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Metro Detroit

August 14, 2013

Inside the Tigers booth

A conversation with Detroit Tigers broadcaster Dan Dickerson

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

Dan Dickerson

In a four-week series, C & G Newspapers is publishing interviews with broadcasters from all four of Detroit’s professional sports teams.

In this third installment, Oakland County resident Dan Dickerson, the Detroit Tigers play-by-play voice for WXYT-FM 97.1 The Ticket, discusses topics such as some of his favorite ballparks to visit, what kind of music he likes to listen to and his assessment of the Tigers’ chances this season.

Do you remember how old you were when you realized you wanted to get into play-by-play work?
I had Strat-O-Matic baseball when I was 10 years old, which is a card game that has real players and a dice game. I remember announcing those games in my basement. … I remember having a blast. I remember telling my mom I was going to be the next Brent Musburger, who was the big name, still is, in TV broadcasting. I guess I never thought being the next Ernie Harwell was realistic. I always liked it. I got hooked on it in college — a tiny little college radio station — and if you showed up, you got an air shift. I volunteered to do football play-by-play and basketball play-by-play, and I was hooked. I loved it.

You had all those people growing up listening to Ernie Harwell, (and) now you’re that voice of the Tigers that so many people are (going to) grow up listening to. Does that ever hit home for you?
When people say, ‘I grew up listening to Ernie; my kids are growing up listening to you,’ I think that’s a pretty neat thing — I really do. People call it the soundtrack of summer, and I think that’s very, very true. It seems to me, more than almost any other sport, is that it was kind of handed down from one generation to the other. People listen to the games on radio. We don’t have a lot of portable radios anymore, but people can listen on their phones, on their computers, in their cars — so people obviously still do. I think it’s a really neat thing because I can remember so many moments that I remember exactly where I was when Ernie called those moments. That’s a neat thing, and if there’s some young kids growing up who have those same kind of memories, and a connection, especially with family, is special.

What’s your favorite city to visit and what’s your favorite ballpark to visit?
I always kind of tie the two together because when you travel, unless my family’s on the road, I’m not doing a whole lot in the way of touristy stuff around the city. Minnesota’s become a real favorite. I like the Midwest.  I’m bias. That’s one of the No. 1 ballparks on my list right now. That’s one of the top three, if not the top. With the ballpark they put together, that whole trip has changed. The Metrodome was one of my least favorites. Seattle’s terrific. Boston’s a lot of fun. I love walking into Fenway Park; the sights remind me of Tiger Stadium, which is pretty neat. Those are right up at the top. I like Cleveland’s ballpark — I like Progressive Field a lot. Off the top of my head, those are my top places to visit, and again, I always tie the city with the ballpark. There are a lot of good cities we go to. The ballpark is where you’re spending most of your time; that’s why I always tied it together with how well I like the ballpark. There aren’t really any dud ballparks anymore — I mean, the Metrodome was a dud.

If you just had one movie to take (on a road trip), which one would it be?
That’s a hard one. I like all the “Batman Returns,” “Batman Rises” movies. I do a lot of watching movies with my son. I watch more TV shows when I’m on the road. I just watched the whole series of “Homeland” — the first two seasons. I thought that was one of the most compelling TV shows I’d ever watched in my life.  My son and I are about to watch “Miracle,” which I think is a great movie. I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to movies. But a lot of the movie selection is driven by whatever my son and daughter (want to) watch on a given night — they still like to hang with dad on the couch the rare nights that I’m at home, and I love that.

If you just had one book you could take on the road, which book would that be?
“Game of Inches” is such a fun read. Peter Morris is the author. It’s a story about the evolution of the game of baseball — things we take for granted to how they evolved to where they are today. It’s a terrific book. If I could take a bigger book, “The Cultural Encyclopedia (of Baseball) or the “Baseball Encyclopedia.” But they don’t really fit in a suitcase. “Total Baseball” put out an encyclopedia for a long time that was really, really good. They stopped putting it out, but even to this day it’s fun to dip in and out of that book. I would never be caught short with just one book. I like to read fiction, non-fiction. I always read one fiction book at a time and then I read a lot of non-fiction, kind of dipping in and out of, which I enjoy. I like politics; I like current events. Books about just how to use your brain better. Mine doesn’t always function the way I want it to — I don’t always remember things the way I want to. Just a ton of good books. Like right now I’m reading the third installment of the Lyndon Johnson series by Robert Caro. I’m reading that book, which is a terrific book. I really enjoy reading. I feel like I can always kill time if I’ve got a book.

Do you have a favorite kind of music you listen to or favorite band?
Pretty wide mix of music. Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East, I think I was playing on my way home at 1:30 in the morning.  Mix of everything — Bonnie Raitt to Stevie Ray Vaughan. James Taylor’s always been a favorite of mine; Bonnie Raitt’s always been a favorite of mine. Richard Thompson. I love listening to music. I need to update my iPod little more frequently. I like country music. My daughter has a wide range of musical tastes, so she’ll keep me current on country stuff. I love Sarah McLachlan. So, little bit of everything.

You’re married?
Yep. We’re coming up on our 25th anniversary in a couple months.

You have one son and one daughter?
Yeah. Daughter’s 18, and my son’s 15.

It sounds like family’s really important to (you)?
Oh yeah. That’s the hard part of this job. It’s kind of all they’ve ever known, but it is a hard part of this job. You miss a lot, for as much as you’re home in the offseason. My daughter plays volleyball, so I miss a lot of her season, which runs end of August into October. My son’s a lacrosse player, and I missed every one of his games this spring, so that becomes hard. You just make sure that when you’re home, you’re home and you’re spending every minute you can with (them).

Did you grow up a Tigers fan?
Yeah. Sure did.

Have you found it difficult to put your fandom aside in your role as a broadcaster, or do you think that’s just par for the course when you get to broadcast for the team you grew up rooting for?
I think it just makes it more fun, because it’s a deep-seated love for this team and this franchise. I think fans understand it’s kind of your team. I think Ernie took this approach — you give a good call for both teams. You always sort of maintain your objectivity. You can call guys homers, that’s ok, means you’re (going to) get a better call for the home team than the opponent. But the home team can’t always be getting the short end of the stick. I think if you’re objective, You’re always trying to look at it as objectively as you can, so that when something goes against the Tigers, or in the Tigers’ favor, then you can say so and have some credibility behind what you’re saying. I think that’s important.

What would you say are the keys for aspiring broadcasters who (want to) be in the same position you are, being a professional broadcaster?
I think, first of all, there’s no set path to how you get there. I’d never done a baseball game before I did my first Tigers game. All I’d done was practice tapes. So again, there’s no set path. There are plenty of instances guys a like Mark Champion who got the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job when he was in his late 20’s, I believe by simply going in the stands and practicing his play-by-play — recognized his talent, and he got the job. That’s not exactly the normal route, and yet it’s not unheard of. There’s no normal route to the booth. There are other guys who have been engineers but had a passion for play-by-play, like the guy in Clevland, Jim Rosenhaus. All of a sudden he’s an engineer but he does minor league baseball. They (want to) get in the booth. He figured, ‘ok, if I can get in the booth, maybe I’ll get a shot at play-by-play.’ He got one inning; now he’s doing three innings, because he just figured out the best way to try to get there. There’s no normal path. I would say if you’re young, be willing to move. Be willing to go wherever the jobs take you. It’s harder as you get older, (and) you have a family — I don’t think there’s any question about that. Just find ways to work in your craft. I would just go practice games. I went to the University of Michigan to practice my basketball play-by-play; Tiger Stadium to practice my baseball play-by-play; Silverdome to practice my football play-by-play. I didn’t have a lay-by-play job, but I wanted to have a tape that sounded like I had done at a game. So that instead of just being the guy who does high school basketball in Grand Rapids, which wasn’t (going to) get me much here in Detroit, all of a sudden they could listen to a Lions exhibition game, from professional players — real names. That’s how I got the University of Michigan football play-by-play — by giving my boss a tape and he could tell that I had that ability. So just keep pursuing it, practicing. Get advice from people who you admire. Be your own best critic in the end. Get some advice about calling a game, work at it, get some advice so you can hone your skills, and then you listen with a practiced ear. Be passionate about it. If you like what you do just be passionate about it. When you apply for a job, people will see that passion.

I know that can be a tough business to get into. Was there any point where you thought ‘I’m just (going to) try something else and forget the whole thing?'
I did not have a good tape to give people. When I think about the tapes I put together. This was 1980 when I was looking for my first job, and I recorded it on a, at that time advanced piece of equipment, but it was just a condenser mic built into a portable unit. I was sitting at my dining room table reading a newscast I had written up — that was it. The quality couldn’t have been very good, and I don’t think I was very good. I spent that summer traveling around the mid-west trying to get a job in radio and/or a newspaper job, and by some miracle, because I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten this call — by Labor Day I got a call from a guy in Grand Rapids. A small news station who must have heard or seen something in me. He called and offered a job. That was the only offer I got. If I had been sitting around two, three months later still looking for my first job, who knows what path I might have taken. I probably would have kept after it because I loved it, but who knows.

Is the job as cool as it seems like it would be?
Yes. It absolutely is. There was some lean years. My first year was 2000, and that team finished, I think with 79 wins. And then 119 losses (in 2003). There were some lean years. It’s more fun when they’re winning, but the job itself is great. I love watching baseball, so you get paid to do it, and, hopefully, bring the game through the speakers so the audience can enjoy it. It’s a daily challenge and a lot of fun.

What kind of jobs did you have before you got your break in broadcasting?
I worked in a factory one summer. I got mono and got sick, and I remember never being so happy. That was a tough job. I bartended, waited tables — which I thought was one of the toughest jobs I ever had. You talk about a stressful job — that’s a tough job. I ran a little candy and pinball shop in the mid-70’s with my brother, where we had our cottage. It was just a little store where we sold candy and sandwiches. So I ran a business for a couple summers. In terms of professionally, since I started in 1980, it’s been all radio.

Did some of those jobs make you appreciate all the more getting to do what you get to do?
Yeah. Absolutely. And the factory job was actually at that time a pretty good paying job, but for me the tough part was I wasn’t mentally stimulated, and I like that. That’s why I’ve always liked what I’ve done in radio. Mostly news for a long time, but I’m kind of a news junkie anyway. Some days are better than others because you cover some tough stuff in news, and yet I always enjoyed the whole idea of getting the stories, getting on the air and being able to tell it. I always enjoyed that. There really hasn’t been a bad day in radio just because everything’s different everyday, and I really like that part of it.

Do you have a favorite part of your job?
I like everything about it, I really do. I like reading about baseball. There’s a lot of good writing going on about baseball. I enjoy thinking about it, reading about it, trying to figure out so many different ways to evaluate players. I enjoy talking to the players who play the game. The fact that I get to do the manager’s show with him (Jim Leyland) is one of the fun parts of my job — I know I’m (going to) learn something. I like the different ballparks. I just like going to the ballpark everyday. I get down at Comerica Park, show up at that window and look down at that terrific view, and that’s my office. That’s pretty nice place to go to work everyday.

Have you ever thought about what you might be doing if you didn’t become a play-by-play guy?
Have no idea. I got hooked on radio in college. I was in sales one time. I thought, ‘you know, its not me. I don’t picture doing this. I don’t think my personality’s fitted for it.’ So, the one time I thought about something else didn’t appeal to me. I’m glad this worked out.

What are your thoughts on how good this current Tigers team has the potential to be and how far they can go?
I don’t think there’s any question — they can win it all. I always start with rotation. It’s hard to make predictions, but I always start with rotation. And I think the Tigers do have the best rotation right now, on paper. If these five continue to do what they did in the first half — and I really think (Justin) Verlander’s (going to) be better; I think Doug Fister’s (going to) be better. I think (if) (Rick) Porcello, (Max) Scherzer, (and Anibal) Sanchez can all do what they’re doing, then, to me, it is a team that is very much a favorite to win the World Series. You just never know what’s (going to) happen in a short series — you just don’t. But I do think because of that,  (and) because they have enough hitting, (it) is a team that can win the World Series. Last year’s team looked like they could win the World Series, too. I would put them right in that same category. You always have to remember the postseason; there’s so many things that can happen. You look at how close the (San Francisco) Giants came to being eliminated, how many different times (in) the postseason last year to get to the World Series. It was amazing. And things like that have to happen to win a World Series.

ssion. You have to have some talent, too, but go ahead and let the passion come out when you start looking for jobs.

Who’s the best player you’ve seen so far?
Miguel Cabrera just stands head and shoulders above everybody as a position player, and Justin Verlander is the best pitcher. It’s amazing; you talk about two of the best players in baseball and they’re both on the Detroit Tigers. Got a chance to see them at their very peak and I don’t even know what the peak is for Miguel Cabrera anymore. I keep thinking we’ve seen the peak, and I think this year he might surpass what he did last year. We’re watching one of the greatest players of all time, not just one of the greatest Tigers. That’s special — that’s a lot of fun to watch him play.

Is there any common misconceptions you think fans have about the game itself or players?
These guys are human beings like everybody else. And I’m reminded of that once in a while. Sometimes, you’ll talk about guys, their numbers and their stats. You’re reminded when you talk about this, their family might be listening or someone who knows (them) might be listening, so you’re always reminded of that. You never try to make it personal; you just try to state what’s actually going on — if he’s struggling, or if he’s having a good time. For fans, I think, just remember they’re human. Not just Detroit,  but anywhere that fans can be tough on guys on their own team. This is a tough game. Whatever these guys might be going through if they’re struggling, it’s tougher on them than fans. These guys are grinding it through. Victor Martinez and Andy Dirks are a great example of that — Alex Avila. I think there’s a lot to admire about how they go about their jobs day-to-day. The other thing I would say is that Jim Leyland’s a lot funnier guy than probably people realize if they just watch his postgame press conferences, where he’s pretty straight forward when the TV camera’s on. He’s unique — a unique personality; very funny. He can tell a story with the best.

Do you have a favorite broadcasting moment you’ve had in your career?
I’d say there have been several. Everyone references the Magglio call. That certainly was a great moment. That’s the obvious one and it was a great moment. And I do remember you could literally, literally, feel the broadcast booth shake. A couple favorites: Beating the Yankees in New York in a game 5 when nobody expected that. It was a lot of fun to hear 50,000 people filing out silently in Yankee Stadium. Another fun moment for me was — and it’s a reminder that a great moment’s a great moment — Brandon Inge hit a walk off home run against Troy Percival. I believe that was the team that lost 119. They were, I don’t know, 50, 60 games below .500. (They) had lost 11 in a row, were facing a pitcher that had dominated them in his career. Brandon was hitting .190 — the Tigers were down a run in the bottom of the (ninth). He hit the walk-off home run, and that was a great moment. You realize a great moment even for a bad team’s still a moment to be enjoyed. That was one of my favorite moments because it was so unexpected. It was a great reminder why we love the game of baseball.

Being as close to the game as you are and seeing as many games as you do, would you say that you’re still as big a fan of the game as you were when you first got into the business?
Absolutely. Probably more so, just because I have the chance to, everyday, learn something new about the game. That’s what I love about baseball — you can always learn something new. I think that’s true with probably almost any sport. Managers and players know the game at a higher level than I ever will. All those little things that go into it, to me, are fun things to figure out and learn from. And to always get the players and/or coach’s perspective, I think is one of the fun parts of my job.

Who do you think is the best player of all time, somebody you’ve seen, and somebody you’d love to have gotten to see play?
I would love to have seen Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle at their peak. I think those are the two I am fascinated by because how good they were. Mickey Mantle probably never got to the level he might have because of an injury in his career, but he still had an unbelievable career. Obviously, Willie Mays. Everybody just raves about watching him play and how much fun that was. Those are the two I wish I had seen play. I saw Mickey Mantle at the very end of his career — same with Willie Mayes.  I never really saw them at their peak. Pedro Martinez, to me, was one of the most unbelievable pitchers to watch. Great career, but three years he was nearly unhittable. Barry Bonds — what he did there for a few years was unreal — you certainly understand it may have been aided by something else, but it was still unbelievable. He’s still one of the greatest players ever, however you (want to) look at it. Even if there might have been something going on there, he was still a great player — for a few years there, at least — just another planet that he was on. And then, we’re watching two of the best right now on the Tigers. What Miguel Cabrera’s doing right now — he was already at a pretty good level — now he’s taken it to another level, which is, I think, incredible. And Justin Verlander — two years of utter dominance. I’m not sure we’ll ever see a pitcher who did do for two years what he did the last two years, in terms of starting out a game, fastball’s in the low 90’s, middle three innings, more heat on it, and then he finished with a fastball in the upper-90’s late innings. I’m not sure we’ll ever see that again. That was special. Over two years he did that. The other pitches he mixed in were pretty good, too. We’re watching two of the best right now. I know Justin’s having his struggles this year, but you can’t forget what he’s done so far. And Miguel Cabrera will probably go down probably as one of the top 10 hitters, I would think, in baseball history. By the time he’s done might be top five or better.

When you do get out, what are some things you like to do for fun on the road?
In Chicago we love to just go by the water and walk or run, and I got a tradition with my daughter in Chicago. We get up early — we’re kind of early risers. We go out to breakfast, the Pancake House in Chicago — that’s kind of a fun little tradition we have. When the kids were young we took (them) to museums in Chicago. That’s such a terrific city — so much to do. For myself, when I’m on the road alone, my routine is pretty much the same. Try to get up fairly early, although some nights you get in late — you just can’t. Get up and read the papers and read about what’s going on in baseball, and try to stay on top of everything that’s going on, which is hard to do. But make sure you stay on top of the Tigers and their opponent. You spend a lot of time preparing for each game and each series, but to me that’s a lot of fun. You start looking at one thing and then it makes you look up another thing. I really enjoy that. There’s a lot of good writing out there about baseball. It’s fun to try to figure some things out. Get to the ballpark pretty early and the day goes pretty fast. I would say my spare time is mostly reading and watching TV shows and movies on my iPad. That’s how I spend most of my time. I’m kind of boring on the road, really. I like (getting) a workout in, too.

What’s your favorite sport besides the one you cover?
I’d probably say football. I get a chance to do some basketball at U of D Mercy for Fox Sports in the winter. I do love college hoops. I love the atmosphere of college hoops. I really do like all sports, but pick one — I love watching the Lions. I tape every game. I don’t sit and watch every Sunday, but if they win I go back and go through play-by-play. And I love a good college game. I may not know anybody on either team, but I tape a lot of things. And if it’s a good game, I’ll go back and watch it.

Which school did you attend?
I went to Cranbrook in high school.

Which college did you go to?
Ohio Wesleyan.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.