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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Farewell, Dave Wills!
by Hal Vickery

The only way I can describe the emotions I feel as I write this column is that they are mixed. On the one hand I’m sorry for a loss, but on the other hand, I’m happy for someone else’s gain. Last week we all got word that Dave Wills, host of the Sox pre-game and post-game shows was hired as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

I have to congratulate Dave because this is his dream come true. After years of studio work and play by play for UIC basketball, after at least two tries that I know of for similar jobs in other cities, Dave finally got his big break.

It couldn’t happen to a greater guy, and that’s why my emotions are mixed. On the air Dave comes off as a passionate Sox fan, and that’s because he is one. He’s south side born and bred, a graduate of Oak Lawn High School. He grew up rooting for the Sox, and after a few years of play-by-play duty for the suburban Kane County Cougars, he’s been associated professionally with the Sox for about a decade first with WMAQ and then with WMVP.

I first met Dave in Rockford, of all places. A few months before, there was an article in the Joliet Herald-News about the Cougars, and it sounded like fun. We started going to the games listening to Dave’s broadcasts. My first thought was, “This guy is good!”

My son Jeff is a lot less shy than I am, and he started going up to the broadcast booth to chat with Dave before games. We decided one afternoon to drive up toe Rockford to catch a Cougars game there, and Jeff stopped by the radio booth there to say hi to Dave. I was with him, said hi, and told him how much I liked the broadcasts.

That was pretty much the extent of any conversation I had with him for several years. In that time I had gotten involved with a now-defunct fan club of the Sox. A group of us decided to form the Windy City Sox Fans, and we began hosting luncheons featuring the players.

For the first year or two, we had various media types host those events. John Rooney, Steve Olken, Chris Cross, and others helped us out during that time. When Dave’s was asked his response was enthusiastic. We found out that he was just a few years behind Mary Kay, our president, in school. They soon developed a friendship and the WCSF had a voice.

Dave didn’t disappoint us during the next eight years or so. He knew the right questions to ask the players and developed a great rapport with the audiences. On a few occasions some of the players failed to show up for various reasons. We found out then that Dave could carry a luncheon on his own. The applause he received on those occasions was probably greater than that received by any of the players.

I can’t claim that I’m a close personal friend of Dave, but over the last several years, we talked at every event, and we’ve exchanged emails on various occasions. One thing he probably doesn’t know that he has done for me is that he has helped build up my confidence as a writer.

He has mentioned this column on the air on several occasions, and always had good things to say about it. Since I don’t write for a living, this has really served as encouragement.

We had a luncheon a couple of years ago during I period in which I was pretty negative about Kenny Williams (whom I was calling Prof. Chaos at the time) and his then-sidekick Gen. Disarray (my nickname for then-manager Jerry Manuel). Dave’s first comment to me, in a tone that sounded as if he half expected me to jump off the Sears Tower, was, “Are you okay?” I cracked up and let him know that I didn’t think the end of the world was coming any time soon.

Dave was a good friend of WSI and the WCSF. He would mention my columns at WCSF luncheons and did a great job of publicizing club activities on his program. At SoxFest a few weeks ago, he mentioned the club booth and our pencil-pull game that we use to raise money there. He also mentioned WSI during that broadcast. Quite often during his post-game show he would talk about some of the comments on the WSI message board.

Another example of the kid of guy Dave is: A couple of years ago a group of us from the AOL Sox message board had a get-together ostensibly in honor of one of the members who was making his annual pilgrimage from Springfield to see the Sox play. One of the organizers of the event asked Dave to stop by. I also put in my two cents.

Not only did Dave stop by, but he talked to a number of people. He had to have been there for close to half an hour. One young woman there had been imbibing quite liberally before Dave arrived. Where most people would have been obviously annoyed at her inebriated fawning, Dave was quite gracious. In many ways, I think this was one of his finest hours. It showed how great a representative of the Sox he was.

Of course we all are aware that Dave’s patience comes to an end when it comes to obnoxious Cubs fans, of which there are far too many, and a large number of whom seem to think that it is fun to call the post-game show to chirp after Sox losses. Dave had little tolerance for those “drillrods.” I was always fun to listen to him share his annoyance.

Of course one can’t write about Dave without mentioning his anti-establishment disdain for the place he simply calls “The Shrine.” His comments about that place of worship remind me of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Dave is the one voice in the Cubbie lovefest that is the Chicago media who describes the North Side ball park as it really is, a dump.

So Dave, congratulations on your new job! May the Devil Rays go 156-6 in 2005. And you know where those six losses are coming, and I know that deep in your heart, you’ll be glad about them, even though you won’t be able to say so on the air.

My fondest hope is that someday in the not-too-distant future you’ll be back in Chicago broadcasting for the home team…and I don’t mean the one on the North Side. But until then, we’ll miss you, but good luck in your new job. Your success couldn’t have happened to a greater guy!


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

Have a Thought about
Farewell, Dave Wills!

You Can Put it on the Board -- Yes!



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