When not talking baseball, these MLB Network analysts are usually on golf course

(Michael Clements/USA TODAY Sports)

When not talking baseball, these MLB Network analysts are usually on golf course

Golf

When not talking baseball, these MLB Network analysts are usually on golf course

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – “Can you announce me, please?” Kevin Millar asked as he stepped onto the first tee at Tranquilo Golf Club.

Dan Plesac adopted a booming, first-tee announcer’s voice: “Now on the tee, from the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, resident of Austin, Texas, the real 1-5, Kevin Millar.”

Millar piped his drive down the right side of the fairway with a short, powerful swing that was vaguely reminiscent of the stroke he used during a 12-year career in the major leagues.

It was the final day of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, but Millar and Plesac were doing exactly what they would be doing if this were a typical day during the regular season: starting their mornings on the golf course. The only thing they were missing was colleague Mark DeRosa, who was confined to his hotel room, logging a short stint on the DL after contracting a virus.

After golf – effectively a practice round before returning a month later for the Diamond Resorts Invitational at Tranquilo – Millar and Plesac would shoot an MLB Network promo on the practice range, then return to their hotel by lunch so that they could prepare for their shows later that day. Truth is, they could have headed home early. The free-agent and trade markets were as cold as a December night in Secaucus, N.J., home to MLB Network, and didn’t start to thaw until two months later, at the arrival of spring training.

Ah, spring training – Plesac’s favorite time of year. At the Winter Meetings, he already was dreaming of escaping the New Jersey winter to shoot the network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” previews. Shooting would start early, he’d wrap it up by 2 p.m., he’d be on the first tee by 3 p.m. and play until dark.

 

• • •

When you turn on MLB Network this season, chances are you’re going to see DeRosa in the mornings on “MLB Central,” Millar on the afternoon yuk-fest “Intentional Talk,” and Plesac, as befits a three-time All-Star reliever, closing out the daily coverage on “MLB Tonight.”

Taken together, they are the snapshot of a winning team. DeRosa was the heady Ivy Leaguer who built a 16-year career out of a high on-base percentage and the ability to play all over the diamond. Millar was the undrafted grinder who became a cornerstone of the Red Sox team that ended the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino.” Plesac was the first-rounder with the electric left arm, pumping high-90s heat years before that became commonplace.

When they’re at MLB Network, they spend as much time talking birdies and bogeys as they do balls and strikes. The conversation gets ratcheted up when Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who carries a +2.1 handicap index, is working in the studio and joining the daily golf games.

“We all talk golf in the office,” said Greg Amsinger, Plesac’s frequent sidekick on “MLB Tonight.” “We can’t stop talking golf. All of these guys care about each other’s golf games.”

• • •

Their love of golf has been infectious.

“Dan Plesac is the reason I play golf today,” Amsinger said.

Both are 6-foot-5 left-handers who, as Amsinger said, “finish each other’s sentences.” One difference between the two men: Amsinger didn’t used to play golf. But every day Amsinger would listen to Plesac talk about his golf game. Then he’d watch Plesac work well into the wee hours of the morning, analyzing the late games, and still be first off the tee at Upper Montclair Country Club the next morning.

“He couldn’t care less about how much sleep he gets because he’s just so excited to play,” Amsinger said.

Finally, five years ago, Amsinger decided to give golf a try.

“Now I’m obsessed with it,” he said. “I’m a member at Montclair Golf Club. Dan’s at Upper Montclair. I did it specifically so I could play as a guest at his place, and he could play as a guest at my place.”

Plesac logged 125 rounds in 2017. He walks rather than rides and uses the time to come up with some of his best material.

“Other guys are thinking about their bank accounts and their wife and kids, and I’m thinking, ‘I have to come up with a nickname for this guy,’ ” he said.

His “Kung Fu Panda” routine spoofing San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval? He came up with that on the golf course. Same with his hilarious tribute to Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer.

“I was walking and thinking, ‘Max? Max? Hey, Chief, it’s Maxwell Smart,’ ” he said, holding an imaginary shoe phone to his head and mimicking actor Don Adams’ nasally tone. Fans sometimes stop him, ask him for a selfie and insist that he hold his shoe up to his ear.

Plesac began his 18-year MLB career with the Milwaukee Brewers, whose biggest stars, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, were avid golfers. Plesac played throughout his career but got more serious about the game after joining MLB Network. Tired of erratic play, he took 12 lessons in March 2012.

“It was a game-changer,” he said.

During the winter, you sometimes can find him beating balls in Golf Galaxy or PGA Tour Superstore, trying to maintain his 4.7 index.

“I wouldn’t want to do anything if I couldn’t do it well,” he said. “I wouldn’t have fun sucking at something.”

 

Dan Plesac (Michael Clements/USA TODAY Sports)

• • •

Just as Amsinger often serves as Plesac’s straight man, Chris Rose fills that same role with the frenetic Millar on “Intentional Talk.”

“He is high energy, he is all over the place,” Rose said. “For an hour a day, what you see is what you get the other 23. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I say don’t change. Because the minute you start changing, our show is done.”

Golf finds its way into many of the shows. Like a well-traveled veteran ballplayer, Millar seems to have met everyone in golf and always has a story to share. Rose offers a tip: “Ask Kevin about his great Sergio Garcia story.”

In March 2017, Garcia, who married Angela Akins of Austin, was playing at the University of Texas Golf Club, where Millar maintains a 3.0 handicap. Garcia asked Millar’s son and a friend if he could join them for a few holes, then gave the kids some swing tips.

After Garcia got knocked out of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play the next week, the two men and Andy Roddick played at Spanish Oaks Golf Club. Garcia gave Millar and Roddick 10 strokes and waxed them.

“They don’t miss, all they do is dodge birdies,” Millar said of Tour pros.

When Garcia subsequently won the Masters, Millar texted him a message: We need to make this an annual thing. I’m your good-luck charm.

“Now I’m a Sergio groupie,” Millar joked.

Millar, of course, has his own Augusta National story. Last year he flew in a neighbor’s jet to Augusta and shot 79 after hitting the pin on 18 and making birdie, and was back home in Austin for dinner.

“I went to a Mexican restaurant, had a margarita, came home and said, ‘This might have been the greatest day in history,’ ” he recalled.

Like something out of his Red Sox past, Millar became infamous in the New York press in August 2016 after inviting Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to play at Manhattan Woods Golf Club.

“We had a great day, laughing, good dude,” Millar said.

Cespedes won by two shots, and Millar tweeted a photo of he and a smiling Cespedes holding the scorecard. He woke up the next morning to find that photo splashed across the New York tabloids because Cespedes had re-aggravated a right quad strain the previous night, leading to a trip to the DL.

 

Kevin Millar (Michael Clements/USA TODAY Sports)

• • •

Needless to say, Millar found the whole kerfuffle amusing. He seems to find humor in everything. He has to in order to fit in at MLB Network, which does regular deep dives into sabermetrics but never loses sight of the fact that it’s covering a game.

That’s perhaps most evident on the morning show, “MLB Central,” which is what you get when you cross “MLB Now” with “Saturday Night Live.” It’s alternately smart and zany, serious and irreverent. In other words, it’s right in DeRosa’s happy zone. As his senior producer, Mark Capalbo, said, DeRosa might spend one segment breaking down the swing of Yankees first baseman Greg Bird, then come back from the commercial break playing a construction worker or doctor in a skit.

“There’s not one show or one segment that he takes off,” Capalbo said. “He’s full throttle every day.”

Capalbo got a sense of that one night when he got a call from DeRosa, who had played golf after wrapping up his morning show. Normally DeRosa already would have been home watching games, but his car had broken down on the highway. DeRosa didn’t call Capalbo for a ride.

“All he wanted to know was what happened in the first hour of the games,” Capalbo said.

DeRosa played golf occasionally as a teenager but fell in love with the game when he started his 16-year major-league career with the Atlanta Braves in the late 1990s. The Braves were a team that proved golf and baseball could form a beautiful marriage. The Braves pitchers would lock down opponents at night, then be on the first tee in the morning.

Smoltz was the unquestioned ringleader. On road trips he would send out word that a car would be waiting outside the hotel at 7:30 a.m. for teammates looking for a game.

“I got to play the nicest tracks, while not being such a good golfer,” DeRosa recalled. A three-day visit to Pittsburgh might mean golf at Oakmont. Philadelphia? Pine Valley, naturally.

DeRosa’s action can be long and loose, a little like his former Atlanta teammate Gary Sheffield cranking his bat behind his head before unleashing an all-or-nothing swing.

“Everybody tells me I have to shorten my swing,” DeRosa said after the first round of the Diamond Resorts Invitational in January. “It just doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t want to take the athleticism out of what I’m trying to accomplish.”

But at the 2017 Diamond Resorts Invitational, DeRosa had what he calls “my come-to-Jesus moment. I came here and lost it – completely lost it. I didn’t know where the golf ball was going.”

So he did what any ballplayer would do: He found a coach and worked on his swing. He sharpened his game, and that carried over to his work.

“It didn’t take long until his mood improved in the meetings,” Capalbo noted.
As every ballplayer knows, nothing beats busting out of a slump. Gwk

(Note: This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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