Mariners' announcer Sims built dream career on hope, hard work
Dave Sims is one of four African-American play-by-play announcers in MLB
From calling stickball games as a kid, Sims never took his eye off his dream job
He got the Mariners' job with recommendations from friends like Mike Krzyzewski
Over the years, I'd seen Dave Sims' face pop up on my TV screen. One time he was covering track and field at the Seoul Olympics. The next, he was broadcasting college hoops in Syracuse. Another time I spotted him anchoring a local sportscast in New York, and one Sunday I swore I saw him reporting from the sidelines at an NFL game.
In the mid-1980s, Sims and I had sweated out the intense deadlines together on a local TV newscast in Philadelphia. He was a part-time sports anchor and reporter; I was the sports producer. He was a talented, bright, down-to-earth guy, fun to work with, every producer's dream. After racing through countless scores, highlights and features for the 11 p.m. news, we'd head for our homes on a dark, clanking, deserted commuter train and critique the night's work: "The other stations led with the Phillies ... maybe we should have." "We kicked ass on the Dr. J story." And we'd talk about our families. We were in our early 30s and were both new fathers. And we fantasized about our careers. We were restless. I wanted to work for the networks; he dreamed of doing baseball play-by-play on TV.
I hadn't done much thinking about Sims lately, until he showed up as a friend of a friend on Facebook. My memory went into overdrive as I typed a "What's up?" message to him. Within five minutes I got a reply . "Hey, Dude," it read. "I'm doing play-by-play for the Seattle Mariners and loving it." OK, that's why I hadn't seen him for a while. But how had he nailed down his dream job? One Facebook message led to another, and I gradually learned the answer. It had taken Sims more than 30 years to get there. It had taken twists, turns and bumps in the road ... and never saying never.
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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 , Mike Claiborne (St. Louis Cardinals) and Eric Collins (Los Angeles Dodgers road games) -- never played baseball professionally. Ken Singleton, a former All-Star outfielder, does occasional play-by-play for the Yankees. But that's it. Sims, now 55 and in his third year with the Mariners, has built his career brick by brick with the help of a strong foundation, but without much of a blueprint. "This is something I've wanted for more than 30 years, something I've worked hard for, and something I thought might never happen for me," he says.
Former Washington Redskins tight end turned broadcaster Rick (Doc) Walker knows whereof Sims speaks. "Back in the late 80's and early 90's, when [Sims] was coming up, there were no African-Americans doing play-by-play in baseball," says Walker, who has worked with Sims on NFL broadcasts on Westwood One radio. "If you were black, you might get an opportunity to do color analysis, especially if you were an ex-player." (Walker, who is black, says that when he heard that Sims had gotten the Mariners job, he got so excited that he nearly jumped out of his seat.)
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 Mike Blowers, a former major leaguer . "He's a great play-by-play guy, he always knows how to set the table for me, and I've never met anyone who knows as much about sports as Sims. The other day, Dave and [Mariners pitcher] Jarrod Washburn were on the field before the game talking about Wisconsin Badgers football. The guys love talking with him about things besides baseball."
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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 ... By Saam and then Bill Campbell. I loved listening to them. They made me feel like I was right there."
For Sims and his younger brother, Don, the love of baseball was a birthright. Their dad, Ulysses (Pop) Sims, was an ambitious, hard-nosed third baseman on his post office softball team and a guy who took his sports seriously. "He was a total sports fanatic," says Don with a laugh. "Going with Pop to see the Phillies play was a thrill." The best games, recalls Sims, were when the Dodgers, Giants or Braves came to town: "For those games, there were a ton of blacks in the stands. The Dodgers had black players like Junior Gilliam and Maury Wills, the Giants had the 'Say Hey Kid,' Willie Mays [Sims' favorite all-time player], and the Braves had three blacks in the outfield: Hammerin' Hank [Aaron], Wes Covington and Billy Bruton in center." And, in 1963, the Phillies had their first black superstar, Richie (later called Dick) Allen, who the next season would be National League Rookie of the Year. "He was blasting moonshot home runs in every direction," Sims recalls. "We loved going to the ballpark."