Until this week, I had never met Dusty Baker. Now, I am a Dusty fan.
I was part of the press corps which respectfully shuffled into the Reds manager's office at Miller Park Monday for a pregame news conference.
And there sat Dusty, a larger than life presence, dwarfing his desk as he marked up a sheet of statistics with a yellow highlighter.
Here was a man managing a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 15 years, now in the midst of a heated divisional race with the perennially tough Cardinals.
Here was a man whose contract was expiring in two months who was told by the Reds' CEO that they'd talk about a new deal soon but that deal still wasn't on the table.
Here was a man facing one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Brewers, who were looking to knock his club out of first place.
So many hot topics for discussion. So how did the Reds skipper start the news conference? He looked around the room, populated with Ohio media until he saw an unfamiliar face, mine.
"How are you all dealing with all the rain you had last week?" Baker asked me.
I then told him about the flooding that ravaged our area. He asked me specific questions about which sections were hit hardest and how everyone was coping. I talked about the water damage and how people had valuable parts of their lives washed away. Dusty listened intently, with a look of genuine concern on his face.
All of this preceded any talk of how to hit against Randy Wolf or putting the recently injured Scott Rolen back in the lineup.
"I was really impressed with him," I said as I related the story to Brewers TV and radio analyst Davey Nelson, a longtime friend of Baker.
"Dusty is first class all the way," Davey said, smiling. "First class."
The Brewers end their series with the Reds today and I sincerely hope they beat Cincinnati, win the series and start a serious run at the division title.
But if Milwaukee falls out of contention, I can tell you who I'll be rooting for.
Dusty Baker knows and deeply cares about baseball. But it's clear he cares about people, sometimes people he doesn't even know, even more.
Before arriving in Wisconsin, Mark was a TV sports director at stations in Greensboro, the Quad Cities and Fort Smith, Arkansas. He got his first job at the ABC affiliate in Syracuse during his junior year at Syracuse University where he majored in TV and Radio at the Newhouse School.
Mark is an avid fan of all sports. He covered the Packers at Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans and has also reported on the Final Four, the Daytona 500, the Rose Bowl, the NLCS and the PGA and U.S. Open golf championships. He covered the GMO for 20 years. Mark played soccer in high school and is a passionate supporter of "The Beautiful Game." One of his greatest experiences was attending a UEFA Champions League game hosted by Real Madrid at Bernabeu Stadium.
Mark was born in Philadelphia but has happily made the transition from cheese steaks to cheese heads and is thrilled to now call Wisconsin home. He is currently president of Concannon Communications LLC and working on projects involving, writing, producing, voice-overs and public relations.