom makes it all happen.

“She’s had to be the workhorse, the mediator between us and dad, she would be the one who would drive us to places or be the person to make things happen and when it came to this minor league thing, she was my biggest supporter,’’ Chris said. “Anybody who is close to us, knows that my dad is a super entertaining person, he’s great, a super good guy, but it is my mom who makes everything go. She is truly the superstar of this organization, and I don’t think she gets enough credit. When you are married to someone who has an iota of fame like my dad does, it tends to put you in the shadows and she has taken that full stride and I think people are beginning to understand what she is capable of, it’s much more than I will ever do, my dad will ever do, any of us.’’

President Ronald Reagan, former play-by-play man for the Chicago Cubs, made a nostalgic trip back to Wrigley Field September 30 and threw out the ceremonial first pitch before settling into the broadcast booth with Cubs' broadcaster Harry Caray.

Chris said his dad made sure he understood this life truth.

“Know what you are but also know what you aren’t,’’ Chris said of his father’s key words. “That is kind of the mantra we have lived by our entire lives, not just in broadcasting but in general. I know what I have, I know what I am capable of doing but also, I know what I’m not. It lets you be the most accurate, clear version of yourself. I want to be every day 100 percent Chris Caray.’’

Susan accepted the challenge with Chip being gone so much but has had the guiding light of her parents Anne and Tom Eyerly to help on the journey.

“I’m thrilled for Chris because I don’t remember him wanting to do anything else,’’ Susan told me. “I’m thrilled for the legacy they all have, I think it’s really cool, and what I said up in the Cape, what an interesting thing to have, not only fourth generation broadcasters, which I don’t think has been done but, identical twins.’’

So here we are four generations later and Harry Christopher Caray IV is beginning the pro broadcast journey. Chip is Harry Christopher Caray III.

The first twin born was going to get the name Harry.

We all know what Harry would say about such a family journey: It is what he said about a lot of things, becoming a legend in the business, first with the Cardinals, the White Sox and then the Cubs.

Holy Cow!

Working together with Stefan this summer was a Holy Cow! experience.

“If you think about the movie Summer Catch, that was like my life,’’ Chris said. “My brother is my rock. Without the Cape I don’t know where I would be. That experience gave me that extra push.’’

“That gave them a taste of what it’s like,’’ Chip said. “The everyday-ness of it. Interacting with the players and coaches and fans and finding your own voice and your own way of doing it. From our family’s perspective the most challenging part is finding your own voice.

“They’ve got a great-grandfather that they will inevitably be compared to, a grandfather that they will be compared to and a dad who is doing it now that they will be compared to,’’ Chip said.

Chip had to go down that path as well and admitted, “When you are just starting out all those little doubts kind of creep into your head. Who am I? What am I doing? Am I doing it right?’’

He looks at Chris and Stefan and sees they were able to cross that bridge in a “positive way,’’ Chip noted, “not to mention the fact they are identical twins. Stefan is equally talented, equally funny, equally verbose, witty and loves the game. They are doing it their own way. It’s amazing to me they have come so far, so fast.’’

Chris (left) and Stefan (right) Caray. (Photo courtesy of the Caray family)

Chris wanted to get a jump on his career so he was able to land the job with Fayetteville while remotely finishing up his final semester at Georgia. The Woodpeckers manager is Dickie Joe Thon, son of Dickie Thon, a player I once covered with the Padres.

“Chris will come back and get his diploma and then go right back and do a baseball game, which is great training for what we do,’’ Chip said. “How many weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and funerals and parties, we miss that stuff. This is a great education after the education about what the life is about and the sacrifices you have to make and hopefully the benefits of the lifestyle he has chosen will far outweigh those and I think they will.’’

Chip’s first job was as a television news reporter in Panama City, Florida.

“WMBB, Channel 13,’’ he explained. “I did news, weather, sports, I shot my own stories. My beat was the beach, which was great, except for one thing: We had to do it in coats and ties, so I’m carrying a huge tape deck, one of those giant old cameras and a 40-pound tripod with a coat and tie walking on the beach trying to interview people in their bikinis and bathing suits. I was like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News just sweating profusely. That’s what makes it fun. You hate it at the time, you dream about where you want to go and when you get there you look back on those days affectionately because they build so much character and there are stories, that’s the essence of what we do.

“That is another thing that I am proud of my kids, they have never succumbed to the old nepotism trap,’’ Chip said. “Chris is where he is because he is incredibly talented, he’s incredibly gifted and he found this job and interviewed for this job on his own and ultimately his work will determine if he is successful or not. When that red light goes on, and it’s time to talk into the camera, it’s not mom or dad or the grandparents that are doing it, you’ve got to do it. I firmly believe that Chris and Stefan are going to do a great job. They love baseball and they are really, really good people and at the end of the day, I hope they end up in the Hall of Fame like their great-grandfather, but I couldn’t be more blessed to have three Hall of Fame sons, a Hall of Fame daughter and a Hall of Fame wife. I’ve really been blessed.’’

In Cotuit, Chip was able to do an inning with Chris and Stefan.

“When you have moments like that, you think back to when you were 22 and the first time I was in a booth with my dad,’’ Chip said. “I was handing him Cokes and doing the out of town scoreboard for him on the radio and then I got hired by the Braves in ’91 and I’m working with Ernie Johnson and I’m working with my dad on radio, the first time you sit in the booth you are thinking, ‘What do I call him, is it Skip or dad? It is interesting to look at it from the other side of that age bridge now.’’

Chris understands he has a wonderful opportunity to learn in this position in North Carolina. The Woodpeckers play at Segra Stadium, a cool little ballpark.

“What I’m most excited about is working with the broadcaster I am going to work with, his name is Andrew Chapman, he’s incredibly talented, he’s young, has a wealth of experience a lot of other guys don’t have and he has a really good head on his shoulders,’’ Chris said. “He’s the ideal person to help me as a No. 2 to develop into a No. 1 and hopefully one day reach the heights of my dad and where all the other greats are. Also, my uncle (Josh Caray) is in AA and he has helped me tremendously. There are so many positives that have been taken out of this.’’

There is more coming too from the Caray family.

“My little guy, he is 13 and he wants to be a broadcaster too,’’ Chip said of Tristan. “He comes home from school, does his homework and goes out and swings the bat, we play baseball in the yard or throw the football, then he comes in grabs his IPad and gets old Braves games, turns the volume down and does play by play.’’

Susan and Chip’s daughter Summerlyn works in Austin, Texas as an executive talent recruiter. “She is beautiful like her mom, and is smarter than me by a factor of 10,’’ Chip said of his daughter who graduated from the University of San Diego.

After the Braves' World Series win... Left to right: Chris, Susan, Stefan & Tristan Caray (Photo courtesy of the Caray family)

“It’s hard in one way to see your kids leave the nest but it is the most fulfilling thing you can do,’’ Chip said. “We’ve been blessed.’’

I then asked Chip the obvious question: What would Harry say about all this?

“The obvious: Holy Cow!’’ Chip replied.

“When you think of it this way, it’s remarkable,’’ Chip explained. “He made something of himself at the time when being the son of immigrants wasn’t the easiest thing. He started this family business and now someone in the family has been broadcasting Major League Baseball for 77 years, since 1945. I hope that I will be able to go for another 20 years or so and it would be great if all three of my kids are doing it too, see if we can make it to a century. That would be remarkable.

“I think that is what would make Harry proudest, kind of an American Dream deal, rags to riches, an kid from St. Louis who became incredibly popular by the force of his personality, had a son follow in his footsteps, that son created his own way of doing it and his own style, and his oldest son decided to crazily do it too and hopefully he is making it his own way in a different way than the other two, and now that oldest son’s, oldest son is doing the exact same thing. I don’t think in Harry’s wildest imagination did he think this would happen. But hey, only in America.’’

And again, like any family, sacrifices were made.

“I’m gone for half of their lives,’’ Chip explained. “My son is 22 years old and I’ve been around him for only 11 of those 22 years. While they are learning how to walk, I’m calling a game in Pittsburgh.’’

Calling a walk. Anyone in baseball with a family can understand what Chip is saying, writers too with families, like me with my amazing wife Anne and our three successful grown children, Kelly, Casey and Corey.

“But that is why this is so rewarding,’’ Chip said. “Maybe someday Chris will end up in another town and we’ll see each other a lot. We’ve always bonded over baseball. He loves the game. For a parent who has to deal with an exit and re-entry, there has always been a touchstone of sports. Baseball is a big part of our lives, but it’s a tiny part of who we are and I think that is a perspective that has helped them.’’

Susan broke down the broadcasting styles of Chris and Stefan.

“They are both so good, it’s kind of in their genes,’’ she said, noting that is not just mom’s opinion but the feedback received from the Summer Catch of broadcasting plus their work at college. “Christopher is much more like Chip, but even more so. He is more analytical. He is the one for stats and numbers and Stefan is very funny and off the cuff.’’

Perhaps someday the twins could work again in the same broadcast booth or alongside dad.

Added Chip, “I can’t wait to see what their future is going to be.’’

Like Harry always said: “Hello again, everybody … It’s a bee-yoo-tiful day for baseball.’’

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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