Rays' longtime radio voice Dave Wills passes away

March 13th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Dave Wills, the Tampa Bay Rays’ longtime radio announcer who lent his booming voice to many of the franchise’s most iconic moments, passed away Sunday morning. He was 58 years old.

Ten seconds of silence were held inside Tropicana Field prior to the afternoon’s Grapefruit League game vs. the Orioles. The team canceled its radio broadcast for the game and will honor Wills with a special tribute on April 22 before its game against the White Sox.

“Dave was an outstanding broadcaster, a great friend and an even better person,” Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. “He had a remarkable talent for bringing the game to life for our fans and was a vital part of the Rays family. We will miss him dearly and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

“Pretty devastating day for our Rays family. Dave meant so much to so many people,” manager Kevin Cash said after Sunday’s game, a 5-2 loss. “Certainly going to be very missed, but we can choose to think about all the good times that we had with him, all the laughs, and just what he meant to this organization from top to bottom, and certainly our community.”

Wills spent 18 seasons in the Rays’ radio booth, partnering with Andy Freed to form a broadcast team that was wildly popular with the team’s fans.

Wills created a few signature, instantly recognizable calls when on play-by-play duty, including his roaring refrain immediately following every victory -- “Rays win! Rays win! Rays win!” -- and his exaggerated “Heeeeee struck him out!” after every K by a Rays pitcher.

And perhaps many fans have committed Wills’ call of the final out from Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series to memory, when Boston’s Jed Lowrie grounded into a forceout to Akinori Iwamura: “Swing and a ground ball to second. This should do it. Aki has it, takes it to second himself. This improbable season has another chapter to it! The Rays are going to the World Series!”

Wills was hospitalized last September due to a heart issue that caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season. However, he returned to the mic for the AL Wild Card Series vs. Cleveland and was on the call as recently as Saturday’s Spring Training game against the Yankees in Tampa, along with Freed and the team’s pregame and postgame radio host, Neil Solondz.

Cash said he was “spoiled” that he got to talk with Wills every day during the season.

“We do our interview, and it is literally seven minutes of interview and probably 15, 20 minutes of cutting up, laughing or sharing frustrations together,” Cash added. “We ride the ups and downs of the season together.”

Wills’ enthusiasm was also present throughout the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area as he committed his time to numerous philanthropic events. A couple of weeks ago, he took part in the organization's efforts to give back to the community on National Random Acts of Kindness Day.

A Chicago native who grew up as a huge White Sox fan, Wills spent 11 seasons as part of the White Sox radio broadcast team prior to joining the Rays before the 2005 season.

Wills' radio broadcasting career began with four years as the first play-by-play voice of the Kane County Cougars, a former Marlins and Orioles affiliate, from 1991-95. He was the radio voice of the Illinois-Chicago men’s basketball team from 1997-2005 and anchored the pre- and postgame shows for Notre Dame football and basketball.

Wills and his family lived in Lutz, Fla. He is survived by his wife, Liz, son, Alex, and daughter, Michelle.

“Wills was known for his impeccable play-by-play calling, his insightful analysis and his infectious personality,” the Rays said in a statement. “His contributions to the Rays organization and the Tampa Bay community will never be forgotten."