It was sometime in the mid- 1980s, and Dan Hicks, a University of Arizona journalism major, was doing what came naturally.
Goofing around in the Arizona baseball press box at what was then called Sancet Field.
Hicks, several years before he hit the big time at CNN and then NBC (for the past 15 years), was the public address announcer at the stadium and a card-carrying member of a fondly remembered club called the Sancet Field Box Association.
Hicks remembers that coach Jerry Kindall was coming off a milestone victory of some sort. He decided to alert the crowd.
“I said, ‘Ladies and gentleman, we have a very special guest on the phone today who would like to congratulate Jerry Kindall on his latest milestone.’ ”
And then Hicks went into his Ronald Reagan impersonation.
Well, Jerry, sorry I couldn’t be there …
“I went into a big, long thing,” Hicks said, “and Jerry is in the third-base coaching box, looking up at the press box with a look on his face like, ‘What in the world is going on up there?’ ”
Baseball writer Jack Magruder, now with the East Valley Tribune, remembers it well.
“That impersonation was tremendous,” Magruder said. “Dan nailed it. It sounded like he was going to say, ‘Tear down that wall.’ ”
Even Kindall, more than 20 years after the fact, chuckles at the memory.
“Of course, I didn’t expect the president to call me during a ball game,” Kindall said, “but, yeah, he had me fooled for a moment.”
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To the public, Hicks is now the straight man to NBC lead golf analyst Johnny Miller, known for his bluntness and unpredictability.
“You never know what is going to come out of Johnny’s mouth, and that’s a good thing,” Hicks said. “It’s been said he operates without the filter from his brain to his mouth, and that’s absolutely true.”
Hicks and Miller are in town this week for the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. NBC’s coverage begins Saturday, with eight hours of live coverage scheduled for the weekend.
It’s a double blessing for Hicks, as NBC this year picks up one of golf’s premier events, and it just so happens to be in his old hometown. His parents, as well as one of his sisters, still live in Tucson.
“I don’t get back as much as I like,” said Hicks, a Sabino High graduate. “I have gone a couple of years without getting back to Tucson, and that is just too long.”
Back in the 1980s, Hicks was the public address announcer for several UA sports, later landing a gig as a radio newsreader and then hosting a local sports radio show – “Dan Hicks’ Sports Fix.”
He jumped to TV as the second man on the KVOA sports team, and then leaped to the big time in 1989 when CNN checked out one of his tapes and liked what it saw.
He’s been off and running ever since, moving to NBC in 1992, becoming lead golf announcer in 2000 and having a high-profile role in Olympic coverage, handling swimming and speedskating and hosting studio shows.
“With the events I get to cover and the places I get to go,” he said, “it’s everything I dreamed about and more as a kid wanting to get into this business.”
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It is lucky for Hicks that the old press box at what is now Kindall Field at Sancet Stadium was torn down last fall.
It is believed that somewhere in a box in the back of a closet, among old cassette tapes with John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and other pregame music, was a spoof recording Hicks did, set to the tune of Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.”
It was called “The Greatest Voice of All.”
It was actually played at least once before a UA baseball game, and Hicks, imitating egotistical sports broadcasters everywhere, went something like, “The greatest voice of all … is me!”
Alas, such a long-forgotten tape would have been thrown away during the offseason construction of a new press box. Could have made for some good online audio. If only his NBC co-workers could have heard it.
As it is, Miller figures Hicks does have one of those “greatest voices,” comparing his vocal stylings to crooner Perry Como.
Said Miller of Hicks, “I just call him ‘Mr. Smooth.’ ”
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Hicks was a classmate of Kindall’s son, Bruce, at Sabino High School, playing football, basketball and baseball.
Hicks, if he had chosen to focus on it, could have been good enough to make the UA baseball team as a walk-on, Kindall said.
As it was, Hicks left his mark on the baseball program as the P.A. announcer, helping to make Chip Hale, now the thirdbase coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a fan favorite.
UA sports information director Tom Duddleston remembers working with Hicks on his pronunciation one day, with Hicks trying to be especially crisp with the one-syllable names “Chip” and “Hale.”
“As the games went on, I just kind of put a little more space between the first and last names, and then it got to be where several seconds would go by,” Hicks said.
“I always had fun with the names and I tried to see what I could get away with because I was always wary of Jerry Kindall down there in the dugout. My worst fear was Jerry peering out and giving me a look like, ‘All right, that’s enough fun and games.’ ”
Eventually, Hicks stopped saying Hale’s last name altogether. The pauses had grown so long that the crowd picked up the slack, chanting, “Hale!” after prompted by Hicks’ “Chip.”
The writers and UA game crew had such a good time that they created Sancet Field Box Association cards. Most still have them. Some still carry the card in their wallet. Not Hicks.
“We had a blast up there, so I hate to say it, but I have misplaced my card over the years,” Hicks said with regret. “I would pay big money if I could get my hands on it again.”
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Hicks, 44, brought two of his three daughters to Tucson this week – 10-year-old Hannah Beth and 8-year-old Ellery.
Riley, 6, stayed at home with mom, TV host Hannah Storm, who couldn’t make the trip from Greenwich, Conn., because CBS wouldn’t give her time off from her duties at the Early Show during sweeps month.
She missed Hicks being honored Thursday night by the UA journalism department, which awarded Hicks a Professional Achievement Award at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.
“He’s such a pro, such a pro,” Kindall said.
“It really warms my heart to see the success he’s had. When I retired and began doing Pac-10 baseball for Fox Sports, he was one of the first people to send me a note to say how much he enjoyed listening to me.
“Although I never mentioned it to anyone, it gave me a big boost for one of the experts in the field to think I was doing OK.”
Hicks, the guy who used to do a self-described lounge act at Sancet Field, has long since grown into an expert, recognized for the way he plays traffic cop in the golf booth, seamlessly setting up Miller and the course announcers.
“He is just so calm and collected. He is very easy to work with,” Miller said.
“I honestly believe that if all of us analysts and course walkers came up sick, he could do the entire coverage and nobody would complain too much.”
From the job of a lifetime, to a beautiful family, to the respect of his peers, Hicks admits that life is plenty great.
“I do hear that a lot,” Hicks said, chuckling. “The first thing I say to people when they tell me that is, ‘You know, you are absolutely right.’ The moment I don’t appreciate the situation I’m in, somebody please hit me over the head with a frying pan.”
DAN HICKS FILE
Home: Greenwich, Conn.
College: University of Arizona, 1984
Job: Lead golf announcer, NBC Sports. The network will televise 11 PGA Tour events this season, up from five last year.
Wife: Hannah Storm (CBS’ “Early Show”), married in 1994.
Children: Three daughters – Hannah Beth (10), Ellery (8) and Riley (6). “We affectionately refer to them as Hicks’ chicks,” Dan said.
NO. 1 MOMENTS
Dan Hicks’ favorite golf moment: “The 1999 Ryder Cup. It was the biggest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history. That was truly electric. They talk about momentum in sports, and sometimes it can become a little cliche to use that word so much, but that’s what it was. It was this giant snowball, an avalanche that turned into one of the most magical moments in sports history.”
The U.S. team overcame a 10-6 deficit heading into the final day, beating the European team 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 when Justin Leonard rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt on No. 17.
Dan Hicks’ favorite Olympic moment: “In 2000 in Sydney, where swimming is the national pastime. Ian Thorpe won the opening event of those Olympics in the 400-meter freestyle, setting a world record, and it was the single loudest moment I have heard in a sporting event. The hair on my neck stood up. It was just a great moment.”