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For Staats, the voice never gets tired

The Rays' veteran broadcaster is happiest when he's working.

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001


photo
Staats
He has worked with legendary broadcasters Harry Caray in Chicago and Bob Prince in Houston, and he helped Larry Dierker, now the Astros manager, break into television. He has covered playoff teams in Houston and Chicago. He has called no-hitters seemingly commonplace (Nolan Ryan's fifth) and extraordinary (Jim Abbott's).

Now Dewayne Staats, in his 25th year as a major-league baseball announcer, is covering a fourth-year team that, 12 games into the season, has lost all traces of spring optimism.

Yet the losses don't dampen Staats' enthusiasm. Even on his precious off-days, when the Rays aren't playing on TV, he shows up at the field early and spends hours chatting, listening and pondering what stories he will tell next.

To Staats, nothing beats a day at the ballpark, even when everyone is beating the Rays.

"As a former player, I still have that mentality: When you have an off-day, let it breathe," said Rays analyst Joe Magrane, Staats' partner since the team's first pitch. "You need to get away from it. But it's really like a drug for him. I can't think of too many places he would rather be."

Give him 162 games a year over a cushy job any time. Staats, 48, spent the mid 1990s at ESPN, calling one baseball game a week ("Mr. Wednesday Night," his wife, Dee, dubbed him) and the occasional college football and basketball game.

He had weekends off in the summer for the first time in two decades, and he was bored silly. The down time gave him the chance to see his wife through surgery to remove a brain tumor, but once her health scare was over, he was ready for a change.

In 1998, the Rays called. Staats couldn't get to Tampa Bay, and back to the daily grind, fast enough.

* * *

There is nothing Staats -- or his family, for that matter -- can do about this. Baseball is in his blood. As a boy in downstate Illinois, he listened to radio broadcasts for as many as six teams. Among his favorites was the expansion Colt .45s in Houston and their announcer, Gene Elston.

Encouraged by his high school teachers and knowing he never would be paid to play, Staats aimed for broadcasting. Even in his first weeks at Southern Illinois University, he was calling games for the new student station. Within two years he had become the voice of a minor-league team in Oklahoma City, taking classes in the off-season to finish his degree.

In no time he was in the big leagues. In 1976 he got what still ranks as one of his "greatest thrills," the chance to call his first major-league game, joining Elston and Prince, a Hall of Famer, in the booth for the Astros. He was 23.

The job helped him land the Astros play-by-play job the next season. Dierker joined him in the booth three years later.

Staats stayed in Houston until 1985, then moved closer to home. He spent five seasons in Chicago doing Cubs play-by-play, most of it on the radio. In many ways that was a dream job, but Staats wanted regular TV work. He got it when he joined the Yankees for the 1990 season, working with Tony Kubek. But even that didn't satisfy him, not because the Yankees were struggling but because he was working, at most, two-thirds of the games.

"Baseball is the kind of sport where one day builds on the next," Staats said. "I missed that."

Staats didn't get that with his next job, either, though he had more national exposure. Dee said she persuaded him to join ESPN in 1995, against his initial instincts.

"I said, 'Our kids are little -- are you crazy?' " Dee said. "I was looking at it in terms of 'after 20 years, you finally get a weekend off in the summer.' "

The change proved fortuitous. Living on Florida's east coast and traveling a few days a week during the season, Staats was able to be with Dee while she battled a brain tumor. The tumor, near her brain stem, was non-cancerous, but its growth left her without hearing in her right ear. She had surgery to remove most of the tumor and cut off the blood supply to the rest.

Dee jokes that she was considerate enough to have surgery in an off-season. Staats was more than willing to curtail his schedule, but with the crisis behind, his fixation with baseball returned.

A compulsive compiler of facts, Staats missed filling the notebooks he carried while covering teams, one with day-to-day details of his team and the other with information about opposing pitchers.

Then the Rays came along, and the chance not only to create more notebooks but see a different kind of history made.

"It was absolutely what I wanted to do," Staats said. "It gave me that ground-floor opportunity."

* * *

You could say the Rays still are on the ground floor -- or at least darned close -- but Staats is having a great time. Magrane, 36, helps keep things light in the booth and on the road; it is Staats' job to reel in his partner.

"When we go to do a telecast, he certainly wants to be the best it can be," Magrane said. "He's kind of the traffic cop. He keeps everything organized. ... I'm impressed by his generosity, leaving me room to do what I do.

"(Spending) 25 years in baseball and doing it at the big-league level is really a neat thing," Magrane said, then laughed. "He's got all those gray hairs to prove it."

Dee Staats has been there for all of it. A lifelong baseball fan, she said that when she married Dewayne 28 years ago she knew exactly what she was getting into.

Nine days after their wedding, he was on his way to the minor leagues in Oklahoma City. She didn't see him for three months. They finally honeymooned that September in a tiny motel on Sand Key that happens to be a half-mile from where they now live. To Staats, that's just one more bit of evidence that his life, and his job with the Rays, makes sense.

"It's easy for the home-team broadcaster to go, 'Oh, I love the game,' " Staats said. "I still do. The club's lost 12 out of 14 in August, (people ask) 'Do you still like coming to the ballpark?' The answer is, 'Yes, absolutely.' "

Meet Dewayne Staats

AGE: 48.

JOB: Rays TV play-by-play announcer.

FAMILY: Wife, Dee; daughters Stephanie, 23, and Alexandra, 17, born Jan. 11 six years apart.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Has called the playoffs twice (1980 Astros, 1989 Cubs) and three no-hitters. Play-by-play announcer for the Astros (1977-84, TV), Cubs (1985-89, radio and TV) and Yankees (1990-94, TV). Worked for ESPN (1995-97) and freelance for the Baseball Network (1994-95).

NICKNAMES: "Sometimes we call him Alex Trebek or Chuck Barris. Or Robert Reed; that's his least favorite," Rays analyst Joe Magrane said.

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