There have been a number of “milestone” stories about Brewers broadcasting legend Bob Uecker in the news recently. At Brewers On Deck last Sunday, Uecker celebrated his 80th birthday. A few weeks ago, it was announced Uecker will be humorously honored with a second statue at Miller Park in the last row of the upper deck. Just last week, Uecker announced he would be taking some well-earned time off in the 2014 season, still calling all home games but skipping some road trips.
It’s not surprising that Uecker would start dialing back the travel schedule at his age, but combined with the news of the second statue, it’s hard not to think about the uncomfortable truth – Uecker’s got a lot more years behind him than ahead of him. He won’t be around forever, and it will be gut-wrenching when he’s gone.
I think most Brewers fans recognize we’re lucky to have a baseball institution like Uecker as our hometown play-by-play guy. I also think a lot of us are quietly thankful he’s made it this far and is still as sharp as he is. And I can’t be the only one that is secretly trying to brace myself for the news we’ll get one day that Uecker has gone to his reward. These feelings were front and center when Uecker had heart surgery in 2010, but he has seemed to be in fine health since then – which has made it easy to take him for granted again. But there’s something about the Brewers wanting to give him another statue (albeit a tongue in cheek one) so soon after putting up the first one. I detect a “let’s get these up while he’s still here” mentality at work.
My earliest Uecker memories are when I was about 12-13 years old, and I went through a phase where I couldn’t fall asleep at night without the radio on. In the summers, that meant listening to the late innings of games called by Uecker (alongside Pat Hughes at that point) on WTMJ. I don’t recall specific games, but I do remember I preferred listening to Brewers games over Bruce Williams on Talknet. (Nothing against Bruce Williams, although I have no idea what he’s up to these days.)
Over the years I came to understand that Uecker was a respected broadcaster, as well as a relatively famous TV personality. It wasn’t until I started getting back into the Brewers around 2006-2007 that Uecker became a regular part of my fandom. I still primarily watch the TV broadcasts, but I started bringing a radio into work for the weekday afternoon games. Thus I’ve been listening to Uecker at least once a week for about seven years now. Those mid-week day games just won’t be the same without him.
As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I know nothing I do to prepare myself (including writing my thoughts down now) will be enough when the news finally comes. I’ll probably cry and not want to get out of bed that day. The knowledge that there’s nothing to be done to lessen the grief’s inescapable blow…it’s a real bummer.
To cheer myself up, there’s an hour-plus video on YouTube of Uecker participating in the 2011 Carson Lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film. The video includes several clips from Uecker’s “Mr. Baseball” appearances on The Tonight Show, which are hard to come by otherwise on YouTube given the era to which they belong. Of course, there’s also video of Uecker’s infamous 2003 Hall of Fame induction speech. I imagine those will provide some comfort.