A chat with Dick Vitale, Rays superfan

'My gut is in ulcer city!'

October 21st, 2020

Right away, like he's on-air promoting some powerhouse team in the NCAA tournament, Dick Vitale begins rattling off reasons why his Rays shouldn't be taken lightly in the World Series.

"This is no fluke, this team is legitimate," Vitale says excitedly over the phone from his home in Tampa. "They won 96 games last year and they're even better this year. The reason they're better is because of Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell -- they're all healthy this year. We also got Dandy Randy Arozarena. I mean, unbelievable what this guy has done. MVP, first rookie to win an MVP as a position player in the ALCS. They're well-managed, they got a deep bullpen, they got three outstanding starters."

Even though the Rays have been a very good team the past decade or so, they don't have many super celebrity fans, especially compared to their World Series opponent: the Hollywood-hailing Los Angeles Dodgers.

But they do have the ever-omnipresent and eternally energetic Dickie V. -- who may be worth all of them combined. And then some.

The legendary college basketball sportscaster has been a Rays season-ticket holder since the franchise began in 1998. He tries to go to about 30 games per year, and has seats right next to the visitors' dugout.

"Me and my buddy, we've spent over a half-a-million dollars to see this team over the years," Vitale says. "We're not just Johnny-come-lately frontrunners. We've been standing and cheering with them since Day 1."

Although COVID-19 has kept him from being able to see them in person this season (he was invited to go to Texas for the World Series but declined due to the serious nature of the virus and his age), the 81-year-old sounded as vibrant as ever during quarantine. He's written a book (all proceeds go to The V Foundation for pediatric cancer), he's discovered the wonders of Periscope TV and he has feverishly rooted on the Tampa Bay Rays. Just look at his Twitter. He chronicles almost every play of every inning from the first out to last -- routinely saying he needs more Maalox to withstand all the drama.

"I'm just a baseball fan -- I've been that way since I was a kid," Vitale, who grew up in Passaic, N.J., tells me. "My mom made a Yankees uniform for me. Going to see the Yankees was the biggest thrill in the world. I'm not proud of it, but in high school, some of my buddies and me wouldn't go to class and go to Yankee Stadium. We'd hang out outside and try to see the players coming in -- Casey Stengel, Berra, Mantle. ... I was a Yankee fanatic, but when I moved here, I believe in [hometown] loyalty."

Instead of a homemade Yankees jersey, Vitale now has a custom Dickie V. Rays jersey that the team recently mailed over to him.

Vitale says besides this year's team getting to the World Series, his favorite Rays memory was when they beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS to get to the Fall Classic. He was sitting in his regular seats next to the visitors' dugout when David Ortiz and Jason Bay gave him and his grandkids a souvenir to hold onto forever.

"I'm two feet away from the players and I had my grandkids with me. They were five years old," Vitale remembers. "Ortiz and Bay are all watching the Rays celebrate and then Papi turns to me, hands me two bats and says, 'Hey Dickie V, give these to the kids. I have no use for these anymore.' And Bay did the same thing!"

Being maybe the most famous college basketball voice ever, we, of course, needed some comparisons to teams and people in that world. The Rays comp?

"Gonzaga. I think Gonzaga," Vitale says after thinking about it for a few seconds. "Both came out of nowhere to be a big power."

And which NCAA coach reminds him of Kevin Cash?

"Kevin Cash? Very simply, very simply, I'd compare him to [University of Virginia head coach] Tony Bennett," Vitale says quickly. "The way they handle themselves, the way they mingle with their players, it's all about the team. Definitely Tony Bennett."

And finally, a World Series prediction from the Rays' biggest superfan. He was biased, unsurprisingly, as he reminded me before he told me his pick. But he didn't need any stats or RPI numbers or "Vegas bookies" to make his projection. Like in years past, he instead turned to his bald head.

"I went to my VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index)," he said. "It spit out to me that the Rays will win in 7. Despite everyone saying the Dodgers have the best team and the best players. I heard that about the Yankees, I heard that about the Astros and now I'm hearing that about the Dodgers. Somehow, some way, the magic of the Rays is going to roll on."

There you have it. Book it. Slam-Bam-Jam it. Rays in 7, baby!