By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
Baseball has been very, very good to Tulsa Drillers play-by-play announcer Dennis Higgins. Not only is the sport his passion and profession, but it’s a way of life for the native Californian.
Now in his 25th season in the business and 10th with the Drillers, the 62-year-old Higgins loves both minor league baseball and living in Tulsa. He plans on making ONEOK Field his final destination along a career path of hearing the words “Play Ball.’’
“I won’t retire until they knock on the booth and say ‘you’re done.’ It’s been nice having you here, but it’s time to go,’’’ said Higgins, who will broadcast his 3,000th game this season. “I love it here because they treat me like the Vin Scully of Tulsa. They take care of me financially and I don’t want to move around. I want to stay here and retire here.’’
In a roundabout way, Higgins has Scully to thank for his broadcasting journey. Higgins and his brothers grew up in Oxnard, California, listening to Scully and Dodgers’ games on radio. The legendary announcer gave Higgins the desire to follow him into the booth.
“My brother and I would listen to Scully every night,’’ said Higgins, recently named Oklahoma’s Sportscaster of the Year. “My brother Mike kept his own box scores and sometimes acted like he was the announcer, trying to emulate Scully and saying, ‘It is gone.’”
“When I was young, mom worried about me. She would see me talking to myself in the backyard when I was pretending to do the games, crowd noises and all. My mom would spend all day cooking dinner and at 6 o’clock we would be out playing or listening to games. We ruined more dinners that way. It got to the point where my mom said ‘I hate that (Scully’s) voice.’’’
Higgins discovered baseball through his brother, who delivered donuts for Helms Bakery. The product contained Dodgers baseball cards. Higgins vividly remembers following the 1962 World Series with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, leading to his desire to reach the airways.
“I got a late start,’’ said Higgins, who earned a degree in government from Sacramento State. “I thought I would be in politics, but a friend called me and I went to driving a beer truck for seven years. The money was good and I would get off at 3 or 4 o’clock.
“I was talking on the phone one night with my dad and he said, ‘when are you going to get off that truck?’ I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and I decided to attend a sportscaster camp in LA. As a rookie I got to do NBA games and minor league baseball. I had never done basketball and it was so fast, I began to wonder if this (play-by-play) was for me.’’
Higgins refused to give up his dream and enrolled in grad school at San Francisco State. While attending the broadcasting school, Higgins was given the chance to do basketball and football games that were broadcast live on cable television in San Francisco. Higgins was eventually hired by radio station KNBR, the flagship station of the Giants and Warriors. He started as an intern and then promoted to a producer/reporter.
Due to the politics that permeates big league franchises, Higgins said his season with the Giants broadcasting team in 2000 was not a good fit and major league baseball is ”too big for its britches”.
“I’d rather do the minors because they have nice ballparks, the hotels aren’t that bad, the players and managers are more accessible and I’m the No. 1 guy,’’ he said. “I think the AA level is the best of the minors because you have the best up and coming players and they represent Tulsa. The Drillers have a great ballpark and work ethic.’’
Higgins spent 1995-99 with the Wichita Wranglers of the Texas League and still airs Butler County (Kan.) Community College football and men’s basketball. He also sells sponsorships for the Butler athletic department, meaning he has very little free time, even during the offseason.
One of the dwindling old school play-by-play men, Higgins works alone in the broadcast booth. There is no ‘’color analyst’’ or anyone to take the microphone if necessary.
“Everybody starts out that way, wanting to do everything themselves,’’ said Higgins, who started his short season career in 1991 at Helena, Montana, of the Pioneer League. “I’m long past that. It would be nice if I had a partner because the listeners probably get tired of my voice. I think it’s a financial situation for franchises. Some minor league teams do have two men, especially at home. They might hire a young guy to do a couple of innings.
“At this level it’s pretty much solo. Early on you get a lot or reps (innings), but as you get older, doing 140 games in 153 days, you have very little time off. I usually start at 3 p.m. and on the road I’m with the team and I have to go to the ballpark with them. I use the booth as an office to do my personal stuff.
“My goal was never major league baseball. It was too lofty a goal for me because I started too late and I’m too old.’’
When Higgins reached San Francisco, there were those who told him “you’ll never last, you’ll be home in a week.’’ Now the veteran voice can look back and recall broadcasting the Drillers to a Texas League championship in 2018 and realizing his dream along the way. Not too shabby for a minor league lifer.
By GLENN HIBDON