Rocked by strike, O's Tackett rolls into radio stint


October 20, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

Jeff Tackett gets up at 4:30 in the morning -- every weekday morning -- and heads off to his new job, which begins about a half-hour before sunrise.

If not for the lengthy baseball strike, the Orioles' backup catcher might be getting up at the crack of noon, but the work stoppage did not allow him to stop working. It forced him to consider some career alternatives.

Is this a ballplayer's nightmare, or what?

Not exactly. Tackett just went from everyone's dream job to the job of his dreams. Baseball's heavy-metal catcher is now one of 98 Rock's early morning radio personalities. He is teaming up with DJ Steve Ash (Stash to his thousands of friends) for four hours of hard-driving, drive-time rock 'n' roll.

Tackett is one of hundreds of players trying to cope with the

uncertainty of baseball's mean season, but he appears to be on a different wavelength.

"I love it," Tackett said. "My first priority is to get back into baseball, to get the strike over with. But I'd definitely like to get into radio."

He has done that, if only on a temporary basis. Between sets, Tackett and Ash trade musical insights and talk a little baseball, proving that even Baltimore's counterculture loves the Orioles. It is a one-week gig that is going on a month.

"He's getting good at it," Ash said, just after he introduced a set that included Van Halen, the Rolling Stones and Counting Crows. "He's totally chillin'."

It can't be easy to chill out, under the circumstances. Tackett wasn't exactly making millions when the players went on strike in August. He can get by for a few months on payments from the union strike fund, but there is no guarantee that he'll ever draw another major-league paycheck.

That would be true even if the players were not on strike. Such is the life of a light-hitting backup catcher. Tackett faces the possibility of a career change every spring, so the week-to-week contract with 98 Rock is business as usual.

"During the strike, I started thinking about what I could do for a job," Tackett said. "This kind of fell into place. It was like a dream come true. One minute, you're flipping on your favorite radio station. The next minute, you're in here getting to do this. It's a blast."

The loose FM format even allows for an occasional radio prank. Orioles reliever Alan Mills found that out the hard way last week, when he received a sunrise wake-up call from Tack and Stash.

"We pulled him out of a deep sleep," Tackett said. "Alan was really out of it. He said, 'Call back any time, but not before 12 o'clock.' "

Keeping busy

There is plenty to do. Jeff and Wendy Tackett have three children, the youngest born just a few weeks before the strike began, but Jeff also finds time to help coach an under-10 soccer team in Cockeysville.

In his quest to keep busy -- and to keep his mind off the uncertainty of the labor situation -- he contacted youth soccer coach Steve Brennan and asked if he could help out, even though he does not have a child old enough to participate.

"It's my next-door neighbor's son's team," Tackett said. "It's one practice a week and two games on weekends. I just go out there and ask them [the other coaches] what they want me to do. It's been a lot of fun.

"I like working with kids, so I think this also is a great opportunity, plus I'm having a good time. Hopefully, it will give me a chance to understand what my kids are going to be like."

There are some definite advantages to having a major-league ballplayer on your coaching staff. Instant credibility. Undivided attention. Increased interest. There also are some minor drawbacks.

"There is one thing," Brennan said. "My son, Jesse, who plays in high school and helps me coach the team, came up to me after practice one day and said, 'Dad, ever since Jeff's been here, everybody seems to have learned how to spit.' "

Plenty to worry about

Tackett does not spend a lot of time worrying, or at least he doesn't own up to it. His entire major-league career, dating to September 1991, has been a study in uncertainty, from the yearly competition for the No. 2 catching role to the year-long challenge of adjusting to his limited playing time. He has learned to roll with the punches.

"Hopefully, I'll have a long [baseball] career," Tackett said, "but every year, there is that uncertainty. I have to prove myself every year. But I never worried about making a team. I just make sure that every day I can go home saying that I've done my best. Hopefully, that's good enough."

If it isn't, there is always radio or coaching or some other way to make a living. Tackett is a blue-collar player who apparently isn't afraid to work a blue-collar job if his baseball career runs aground.

"I don't mind working," he said. "I've worked my whole life. I used to work construction in the off-season. I'm not too proud to work. I'll do anything."

Wendy Tackett says she feels the same way, but she does worry. How can you have three preschool kids and a husband on strike and not worry about the future?

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