After finishing his baseball career as a pitcher, where he starred for Grace College in Indiana back in the '90s, Rob Fai worked in the Nat Bailey concessions, before working his way through the Vancouver broadcasting ranks.
He was on the Team 1040 with Bob aka the Moj, covered the Grizzlies, did Color Commentary for the Canadians, and most recently held a position with Team 1040 on weekends, and of course has been the Canadians Media Relations Director, and Broadcaster for three seasons, 2001, 2007 and 2008.
Fai had the privilege to broadcast all 76 baseball games this past summer, and Nat Notes caught up with him during his brief off-season, earlier in the month. Here is the second annual, ‘Interview with the Nation’.
Jeremy Knight: How was the 2008 season, having called all 76 games for the C’s in the summer?
Rob Fai: I really enjoyed it. You come to find a unique appreciation for what these players take on day in and day out. As much as the players, I also gained an appreciation for the coaching staff and what they manage in an average work day. They are essentially responsible for the development of 40-50 players over the course of the season - and as much as managers and coaches at the lower levels are simply told to observe and make small changes, believe me - there is so much more to that than meets the naked eye. I think players don’t realize just how much their demeanor goes into their fate as well. A positive attitude can go a long way, a negative one goes a long way as well, just in the wrong direction.
JK: I think you’re as good a man as any to answer this question, after being the color commentator for the Canadians back in the late-Triple-A days, would Triple-A baseball survive in Vancouver this time around? Rumors have been circulating that BC Place could be an option, after it gets a retractable roof. What are your thoughts?
RF: Would Triple-A baseball work? I would like to think so. I don’t think it was the fans that caused this former Triple-A Canadians to head for higher ground (Sacramento), I think it is the responsibility of everyone to make sure a team at that level can thrive in a marker as large as Vancouver’s. The city has to be on board, the Park Board, the ownership, the business sector, the fans, and the building they play in. It all has to work in sync with each other to make it truly work. That is something that I would assume will get looked at again one day, but for the ‘here and now’, I don’t know if those stars all align.
JK : You were the media man with Vancouver back in 2001, and then in ‘07 and ‘08. Is it cool seeing Rich Harden tearing up the National League, after striking out 100 in Vancouver back in ‘01, and turning on Sportsnet and seeing Neal Cotts, Dan Johnson and Harden all performing well in the Major Leagues?
RF: I cannot tell you the joy I gain from seeing former Vancouver Canadians weave their way through the Minor Leagues and find their spot on a Major League roster. But as much as I admire what Rich Harden has done at the Major League level, I am equally impressed with the player who goes back to school during the off-season to try and finish up a degree. I think a lot of this game is chance, and I am always impressed by the player who is alert enough to know that whether it works or not, he better have a Plan B.
JK: Speaking of that ‘01 team, a tragedy happened almost five years ago, when RHP Mike Frick was hit by a drunk driver, and passed away. What was Mike like to be around back in 2001?
RF: Gosh, I can still remember where I was when I got that news. I had just woken up and turned my computer on and got an e-mail from a friend of mine asking if this was the same ‘Mike Frick’ that had played for the C’s a year or so back. Attached to the e-mail was an article about his passing. I was heartbroken. Mike was a true gentleman who just happened to have an arm kissed by a god. I remain sad for his family and those who had the chance to cross paths with Mike. Our ‘08 Hitting Coach, J.T. Stotts, was a very close friend of Mike’s, so much so that Mike was J.T.’s best man when he got married. J.T. still has a tattoo just under the back of his neck that has Mike’s 38 on it.
JK: Baseball in British Columbia took a huge step forward this year, six years after Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis were selected in the Top 10 of the Major League draft. 3B/C Brett Lawrie was a first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Langley native has now signed a professional contract, after he played for Canada at the Olympics in Beijing. With guys like Lawrie all across Canada, and being a former Team Canada prospect yourself, how has baseball in Canada changed over the last, even 10-15 years?
RF: Dramatically, perhaps more in its perception than the level of talent. I think back in the day, there was lot of wonderful talent, but the perception of our National Program was that they hadn’t competed at a high enough level consistently enough to garner the same respect as a handful of other countries fighting for respect (Australia, Mexico, etc.) I think the world got a taste of the future with our National Junior Program back in the early to mid '90s, especially when Canada won gold at the World Junior Championships in Brandon, something no Canadian team had ever accomplished. Combine that with the National Baseball Institute and John Haar’s efforts, the ABC (A's prospect Mathieu LeBlanc Poirier’s old stomping grounds), and the game at the grass roots levels, and you eventually saw the program as a whole gain respect it had been missing for some time.
JK: How cool is it to go to work everyday and see guys like Tim Raines, a future Hall-of-Famer, and Fergie Jenkins, the only Canadian in Cooperstown?
RF: I think the Superstar Series (Raines, Hart, Jenkins and Famous Chicken) was one of my highlights of the season. As the PR guy, I am the one running around with them from A to B to C. My favorite memory was picking Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart up from the hotel. I waited in the lobby for 10 minutes before he emerged from the elevator. I saw him, he saw me and I guided him to the car. He was talking on his cell phone from the minute I made eye contact at the hotel, until we were about 10 minutes into the car ride up to the stadium. I am listening to his conversation, and he finally turns to me, looks at me and says "You’re Rob right?" I said yes with a smirk, as I thought to myself, "This guy got into a car with a complete stranger and 10 minutes in decides to ask if he got into the right car."
I loved Tim Raines, Ferguson Jenkins, Bret Hart and the Chicken, but my favorite star encounter was meeting and interviewing former Toronto Blue Jay and New York Yankee Jesse Barfield. Growing up in Toronto, Jesse, along with George Bell and Lloyd Mosby were the eptiome of greatness for a child who loved baseball. So, some 20 years later, to be sitting beside one of my childhood idols chatting with Jesse was unforgettable.
JK: This year, C’s fans saw a remarkable change of pace for southpaw Carlos Hernandez, who went from having a 10+ ERA in 2007 with Vancouver to finishing the year with Stockton, and after three different levels of baseball in less than two months, he didn’t have an ERA at any level over 2.30. Have you ever witnessed such a dramatic turnaround in baseball?
RF: That might be the most significant as far as stats go. Many forget that in ‘07 Carlos battled a handful of injuries - so for me, it wasn’t so much a turn-around as it was a statement to the A’s organization that he was healthy and committed. In ‘07, I think even Carlos would admit he was a bit of a slacker as far as his work ethic and body composition were concerned. But he really committed himself this past off-season, and it obviously showed.
The most impressive turn-around for me this season, was the emergence of LHP Pedro Figueroa. The wins and losses at this level are misleading. I think when Pedro was on, he was as dominant as anyone in the NWL. A far cry from his ‘07 outings where he was erratic, inconsistent and with less velocity and control. I think Pedro has one more year to really make a statement, and I hope he does.
JK: Having been the C’s color commentator back in the days when Shaw would broadcast Canadians games, is there any chance Shaw will broadcast Canadians games in the future?
RF: Shaw right now is looking to do more local sports, but their price points are a little high. We’d love to do TV again, but we aren’t ready to sell the farm to simply have a handful of games on TV. We are looking at other web-based options. We thought we could get the TV up for ‘08, but a few hitches came in late and threw it on the back-burner until ‘09.
JK: Owners Jake Kerr and Jeff Mooney have turned around the Canadians organization, to say the least. Being apart of the staff that now works under Kerr, Mooney and Team President Andy Dunn, how much different is it working for Vancouver now, than it was in 2001?
RF: For me, that’s hard to say only because my skillset was so much greener in ‘01. When I came back in ‘07, I had six more years of media under my belt. Six more years to understand the needs of the media, the organization, and those around me. I wasn’t trying to get my foot in the door the second time around. This time I came in prepared, focused and ready to implement a number of things I felt the C’s needed. As far as the personnel goes? With all due respect to the old regime, there is no comparison at all. This group of Kerr, Mooney and Dunn are as good as any I have ever been witness to. They are Major League caliber.
Fred (Herrmann) was more into the Mom and Pop philosophy - where it was nickle and dime and try to make a buck or two, it was a small marker frame of mind in a city that had so much more to offer.
With this new ownership group who is local, experienced in this market, and very deep routed in the community - you can see it as clear as day, that the local business sector, fans and Oakland are all thrilled with this direction this club is going. The comparison from ‘01 to now? From a Ford Topaz to an Aston Martin…
Note: This interview also appeared on the blog "Notes from the Nat," which can be found at http://www.natnotes.com.