The Pittsburgh Pirates Have Many Hidden Heroes.
There are the men who play on the field every night, whose jerseys we wear, whose names we chant, whose triumphs we celebrate, whose losses we mourn. They are a special kind of hero – the ones on the baseball cards – they are members of an elite brotherhood just 750 strong who every year captivate our minds and our hearts playing a child’s game on a very grown-up stage. But for every Major League Baseball team that takes the field each night, there is another team working behind the scenes to make sure every game goes off without a hitch – for the players and the fans. They are the Hidden Heroes of baseball – and these are their stories.
For Chris Mack, Pittsburgh Pirates pre-and post-game host on 93.7 The Fan, Everything’s a Balancing Act
As the former host of Bucco Talk on 93.7 The Fan, Chris Mack may not be considered a very “hidden” hero – after all, how can someone who connects the people of Pittsburgh with their beloved Buccos be hidden? But it’s always been the goal of the easy-going radio personality to facilitate the discussion and not necessarily be a part of it. But come Monday afternoon, he’ll step even further into the spotlight as the new host of the Pittsburgh Pirates Pre-and Post-game shows on 93.7 The Fan, realizing a dream he’s had since he was six years old.
Mack is assuming the duties of the show, slated for 150 broadcasts this season, from Dan Zangrilli, who left the post after several years to take a role with West Virginia University sports radio. Mack knows that he has a big briefcase to fill, but isn’t intimidated by the challenge.
Making It His Own
“Dan did a good job the last five years. He was a pro and he went about the show like a pro,” Mack said. “Rocco DeMaro also did a good job. I have a different way of going about it,” he said.
“I want to strike a balance between the two,” he said. “I want to balance the personality with what we need to give our listeners in the time we have.”
Mack conducted this interview from “The Tower,” a four-sided structure perched few stories above the fields at Pirate City, the Buccos’ training and rehabilitation facility in Bradenton, Florida. He was officially doing the popular Bucco Talk show, which broadcasts every Saturday on The Fan, but he occasionally allowed his mind to fast forward to Opening Day and his new gig.
While some would be tempted to use the new opportunity to “re-invent” themselves, Mack has a different approach.
“It’s about balancing personality and giving listeners the information they crave,” he said. “In a general talk show like [Bucco Talk] there is more room for character and personality than in your standard pre- and post-show. But I can do both.”
Mack, who is known for his quirky personality and knack for ferreting out trivial bits of baseball minutiae, has the perfect game plan: relying on his co-host, longtime Pittsburgh Pirates employee and former GM of the Seattle Mariners Jack Zduriencik.
“I don’t think our listeners really care what I think about Glasnow’s change up,” he said. “But they do care what a former GM does.”
An Accidental Radio Host
Mack was looking for an internship the summer after his sophomore year at Penn State and, having grown up a fan of music radio, thought he’d give it a go. “I walked into a radio station in State College, they said they needed some part-time weekenders and they hired and trained me,” he said.
There are a number of these types of moments in Mack’s life, where fate, guts and talent triangulate – propelling him forward in his career.
Once he got a foothold in the format – he knew he was where he wanted to be. He reeled off the names of local and national radio greats like Scott Paulsen and DB in the Morning who inspired him, and credited Howard Stern for inspiring him to follow a career in talk radio.
He was out of the business for a few years when Jim Graci, then program manager for ESPN radio happened into the bank where Mack’s wife was working. She encouraged Chris to reach out and before he knew it, he was back in radio again, this time as a producer. Graci is now the Program Director at 93.7 The Fan.
“You never know when a door is going to open,” Mack said. “Don’t go slamming them in peoples’ faces.”
Opportunity He Couldn’t Refuse
When Zangrilli announced he was leaving his pre- and post-game show duties in August 2016, Mack once again found himself in a fortuitous situation.
He’d been working part-time at The Fan for a few years, he said, and was interested in a full-time position within the organization, but there was none to be had.
“Then, when Dan left, it opened up an opportunity,” he said. “And it was an opportunity that was built so I couldn’t say no.”
Not that he would have – It’s a dream job for a guy who grew up pretending to be Tony Pena as a child.
For his part, Mack is making the most of the opportunity. He spent his time in Bradenton not only broadcasting Bucco Talk and doing segments for The Fan, but also preparing for his new role. That included developing his contacts, getting to know the players and coaching staff and just generally familiarizing himself with the organization.
Aside from expecting a lot of analysis and insight from Zduriencik and that signature Mack personality, what can listeners expect from the 150 Pirates pre-and post-game shows scheduled this season?
“I’m going to be at the ballpark every day, talking to these guys every day,” he said. “And hopefully, we’ll talk about a team that pushes back hard after a disappointing last season.”
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When Zangrilli announced he was leaving his pre- and post-game show duties in August 2016, Mack once again found himself in a fortuitous situation.[/perfectpullquote]
Mack is really looking forward to interacting with callers to the show – both regular and first timers. Regular callers, he said, are the lifeblood of Pittsburgh sports radio.
“I love that there are regular callers like Chuck from Uniontown. Without people who are that passionate you wouldn’t have a Pittsburgh team and we wouldn’t have a show.”
He’s fine-tuned the art of using callers’ questions and comments to further conversations, expand subjects and speak to a prevailing mindset about a situation.
“You get used to the regulars and what they will do,” he said. “You know when you see them on the call screen what they will say and where to plug them in to move the show.”
Interestingly enough, he said, 90-percent of the callers they hear from on The Fan are first timers, and he values the fresh perspective they can bring to a conversation.
“It’s a balancing act between going to callers and knowing when your listeners want to hear from people within the Pirates organization,” he added.
Mack also plans on interacting with listeners via social media when possible, as he’s already proven in the weeks leading up to the first regular season broadcast.
Mack has a lofty goal for the Pirates pre-and post-game shows:
“If they are half as good as the broadcasts are, I’ll be ecstatic” he said.
As for how he fits into it all? If it’s one thing Chris Mack knows, it’s the role he wants his pre-and post-game shows to play in the lives of Pittsburgh Pirates fans and the narrative of the team.
“I want to bring something to them they haven’t thought of or help them think about something in a different way,” he said. “I want to give listeners a new tidbit of information that they may not have and present it in a way that makes them want to listen to every broadcast.”
Hear Chris Mack make his regular season debut TODAY as the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Boston Red Sox at 2:05 pm from Fenway Park.