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‘It’s what we all aspire to be’: Dave Sims is a beacon in broadcasting, an icon in Seattle

In his journey to becoming of the few Black TV play-by-play announcers in MLB, Sims’ impact hasn’t gone unnoticed. It was magnified in the Mariners’ run to the postseason.

SEATTLE — The city did not want the smoke. The Mariners, however, did.

By the time the Houston Astros got to town last week, fans of the perennial American League West doormats were ready to explode, spurred on by the fact that they hadn’t hosted a playoff game in two decades. Add to that a Washington Huskies home game, the Kraken’s home opener in the NHL and a Seahawks divisional tilt the next day, it was a huge sports weekend in King County, Washington — marred by the fact that forest wildfires left smoke lingering over all of these proceedings.

In order for that rare sports scheduling miracle to happen at all, the M’s had to make the postseason a couple weeks before. When they did, the world was reintroduced to the sturdy voice of Dave Sims, whose video of him calling their walk-off win to get into the playoffs went viral, and the moment was immaculate.

“The dream lives! They’re going to the playoffs! The drought is over! Cal Raleigh! Wow. Hey, now! Hey, NOW! HEY, NOW!” Sims bellowed with a fist pump that could easily have doubled as umpire’s out call, while the 50,000-plus faithful at T-Mobile Park went into an absolute frenzy.

It was the kind of moment that even if you’re not a baseball fan, would give you chills. And if you love the sport they call America’s pastime, it could bring tears to your eyes. For Sims, who’s been the play-by-play television man for the team since 2007, it was a reminder of what a lifetime in sports can bring you back in droves.

On this particular Friday, Sims is sitting in a coffee shop in the Belltown neighborhood, getting ready to debut his new T-shirts that feature his signature call. Baseball isn’t the only game he’s broadcasting, but his love for the game, as a catcher, taught him a lot about being a professional and relating to athletes who did make it to the pro ranks.

“Played Little League. I played baseball from 12 to sophomore year in college. A four-year starter in high school, two-time MVP. Co-captain, senior year,” Sims mentions casually, with the kind of tone that reminds you that those times are unforgettable even decades later. “I mean, I know this stuff. And I think the empathy that I have and appreciation for athletic commitment, the commitment to put in the work and try to excel, and try to be goal-oriented, I get that. And I’ve experienced the highs, the lows.”

There’s a certain intellectualism he brings to a telecast that isn’t often afforded to Black broadcasters. To put it plainly, there are not a lot of us in the business. No matter the sport. It won’t take you long to think of most of them. It’s an existence that leads to a certain amount of pride and resilience that comes with the territory.

“My father, a child of [the] Depression, World War II guy. He always said, ‘Hey, man, first of all, you’re Black and there’s certain things that are going to happen. And you got to deal with it and you got to fight through it,’ ” Sims explained about his days growing up 10 minutes from Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. “[They said] Can’t be a broadcaster, either. Can’t be a lead broadcaster. You know you can be a color guy, but you can’t be the lead broadcaster. Bulls—.”

Seattle Mariners play-by-play announcer Dave Sims (left) with his broadcast partner Mike Blowers (right).

Seattle Mariners

Seattle is a funny place. Well-known for its iconic entries into the world of primarily white pop culture (see: Sleepless In … and say, Frasier), one of its suburbs is also where iconic old-school rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot is from. If you’ve never heard the 1987 song “Posse on Broadway,” an ode to a street in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, you should fix that immediately. Point being, it’s a place way more urban than say, Portland, which feels like an actual TV show in real life.

But it’s not quite the kind of city where every Black person you see on the street says hello to you because that’s just what you do. The vibe is a touch more cosmopolitan than that and the history is there, too. The heritage of the Seattle Steelheads, a Negro League team, is widely celebrated by both the city and the squad itself. Not to mention that the Mariners have had one of the Blackest organizations in baseball playerwise. In 2020, they had 10 Black players on their 40-person roster, which is basically unheard of these days.

“I remember talking to [Los Angeles Dodgers manager] Dave Roberts,” Sims said. “He says, ‘After the Dodgers, you guys are my favorite team. Because y’all got all the brothers.’ ”

Coincidentally, the city also happens to be home to another Black play-by-play announcer, Everett Fitzhugh, for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. That fact is lost on no one in the business, and Fitzhugh is a guy who is grateful to have Sims around as a beacon.

“When I got the job here in Seattle, he was one of my very first messages, one of my very first calls and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you remember me or not,’ ” Fitzhugh recalled this week. “And he was so giving with his time and he was so open and willing to talk to me, which is great for me, not just professionally, but personally. There aren’t too many folks who look like us in press boxes, so to be able to have two play-by-play guys in the same city is amazing.”

Reminder: Seattle is 64% white. We’re talking about hockey. The NHL just released its first diversity report this week and its numbers line up almost exactly. And Lord knows that baseball’s whiteness is the largest elephant in every room of the sport. So for there to be two Black play-by-play announcers in Seattle is flatly a minor miracle.

“We talk on the phone quite a bit. Him and I have been able to grow this relationship, this friendship, this bond that we have. And we don’t even always have to speak on it,” Fitzhugh explained. “We know the position that we’re in. We know the positions that we hold, but it is really cool to be able to say there’s only a handful of Black play-by-play announcers across the four major sports. But to have two of them right here in Seattle, I mean … It’s such an honor to be able to say that.”

Sims is the kind of person whose name brings a smile to random Seattleites faces upon mention, even if he isn’t even there. Duante Barrett is a multi-hyphenate producer who’s worked in sports production for years in the area, and for him, just being around Sims has made him a better person.

“As a Black guy who’s in broadcasting, he’s brought me in,” said Barrett, who goes by “SuitMan” for his comedy work, which is extensive as well. “Being a stats guy and stage manager and some other things I did, I’ve done assistant directing for the NBA game when we had the Clippers here. Dave taught me about being a professional, introducing yourself to everybody. Giving them that same professional self and giving them that same warm, caring nature, so that way you can be friendly and put off a good vibe to everybody you work with.”

It’s wild to think that there’s a world in which just plain being smart and being nice to people is actually rewarded. It’s hard to beat hard work and talent, which Sims clearly has in droves. Immediately after the Mariners’ season ended last week, standing outside the stadium, Barnett, whose heritage is multiracial, broke it down.

“He’s a guy who actually talks the talk and walks the walk. And when you’ve played the game and analyzed, not all that play the game can be, what’s the word? Eloquent.”

Seattle Mariners play-by-play announcer Dave Sims, wearing the uniform of the Negro League Seattle Steelheads, speaks during a Salute to Negro Leagues panel.

Seattle Mariners

What’s obvious about Sims almost immediately is his incredible recall. The guy’s memory is clearly superior and when you listen to him tell the story of his broadcasting career, the details are as vivid as any game he’s ever called, which also by the way includes the first perfect game in Mariners history, thrown by Felix Hernandez in 2012. Hernandez happened to be throwing out the first pitch of Seattle’s 1-0 series-ending loss to the Astros in the American League Division Series the next night.

His path is similar to many. After he stopped playing baseball in college, he was a public address announcer for his school’s football and basketball games at Division III Bethany College (West Virginia), eventually moving to play-by-play before he graduated. He then landed an internship at the Philadelphia Inquirer and can remember to this day where the 14 other kids from around the country were from in his program.

In the summer of 1975, he had three offers on the table: newspapers in Chicago, Philly and New York. His mother said that if his goal was to get to New York City by age 35, going at age 22 might be a good start. He did, and then something really significant happened.

Working in New York doing a call-in sports talk show, he happened to make a fan out of a famous friend. That friend happened to be one Bill Cosby, the comedian. Sims acknowledges now that it’s every bit as weird as it sounds. Cosby asked him if he needed anything from him, so Sims took his shot. Next thing he knew, he was the voice of Temple University radio. It was a different time.

The rest is history, so to speak. Every sport you can imagine, Sims has covered it in some way as a broadcaster. And every network you can imagine as well. His personal career history is like a history of the business over the past couple decades.

“What did Joe DiMaggio say? ‘Joe, Why do you play so hard every day?’ ‘Because somebody’s seeing me for the first time.’ And that’s the attitude I take,” Sims said, on a day when he wasn’t wearing one of his signature hats. “If you’re good, you’re bad, you’re ugly. But all in all, it’s been good, man. I’ve enjoyed this. I mean, I get the call. Somebody said, ‘You want to retire?’ I said, ‘To do what? I’m getting paid to call Major League Baseball. What? Are you kidding me?’ ”

His drive and expertise does not go unnoticed by his peers. While the season might have ended with a historic 18-inning game at the ballpark, which prevented Sims from joining the Kraken game that night as a fan to support his buddy, it’s all a part of the game.

“It’s what all of us aspire to be when it comes to trying to be the best in your industry and in your business. The saying is, ‘You’re a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.’ But, I mean, Dave is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of every single one of them,” Fitzhugh noted with some amount of wonder in his voice. “I mean from baseball to football to basketball. I found out that back in the day he did some hockey reporting. I mean, just being able to do all of that and do it well, it’s what we all aspire to be.

“I mean, it can’t be easy, especially for a brother from Philadelphia, to make it this far in this industry and for him to have been able to do this for, I don’t want to shortchange him, but what I can only assume is 40-, 50-plus years. And to be at such a high level … he is what I want to be when I grow up.”

Clinton Yates is a tastemaker at Andscape. He likes rap, rock, reggae, R&B and remixes — in that order.