MLB Uncertainties Has Lemke’s Radio Role On Hold
Just like most associated with the upcoming MLB season, Whitesboro native Mark Lemke waits for answers.
Spring training is almost here. Big league camps in Florida and Arizona are expected to open on February 16. Opening Day is scheduled for April 1. MLB's 91st All-Star Game is set for Atlanta, at Truist Park in mid-July.
Nothing is etched in baseball stone at this point. The rise and fall of COVID-19 cases has the true power of thumbs up or down, when it comes to planned events taking place.
Just as baseball fans have a yearning to get back to business in rooting for their favorite team and players, those within the game want to see some semblance of order to return to their roles, too.
Among those who have experienced challenges to going about business as usual in baseball is Mohawk Valley native Mark Lemke. For more than a decade the former Braves' second baseman and member of Atlanta's 1995 World Series Championship club has been part of the team's radio network.
Providing analysis during the pregame and postgame shows of Braves baseball, which is heard on nearly 150 affiliates across 10 states on flagship stations WCNN and WNNX in Atlanta, Lemke is anxious to get back to work.
Last season, Lemke was a casualty of the pandemic.
"(Because of COVID-19) I didn't cover the team," said Lemke during a telephone conversation this past week. " They (Braves Radio Network) cut back. I don't work for the station or Braves. I'm an independent contractor. I was probably one of the easiest for them to let go. (The Network) used guys already at the radio station, who took huge pay cuts, and threw my job to them."
There's no bitterness detected in Lemke's voice. The graduate of Utica's Notre Dame High School, and 27th-round draft pick of Atlanta in 1983, just wants to be around the game again.
"I haven't heard a word about this year," says Lemke of returning to the Braves' airways for the 2021 season. " It doesn't look good. Last year, obviously, broadcasting was very different. This year, I think it's going to be the same. Clubs will limit access to as many people as they can."
Lemke continues on with a lengthy list of questions surrounding how he and others, who bring the game to millions of fans, could do what they do.
Lemke, who retire in 1998 after playing 31 games with the Boston Red Sox and 10 seasons in a Braves uniform, wonders how the players and MLB owners will come to a conclusion on just how many games will be played (162 games is the plan going into the season), and what is the future of the universal designated hitter?
"One of the holdups is the owners want a guarantee that fans will be allowed in the ballparks. Players, of course, want their full salary, and want a full season (162 games) - regardless of no fans," says Lemke who made his MLB debut in September 1988.
Spring training represents a re-birth in baseball. It's a time where friends reunite, after not seeing each other for months. It's a time when all teams can believe that the upcoming season will be their season to contend, or even go all the way. It's a time of all things possible.
Lemke, thinking back to his playing days, remembers spring training as an exciting time to get back together, and start anew.
"It's like the first day of school," says Lemke of when training camp gates swing open. " It's always the best, most exciting time. In the off-season, a lot of guys don't keep in touch. Now, things are a little different than when I played, with all the ways of communicating."
With all the uncertainties swirling around the pending MLB season, Lemke keeps well informed on all things Braves. In reviewing the club's roster, he believes manager Brian Snitker's team is going to be solid for "a lot of years."
2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuna,Jr. are the anchors of a young team that is only going to get better. Lemke points out Saratoga County (NY) native Ian Anderson as another bright arm in the Braves' rotation to be excited about.
Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Max Fried, and the re-emergence of catcher Travis d'Arnaud are among other pieces of the Braves' puzzle put together by general manager Alex Anthopoulos that makes the team the favorite to repeat as National League eastern division champions in 2021.
Coming into 2021, Atlanta has won three consecutive division titles. Lemke would certainly like to be behind a microphone, come fall, and breakdown how they made it four in a row. First, baseball and society have to get back to basics.
Until then, the waiting game continues - even for a World Series hero from the Mohawk Valley.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.