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Joe Davis on filling Vin Scully's chair: 'Embrace the responsibility'

LOS ANGELES -- Joe Davis pulled his car into Angel Stadium this past weekend, rolled down his window and offered his verbal credentials to the parking lot attendant.

"I'm the Dodgers' TV broadcaster," Davis said, voice deep, confidence unyielding.

And for an awkward half beat, maybe this 29-year-old wunderkind -- now a full-time member of the broadcast team that will proceed without a legend in the industry -- would have trouble explaining that his time has arrived.

"Yes, sir. Enjoy yourself," the attendant ultimately said, waving the young broadcaster through, not knowing that Davis has been adhering to that command for some time now.

As Davis is about to embark on his first full 162-game schedule as a major league broadcaster, he admitted that this job was not necessarily the endgame when he made it a goal of supplying narration for televised athletic endeavors.

Sports broadcasting has always been Davis' dream, since he and his mom first filled out the form for the guidance counselor back in grade school. But the next Bob Costas, Greg Gumbel or Jim Nantz -- talking sports for an entire network -- is what Davis had envisioned, while supplying his own play-by-play calls for the games being televised into the living room of his family home in Michigan.

But maybe that was because he never dreamed an opportunity like play-by-play man for an iconic franchise like the Dodgers would ever come his way.

A resident of Southern California now, Davis spent a recent drive down I-5 fighting Friday traffic, trusting his new friend, the navigation system, and explaining how a kid who has sat in the upper deck with a tape recorder has found a regular seat in the Vin Scully Press Box at a precocious young age.

In no way is Davis replacing Scully. That would be impossible, of course. The Dodgers will now make full-time use of multiple-man booths, not the solo arrangement that Scully made famous.

Perhaps Dodgers radio play-by-play man Charley Steiner put it best.

"You know, nobody replaces Vin," Steiner said recently, when asked about Davis. "We're still having a hard time replacing Abraham Lincoln."

Steiner's advice to Davis was to just be himself, advice that Davis has heard many times along the way and has figured out how to embrace. So how do you establish your own voice when you have been listening to, and seeking inspiration from, the best broadcasters across all sports?

Davis gripped the wheel, stared at the long strand of brake lights in front of him and explained how he has ridden the fast lane to maybe one of the more revered broadcasting jobs in sport.

What is the earliest memory you have of wanting to be a broadcaster?

Joe Davis: Probably the first guy I paid close attention to, a play-by-play guy, was a little bit ironic because I'm not a great hockey fan, but Gary Thorne on the old NHL on ESPN. I loved his calls on the Stanley Cup finals and playoffs and everything. That was fifth or sixth grade, fourth or fifth grade, in that range. But that is one of the reasons that I have been lucky to accomplish what I have because I have known for a long time that this is exactly what I wanted to do and was able to have that as a guiding force for decisions I made.

I remember by fifth grade my mom had to fill out a survey for the guidance counselor on what she thought maybe I would be interested in doing. That's when you first start on the career exploration stuff. And in the fifth grade, she said 'sports announcer.' So I used to turn down my video games and be the play-by-play guy of the video games I was playing. There were the imaginary games in my backyard. I would be every player on both teams and tackle myself, but I would also be the announcer.

You were a Division III quarterback and then a wide receiver at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Did a pursuit of athletics ever conflict with your decision to pursue broadcasting as a career?

JD: I think that every kid dreams of being a professional athlete. My goal was always to play at Notre Dame. Growing up as a kid, that was always my dream, my athletic dream. But I figured out early in high school I wasn't going to be the Notre Dame quarterback. So once those dreams were adjusted some, again it goes back to being lucky that I knew early on what my dream was more realistically, and that was to be a broadcaster.

Were there any similarities for you in playing football at Beloit College and broadcasting the school's basketball games?

JD: You know where I think there are parallels are that as a quarterback, in the huddle, as things get crazy in the game at its most stressful moment, you have to be the coolest guy in the huddle. You need to be the coolest guy on the sideline. The same could be said about the broadcast. The biggest moments as a play-by-play guy, you have to be at your best, and at your coolest and calmest in the biggest moments.

You are 29 now, but were 27 when the Dodgers first hired you. Does it feel like you have arrived quickly, or since you have been submerged in it, has it been slow?

JD: There are days, I think for anybody when they are climbing the ladder, where it feels like it is moving slowly. I did minor league baseball for a few years and those are long seasons. The conditions aren't great. You are on buses through the middle of the night and staying in hotels that aren't very nice. So there are moments like, 'Man, am I ever going to make it?' But I realized how lucky I am to be where I am right now and realize how quickly it went for me. There are a lot of really talented broadcasters that do minor league baseball for a heck of a long time than I had to grind away in the minors. So I still pinch myself every day looking at how quickly this has happened for me.

How has Los Angeles treated you so far, and have you had that "Welcome to L.A." moment yet?

JD: We have loved it so far. We moved in in early January. We traveled through a snowstorm to get to the airport in Michigan to make our flight to move to L.A. I've said this a few times, but I know it has been everybody's worst winter here, but it has been our best, even with the rain and everything. We love getting to walk to the stores in South Pasadena where we're at. We haven't walked to the grocery store too many times in January or February prior. I would say I don't get recognized out of context. It's happened a few times, and I'm still at a point where I find that really neat. My wife will tell you it's just because I like attention ... I hope I don't lose that perspective that it's pretty neat to be recognized and be somebody that people want to talk to. I realize that they want to talk to me because I'm part of the Dodgers and it's the Dodgers' brand that they think is worth talking to, but I still think it's cool at this point.

Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper has been an important mentor for you. How did an ambitious college kid end up under the wing of an established major league broadcaster?

JD: So in the case of Len, that is a fun story where I wrote him a letter. My dad and I were going to a Cubs game and I wrote him a handwritten letter that I was going to take to the press box attendant and have the attendant walk it up to the booth and give it to Len. I got to the park after parking a mile away or whatever in Wrigleyville. I went up to the booth, reached in my pocket to get the letter and it had fallen out. It was gone. I was bummed. I spent all this time writing this letter and I lost it.

So we watch the game, the Cubs lose, we're driving back home to Michigan and I see a voicemail pop up. It's the owner of the Taco Bell across the street from Wrigley. Somebody had found the letter on the sidewalk, brought it into her and it had my contact info on it. So she said in the message that she would make sure it got to Len when they got back from the road trip they were about to go on. Sure enough, a few weeks later I got an email from Len that said he would be happy to talk sometime. So that started that relationship and he is one of many, many people that have gone out of their way to spend more time helping me than I deserved.

Many people could have been seeking his attention and/or advice. How do you think Len was able to realize your potential from a letter and target you as somebody worth helping?

JD: I think first and foremost, Len is just a special guy that is going to give back to as many people as he can. And, hopefully, a little bit of it is that I have always been really focused on the details, everything down to the punctuation of letters and emails. As competitive of an industry as it is, and this was especially as important when I was first getting going and applying for jobs during college, you can't afford to make any little mistakes that gives anyone any reason to write you off. So hopefully, the presentation in the letter caught his eye a little bit too. I'm sure I rewrote it a few times to make sure I had perfect grammar, perfect handwriting, and thankfully whatever he saw led him to get a hold of me.

You and Len share a broadcasting trait in that instead of instinctively raising your voices as an exciting play or moment builds, you drop octaves. Did that come instinctively, or was it something you learned either from somebody or by example?

JD: In [the] minors, when you are doing 140 games, and in my case solo for three years in a row, that was a great opportunity for me to work at that and find where I belong in the excited range, where my voice belonged for a given moment. You can probably go back and find, or we can pull up tapes of my time in Montgomery, and you can find one day when I'm screaming my head off and the next day when I'm hardly raising my voice. And just a low-pressure situation, when probably nobody is listening at that point, sort of exploring what works and finding yourself. Hopefully, over time, I have gotten close to finding a range that works and captures those moments because I think that is a really important part of being a play-by play guy is that in those big moments: How do you capture them, No. 1 with what you say, but No. 2 with how you say it?

You raised some eyebrows a few days ago when you mentioned on Twitter your on-air style might actually acknowledge no-hitter jinxes. Can you clarify what you meant? And we will give you more than 140 characters this time.

JD: Well, 140 characters, in hindsight, is not enough to explain a philosophy. So my thing is that it is my job to tell you what's going on, so I'm not going to ignore that a no-hitter is going on. It will be abundantly clear what's going on, and I have no problem saying the words 'no-hitter.' I think that's probably the biggest miscommunication that happened with a 140-character limit. I'm not a guy that dodges saying 'no-hitter.' But just as a nod to the people that do care, and as a nod to the people that are bugged by hearing it when one is going on, I won't say it in direct reference to what is happening at that very moment. An example of that: You might hear me say 'Back here at Dodger Stadium where there have been X number of no-hitters thrown. The last Dodgers no-hitter was … whenever. Clayton Kershaw hasn't allowed a hit through eight innings.' So had I not brought this up [on Twitter] you wouldn't have even noticed that I was doing something different than being completely open and transparent about the fact that a no-hitter was going on.

You called Division I football and basketball games for Fox Sports during this past baseball offseason, and have called various sports for ESPN in the past. Is there something rewarding about staying active with multiple sports?

JD: Honestly, my dream wasn't to be the voice of a team. I've always wanted to be the voice of a network and call the very biggest events for a network. To have it be with a team, it had to be the perfect situation and this, obviously, was a perfect situation that I could have never dreamed of turning down. But even in taking the Dodgers job, I wanted to keep my national stuff because I still have goals in that regard. I still love getting to do those national games. So yeah, there is a lot of value in it, personally.

"You don't separate the connection [with Scully]. There is the obvious connection of me being the guy who follows him. I think you embrace the responsibility of that. Where you make the separation is you don't follow the greatest who has ever done it and channel that negatively. Because I think that if you allowed yourself to buy into the idea that you are replacing the greatest to ever do it ... you stand no chance." Joe Davis

That would create a lot of parallels, then, with a particular person, and you had to know the subject of Vin Scully was coming eventually. So we'll start with this: How much Vin Scully did you listen to as you were learning the broadcasting craft?

JD: So in college, I had the MLB radio app, and being the broadcasting nerd that I am, I would listen to it when I was sitting at my computer doing homework, or hanging out in the dorm room. I would listen to the Eastern and Central time zone games, usually the Cubs, if I wasn't watching them on TV. And then when those waves of games finished, the West Coast games came on and I would often turn Vin on and marvel at everything that everybody marvels at: the vocabulary, the storytelling, the recall, the tone, the measured delivery in the biggest moments. And it was the same thing last year, when I was doing road games and he was doing home games, part of my job was to watch those home games and keep up with the team. And every time I would watch and listen, I would learn. Even to this day.

We have established that it is impossible to replace Vin Scully. Yet you are calling games of the club that he is so synonymous with. How have you separated the undeniable aura of Scully from what you have to do moving forward?

JD: You don't separate the connection. There is the obvious connection of me being the guy who follows him. I think you embrace the responsibility of that. Where you make the separation is you don't follow the greatest who has ever done it and channel that negatively. Because I think that if you allowed yourself to buy into the idea that you are replacing the greatest to ever do it, first of all, you stand no chance. Second of all, you're probably going to be inclined to try and be that guy, to try to replicate whatever it is that has made him the best to ever do it for 67 years. And you're going to lose the most important thing, which is to be yourself. And that was Vin's biggest advice to me: You bring one thing to the booth that nobody can, and that is yourself. And that is what Red Barber told him when he was starting in 1950. So that is something that sounds simple, be yourself, but it's not. It's something you have to work at and keep reminding yourself of.

What has it been like to already have worked a half season with baseball icons and color commentators in Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra, while also having guys from the radio side like Charley Steiner and Rick Monday to bounce things off of as well?

JD: It's awesome. I have said that part of what made this job special is the way this team's history is tied to its broadcasters. The obvious one is Vin, [and] before him Red Barber. And even the people now involved in the team. Rick Monday and Charley Steiner on radio. Nomar and Orel and Alanna [Rizzo] on the TV side and our production team is as good as any in baseball. So to have a village of people working at the same thing you are, and that is to do the job the best you can, it's huge. And specifically Orel. Orel has been the biggest reason it has gone well so far, not just as a partner, but as a friend. He has taken me under his wing and his wife, Dana, has done the same for my wife, Libby, and our daughter Charlotte. They have made us feel welcome from day one and made us feel like family from day one.

For any aspiring sports broadcasters or aspiring sports TV reporters out there, what is the one piece of advice that has served you well, or maybe something you wish you knew when you were starting down the path of a broadcasting career?

JD: You have to go out and do it. You have to go out and get reps because every time you go do a game, or do a report, whatever wing of the industry you are interested in, you are going to get better. And that is the beauty of the whole thing is that every time you go on, it's an opportunity to work on something and to get better at a weakness or improve a strength. So go out and get the reps. There are so many people that say, 'Well, how do I get a job if I don't have a job?' The old Catch-22. Well, sit in the stands and bring a recorder with you and do the job. Sit there and call play-by-play in the stands, or turn your TV down and call play-by-play in your room into a recorder.

In an odd sort of way, were you ever self-conscious doing a practice broadcast into a tape recorder, even though talking and having people hear it is what the job is all about?

JD: Oh yeah. I totally get being self-conscious, going up in the stands and having people turn around and look at you. I can't say that more than once or twice I actually did that and went up in the stands. I remember even, as a kid, like I mentioned, turning my video games down and announcing those. I was a little self-conscious my parents would think I was crazy, sitting in my room calling play-by-play, so I totally get that.

You are about to work an entire season from the Vin Scully Press Box this year, calling games of future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, while describing the action from a historic franchise. Has it hit you yet?

JD: Honestly, I'm still wrapping my mind around it, and as Opening Day gets closer, naturally I think more about what it means to be in that chair and the responsibility of being with that organization. It's something that I will probably take a while to wrap my mind around. I think it is important to not lose perspective of how incredible an opportunity it is and not lose perspective of how special a moment it is going to be on Opening Day. But the same kind of idea applies that I mentioned in the big picture and that is not channeling that negatively.

When it's time to go on, and the red light goes on and it's time to do the game, it is just like any other game. And if you approach it any differently, you're probably not going to be yourself. And in that case, you're making it about yourself and that totally goes against what my philosophy is, and that is that it is about the game. So in order to do that game justice, you take a step back and enjoy it and appreciate the moment and it's going to be an incredible moment for me. But then you've got to kind of forget about the gravity of that and focus on the game in front of you.

So at 29, have you finally let go the dream of being a professional quarterback?

JD: Yeah, I've had surgery on both shoulders now so you have to put that aside and just be a broadcaster, I guess.