PHOENIX -- Bob Uecker spent the winter in Arizona, defying the cold to swim laps most every morning. He turned 89 a couple of weeks before the Brewers reported to camp for what will be Uecker’s 53rd season calling games on radio for his hometown team.
By most accounts, it was a peaceful offseason.
“Well, my Guard unit got called up,” Uecker deadpanned. “So I saw a little action.”
There’s always a wisecrack with "Mr. Baseball," and there’s always a story.
During a 30-minute visit on Saturday before the Brewers’ 14-2 victory over a Giants split squad at American Family Fields of Phoenix, Uecker’s stories ranged from the time a Milwaukee Braves beat reporter hid inside a trunk in the clubhouse to get a big scoop, only to be discovered when he ran out of oxygen, to the time Vince Lombardi threw Uecker out of the Packers' locker room at County Stadium -- “I was trying to get warm,” Uecker sheepishly told the legendary coach -- to the time Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan hid inside a large stuffed chair in the clubhouse to give Uecker a scare.
Throughout this spring and summer, Uecker will share more stories with a documentary film crew for a project that has been in the works the past few months. Uecker agreed to give the crew access here in Phoenix and throughout the season.
How will they fit all of these stories into one film?
“You know, I asked those guys about that,” he said. “They’ve got so much stuff on me already. They came to me and said, ‘Look, we’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but we didn’t know how to approach you.’ When I met with them, they’re on top of their stuff. They know what they’re doing.
“They said, ‘We should have done this a long time ago. Do you want to do it now?’”
This won’t be the first time that Uecker has graced the screen. After his playing career, he gained fame as a favorite guest of Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show,” which led to opportunities in television on “Mr. Belvedere” and on film in “Major League.” In 2014, MLB Network was nominated for a Sports Emmy Award for the one-hour documentary, “Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker.”
It’s in the clubhouse where he’s most comfortable. It has always been that way.
“I remember when he came for the first time [this spring] two or three weeks ago; I was so happy to see his face,” pitcher Freddy Peralta said after Uecker called his two scoreless innings against the Giants. “That’s what it’s all about. We come here to enjoy each other, enjoy the practice, enjoy the games.”
How does Peralta explain what Uecker’s friendship means to the players, despite a 60-year age gap?
“He is 80-something, and he has high energy every day,” Peralta said. “He brings a happy face every day. He makes you feel the same way. It’s awesome to see him all the time. He’s always going around to our lockers to see what we’re doing and how we’re feeling. It’s great to have him.”
Will Peralta have that same energy when he’s 89? He cracks a huge smile, folds his hands in prayer and looks to the sky.
For some, Spring Training is to broadcasters what it is to hitters: a chance to take some low-pressure at-bats to get the eyes accustomed to the speed of the game.
Then there are the broadcasters and hitters who seem like they can roll out of bed and hit. That’s Uecker.
“I could probably do it in bed, too,” Uecker said.
That sparks a discussion about the differences in Spring Training from the old days to now. When Uecker played for the Braves, Cardinals and Phillies, he held offseason jobs. Even the big stars did. When it came time for Spring Training, players did some running in the outfield and a couple of dumbbell curls, and that was that.
“I think the difference today is these guys work out so much and are together a lot of the time during the offseason,” Uecker said. “In my days, you went to Spring Training and all you did was run.”
Uecker is running toward another season in the booth. He once again will work the Brewers’ home games, with a combination of Jeff Levering, Lane Grindle and Josh Maurer calling games on the road.
Uecker is ready.
“I’m looking forward to getting home, getting back to Milwaukee,” he said. “It’s almost time.”