ALL ABOUT THE Z

10 questions for Lance Zierlein as he's back home on sports talk radio with John Granato

Lance Zierlein is back with John Granato. GOW MEDIA

This story originally appeared on CultureMap/Houston.

Thomas Wolfe was wrong – you can go home again.

For Lance Zierlein, home is on the radio with longtime co-hosting partner John Granato, and their reunion takes place this morning (November 27) on sports talk stations ESPN97.5 FM and SportsMap 94.1 FM.

Zierlein and Granato previously teamed with ratings success from 1997 to 2007 on KILT 610 AM, and from 2007 to 2011 on KGOW 1560 AM. Zierlein worked with a revolving door of co-hosts on KBME 790 AM between 2011 and 2017.

Zierlein is best known for his pro football insights, backyard cooking exploits and outlandish parody characters like “SEC Guy,” “Coach Slocum on a Mobile,” and “Tony ‘The Hatchet Man’ Valentine.” He also provides college draft analysis for the NFL Network, writes a blog, does a podcast and chases five kids at home. What does he do in his spare time? Trick question, he has no spare time.

Zierlein and Granato will host “The Bench” weekdays from 7-9 am on 97.5 FM. They will be joined by Raheel Ramzanali from 9-10 am, simulcast on 97.5 FM and 94.1 FM.

I caught up with Zierlein last week for 10 fast Q’s and A’s.

1.  What exactly is it about the John and Lance pairing that clicks?

Lance Zierlein: That's an interesting one because I never quite found that click my entire time at 790. I think part of it is because when we got started, John and I were idealistic and more fun-oriented than radio-oriented. We didn't do a show that sounded like it was constructed at a broadcasting school. Because of this lack of standard format, we were able to be ourselves and just do what felt like fun.

2.  Do you listen to sports talk radio?

LZ: Not really. Not anymore. Now I will occasionally tune in if there is a big event happening. But I find most shows to be lacking energy and somewhat boring. It's probably not a fair assessment since the only time I listen is when I'm in my car, and that isn't for very long on most days.

3.  Do your kids think it's cool that Dad is on radio? Do they want you to come to Career Day at school?

LZ: They love that I'm on radio and were pretty angry at me for leaving 790, but mostly it was because the station had a pool table and video games. As for Career Day, my kids tested into a school with very bright kids who have accomplishment-driven parents and a love for things other than sports. I'm sure I would be dead in the water as soon as one of them hit me with "So all you do is talk? That's it?"

4.  You've gained a reputation as a foodie. If you were sentenced to die in prison — and let’s face it, that’s only a matter of time  — what would be your last meal?

LZ: I would ask Seth and Terrance from Pass & Provisions to create a 40-course taste menu and drag that thing out as long as possible.

5.  Sports and politics have become intertwined like never before. Good thing or bad?

LZ: Up to this point, I would say it hasn't been great. We've seen it happen in various instances in the past, and those instances became iconic and meaningful. However, I worry that politics is much less civil than it's ever been, and the idea that good will come from this rather than more divisiveness seems unlikely. I understand why the platform is important but it just seems like the addition of social media has turned sports and politics into a powder keg.

6.  Is there a trick to guaranteeing you’ll get hot French fries at McDonald’s?

LZ: This may just be a myth that I learned from a next-door neighbor in Pecan Grove growing up (I think that's who it was), but he said to order them with no salt. That way they have to make a fresh batch.

7.  Give me your five favorite albums of all time.

LZ: My favorite music is usually directly to memorable times, so they vary based on what I was doing at that time and what my mood was. Also worth noting, with everything going digital, I rarely get entire albums these days, just songs I like. So, in no order —Straight Outta Compton by NWA, Fly or Die by N.E.R.D., Ego Death by The Internet, Urban Flora by Alina Baraz, and Chet Baker's Greatest Hits by Chet Baker.

8.  Describe the photos you had on your bedroom wall when you were a kid.

LZ: There was one of Michael Jackson in a sweet yellow vest with white pants and a white shirt. This was Michael with the early curl. I think he was between Off the Wall and Thriller in this poster. Other than that, I had a two Phi Slamma Jamma posters, a Magic Johnson poster, a football poster called "Speedsters" with a bunch of receivers on it, a Clyde Drexler poster and I think an Isaiah Thomas poster for some unknown reason. I didn't even like him.

9.  Who was the best guest you ever had on the air … and the worst? Describe an interview that went off the tracks.

LZ: The best guest was when we had comedian Patrice O'Neal on location at Nick's Place while at 1560 AM. He was a huge sports fan and we talked about him growing up as a black Celtics fan. We talked about what was going on with LeBron James at the time. We talked about football, about comedy, about relationships. It was very organic and fantastic radio in my opinion. I've listened to it several times since then and still think it's great. Unfortunately, Patrice passed away a couple of years ago.

The worst interview we had was at 610 AM, when ESPN first started its magazine. They asked if we wanted to have a college football writer on and we said yes. We started asking him about Big 12 teams like Texas and Texas A&M (who were not powerhouses at that time) and he didn't know anything about them. We kept him on for maybe four minutes before letting him go.

As for off the rails, we had comedian Tracy Morgan in studio to promote his show and we never had any control at any point. It was literally 20 minutes of stream of consciousness, with Tracy talking about dice games between super heroes, child support, bar fights and getting people at our office pregnant.

10.  Why do you think it's so difficult for an offensive lineman to switch from right guard to left guard? I realize that the positions are totally different. In one, you have to block the guy in front of you, and in the other, you have to block the guy in front of you. No wonder nobody's ever really made a successful transition.

LZ: Well, the guard switch isn't so hard, Ken, but the tackle switch sure can be. When you are used to kick sliding with your right foot for years, it’s like writing right-handed. There is muscle memory involved. Do you just expect a righthander to be able to suddenly write lefthanded? Obviously not.

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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