Q & A with Ron Coomer
Former major league ballplayer turned Cubs broadcaster comes home to Lockport
As A BASEBALL-LOVING KID GROWING UP, Ron Coomer has checked off many of the boxes he dreamed of in his youth. Become a major league ballplayer, check. Play for the Cubs, check. Hit a home run at Wrigley Field, check. He has even accomplished a few things he never dreamed of — playing for the New York Yankees and hitting a home run in his first at bat at Yankee Stadium; becoming hitting buddies with Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk; and being named to the 1999
American League All-Star team.
In many respects, Coomer’s baseball dream continues in his current role as a color commentator for the Cubs radio broadcasts. In addition to getting to cover the team he rooted for as a kid, the job has brought him “home” to Lockport, where he has fond memories of playing ball at Lockport High School, and where he also recently opened a restaurant called Coom’s Corner Sports Grill. Here he reminisces about his nine year pro career and how grateful he is to return to his Lockport roots.
What was it like to grow up in Lockport?
RC: I actually grew up in Clearing near Garfield Ridge by Midway Airport until my 8th grade year. Then we moved out to Homer Township, part of the Lockport school district. Moving to Homer and going to Lockport High School is the best thing that ever happened to me. The people at the school were great. And my baseball coaches, Jim Hall and Pete Fera, were big influences on me, along with my dad.
Was baseball always a passion?
RC: I loved baseball from the time I was a little kid, listening to and watching Cubs baseball on TV and on the radio. I always loved playing, loved watching and, you know, I was a good player as a little kid. I played all the sports until about halfway through high school and then I just kind of got locked in on baseball. It was a sport that I was good at, so it was a good fit. I was all-state as a senior in high school and our team went downstate.
But getting to the major leagues turned out to be a real test of perseverance.
RC: Yep. I was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 14th round but ended playing seven years in the minor leagues before I finally got to the big leagues. I hurt my right knee in college and so when I got to the minors I was playing with a brace on my right leg. I had two really good years in a row in Rookie ball and A ball and then I finally had ACL surgery on my knee. It took a full year before I was back on track playing well, and then I was behind, so it kind of stalled my career.
But one very positive thing came out of those difficult years. You became hitting partners with Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.
RC: When Carlton got traded to the White Sox from Boston, he moved to Lockport. I met his wife and she set up a meeting for us to talk. I just wanted to pick his brain about hitting. That turned into seven years working out together as hitters and becoming good friends. It kind of culminated with us being in the 1999 All-Star game together. So it was one of those full circle things.
Do you remember when you realized you were going to the big leagues?
RC: I’ll never forget. I was with the Albuquerque Dukes in the Dodgers minor league system and we were playing in Tacoma, Washington. I was walking to the on-deck circle and our trainer goes, “Hey Cooms, come back here.” Being told to come back to the dugout in the middle of a game, I knew I’d been traded. And then our manager, Rick Dempsey, a long-time big league catcher and good friend said, “You’re headed to Cleveland tomorrow. You just got traded to the Minnesota Twins.” It was a pretty big deal going from a cold rainy night in Tacoma, with probably less than a thousand people in the stands
to playing the next day at Jacob’s Field in Cleveland in front of 40,000 people. I don’t think I slept at all that night. I talked to every one of my friends and my family.
Did you get to play right away?
RC: I pinch hit the very next day. I grounded out. But on the previous pitch, I just missed hitting a home run — it hooked foul. Still, even though I made an out, I was officially a big league baseball player, so it was still pretty cool.
You ended up having a nine-year Major League career. Looking back, what were the highlights?
RC: My first week in the league I hit my first big league home run off pitcher Randy Johnson, who is now a Hall of Famer. I hit one into the left field seats in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Then in 1999, I was selected to the American League All-Star team. The game was held at Fenway Park in Boston and that was the year the All-Century team was announced, so all the best living players were there. I got to meet some really great people — Stan Musial, Brooks Robinson. Ted Williams threw out the first pitch. It was one of those special times in baseball that everyone remembers. And I was able to be there.
You also got to live out your childhood dream of playing for the Cubs?
RC: I remember playing in Wrigley Field for the Twins in inter-league play and I hit a home run against the Cubs. And I just remember thinking, this is the only thing I ever wanted to do in my life, hit a home run at Wrigley. I can quit now. I’d be good. And then a couple of years later in 2001 I got to play with the Cubs. And I just remember putting on that Cubs uniform for the first time and being introduced while standing on the third base line at Wrigley Field on opening day, and just what that meant. That was one of the things that as a little kid I’d always wanted to do.
How did you make the transition to being a broadcaster?
RC: I had a radio show when I was a player in Minnesota called Coom’s Corner and then again when I played in Chicago. When I retired, I really thought I would coach or manage. But while I was interviewing for coaching jobs, I got a call from Fox Sports about possibly doing some broadcasting with the Twins the next season. The managing thing at the time just didn’t work out, so I took the job with Fox. I never pursued coaching again and now it’s 2019 and it’s been some kind of run.
Your timing in coming back to Chicago to broadcast for the Cubs was exceptional.
RC: That’s for sure. I signed with the Cubs in 2014 and then in 2015 the Cubs made that long run in the playoffs. In 2016, they obviously win the World Series and I was able to call the games, which was pretty incredible.
Your recently opened a restaurant, Coom’s Corner Sports Grill, in Lockport. How did that come about?
RC: A couple of my friends called and said, ‘Hey, there’s a space in Lockport that’s come up for sale. Would you be interested in going in with us on a restaurant?’ It was an easy decision for me because it was Lockport, which to me is my home town. And when you own a business, there’s a lot of good things you can do for the community. And that was one of the things I wanted to do — to give back to Lockport.
When you are back in town, what are your favorite things to do, places to go?
RC: My favorite place in Lockport is the athletic field where we played baseball. I still try to get by there when the high school team is playing. That field is like my happy place. There are so many memories of playing on that field for so many years. But for me, with Lockport it’s a people thing, not a place thing. My goal when I’m back is to re-engage with friends and to be a part of my home town again.
Favorite players or idols when you were growing up? First is Rick Mundy and then Dave Kingman. Those two guys really stood out when I was a kid.
Likely career if you had not become a ball player? Probably a coach of some kind, I would think probably a teacher-coach. I would have been around baseball and sports in some way.
Favorite city to visit? I really like Seattle — it’s a great town.
Most important batting statistic? For me, what’s most important is that either you touch home plate or that you knock somebody in to touch the plate. That’s how you win games.
Hobbies or interests? I love working. I’m pretty busy. My hobby was getting into the restaurant business. And I play a lot of golf.
Words to live by? If you give your word to somebody that you’re going to do something, do it. And always be somebody that people can count on, whether at work or with friends. If you’re reliable and work hard, great things can happen.