Mariners' announcer Sims built dream career on hope, hard work
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Dave Sims is a rarity in pro sports: an African-American who does major league baseball play-by-play. There are only four among the 30 teams. Three -- Sims ,
Former Washington Redskins tight end turned broadcaster
Nevertheless, Sims kept his eyes on the prize. He did whatever it took to stay in the game: working every sport and crazy hours, rushing through airports, sleeping in strange hotels, being away on weekends. Now, finally, his lengthy résumé is viewed as a bonus. "He's done all the local stuff, broadcast track and field at the Olympics, does pro football in the winter, he's done NCAA basketball, he's done everything," says Mariners color analyst
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For young Dave Sims, the dream began taking shape on warm nights in North Philadelphia during the summer of 1958. Baseball was his first love. "The house we grew up in was about a five-minute walk from Connie Mack Stadium at 21st St. and Lehigh [home of the Philadelphia Phillies until 1971] and our grandparents lived even closer," he recalls. "We went to lots of games, and when we didn't, we would still see the crowds walking towards the stadium. We could see the lights and all game long we would hear the cheers and the boos." But Sims didn't only hear the rabid Phillies' fans. He'd lie awake at night and listen to the Phillies' voices of summer paint pictures of the games on his transistor radio. "We had classic baseball guys calling the games ...
For Sims and his younger brother,
Throw in trips to smoky Convention Hall to see the Warriors'
Being a fan came naturally, Sims says. But the idea of one day describing the action was literally a boyhood dream. "There were these two guys I played ball with at the local playground, Frankie and Anthony," Sims says. "They were both black kids. And when we played stickball, they'd do the play-by-play, doing their best to imitate the voices of the [white] Phillies announcers ...' 3 and 2 count, here comes the pitch, Sims with the swing and a miss, he struck 'em out!' they'd shout. "Frankie and Anthony probably have no idea what they set in motion, but I owe them a debt of gratitude. They got me thinking: Maybe I can do this kind of thing."
But for black kids in 1967 Philadelphia, pursuing a dream meant overcoming barriers. White kids typically got the best citywide opportunities and education. Black kids stayed in their own neighborhoods. Dave Sims had gotten a "knock down the walls" message at home. "My mom and pop told us we could be anything that we wanted if we worked hard," he says. Buoyed by his good grades and athletic prowess, Sims was offered a scholarship to the prestigious Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. The private, all-male prep school was only a few miles from his home, but a million miles from his world. Sims starred in football and baseball at Chestnut Hill and, looking back, calls the school the turning point of his life. "I think I was one of only three black kids in the upper schooI," he says. "I learned how to get along with kids who didn't look like me and I was encouraged to grow and look ahead. To this day, I'm still best friends with some of those guys."
One of those guys recently reminded him that in high school, Sims was already providing a preview of his future. "He remembered that I did impersonations and play-by-play of our ping-pong games in the student lounge," Sims says, chuckling. "I must have been practicing on those guys. On my high school yearbook page someone, referring to two iconic Flyers broadcasters, wrote: 'Ambition
Four years later, Sims had earned a dual degree in mass communications and English from Bethany (W. Va.) College , where he had immersed himself in sports and writing. "Man, I did everything," he says. "Sports editor for the school paper, executive producer for the campus radio station, play-by-play for football and basketball, and I even ran the public address system at games. " And in the summers he covered soccer ("I didn't know a thing about it when I started!") and football as an intern at the
"Each February, when the team schedule comes out, we sit down and figure out where Dave will be each weekend," Abby says. Then, every Thursday afternoon, from the beginning of April through the end of September, Abby leaves early from her job at the New York physical therapy firm where she's a partner and heads to the airport. "I travel every weekend during the season to wherever he is," she says. "It's good for both of us ... helps to keep him grounded and sane. His job is all-consuming and at least he gets to experience a little life outside of baseball." The Sims also rent an apartment in Seattle, about five minutes from Safeco Field.
"Abby's been a godsend," Sims says of his wife of 27 years. "I haven't spent a lot of weekends at home in a long, long time."
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It was while at the
Sims got the audition, landed the job and launched
But Sims never stopped looking. While he was at WFAN, NBC Sports selected him to cover track and field at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. It was an enormous boost to his career. "Those were the games that had
When the Games ended, Sims returned to New York and a meeting that would ultimately alter the arc of his career. "The
In the years that followed, Sims seemed to be everywhere. He hosted a Phillies pregame show, reported on baseball and college basketball for ESPN, and co-hosted a weekly radio show with Duke basketball coach
"This guy has honed his talent over time and he's really a great broadcaster," says NFL color analyst
In return, Trumpy, ever the needler, can't resist aiming a gentle barb at his buddy. "Sims was so prepared you couldn't believe it," he jokes. "He'd bring in color-coded charts, magic markers. I've never seen anyone bring so much stuff into the announcer booth. It got so crowded, I didn't have any room to work." Sims still works the Sunday night games when the baseball season is over.
In 2006, while Sims was making the most of his crowded career ("parachuting in for games," was what one of his colleagues called it), he got an audition for the job he had dreamed about as a kid in Philly. The Mariners conducted extensive interviews. At first Sims was one of 12 candidates, then one of six, then in the final two -- until he was the only one left standing. His final test was a lengthy chat with the team's longtime broadcasting voice,
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Before each Mariners game, Sims starts the broadcast with a five-minute open -- "Doing the 'Hi, how are ya's' and the starting lineups," as he describes it -- then joins play-by-play man
Live broadcasts aren't the only nerve-janglers for Sims. The Mariners set a major league record in 2008 by flying more than 56,000 miles. "It's a job that's not for the weak-minded," offers Rizzs. "It's the old cliché ... it's a marathon, not a sprint, and it can be a major grind. You better love what you're doing."
No way is it a grind for Sims, who savors each moment. "Every day the whole game evolves right in front of your eyes, up close and personal," he says. And he loves the contact with fans and players, especially the Mariners' future Hall of Famer,
Even though Sims has made it to "the Show," he's still the same down-to-earth guy I knew way back when. He still loves listening to the classic announcers, like the ones he used to hear on his transistor radio. "My favorite is
Now Dave Sims inspires others. I was thinking about that and our late-night train rides and smiled to myself: Wow, he's living the dream. And I was thinking that Sims' former colleague