The last time I saw Dick Sanford was in a press box and really, where else would it have been?
It was the final day of spring training in Jupiter a little more than two months ago and Dick Sanford was shutting off the microphone at the end of a Marlins-Cardinals spring training game, eager to talk about the Gators or the Dolphins or the Heat or any sports topic in the world, as long as the conversation didn’t circle back to the weight he had lost and the treatments he was undergoing and the tough road he faced.
Dick kept coming to work as long as he was able, kept chirping over the stadium speakers about some special promotional day “at the ol’ ballyard.” Always wondered where he got that particularly folksy phrase. Undoubtedly it was borrowed from some play-by-play voice Dick listened to as a boy growing up in West Palm Beach, back when falling asleep to some distant major league broadcast on the transistor radio was as good as summertime got.
Word came Tuesday that Sanford is gone at 66 and at the same time a bit of that old familiar summertime zest left, too.
Those of us who grew up here have been listening to Dick do the lineups and announcements between innings and everything else that fills in the quiet spaces on a ballgame for 40 years or more. Playing hooky from work or school to see a spring training game at West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium or Roger Dean? Sanford’s welcoming tones said it was all right. Catching a Florida State League game years ago or a Marlins game in Miami from 2000-14? Dick beat you to the park by several hours in order to do his job well, and that includes when the Marlins were in the World Series.
He also hustled to provide a professional atmosphere for high school games at Wellington and Palm Beach Central and American Legion games all over. Real long-timers will remember Dick as sports director at WPTV Channel 5 and on WJNO-1230 radio. He had a nightly sports radio call-in show called “Time Out” which was kind of funny because he never took time off. Even worked as general manager of the West Palm Beach Expos for a couple of years, and did play-by-play on the team’s radio broadcasts at the same time. Rattled out quick and clean high school football stories for the Palm Beach Post on many Friday nights as well.
Dick once told me about his first radio gig way back when. If memory serves, it was something about getting behind the mike in Sicily while on military duty and predicting the scores for NFL games. The guys on the base would have eaten that up, but it was Sanford who couldn’t get enough of talking about sports with as many people as he could reach.
I ran across a newspaper ad from 1980 touting appearances by Dolphins hero Larry Csonka and Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum at a West Palm Beach Auditorium fishing and hunting and RV expo. Of course, those were mighty big names, but the tallest type in the ad was reserved for the announcement that Dick Sanford would be the event’s MC.
Like other area sports announcers who went before him, Jim Gallagher and Buck Kinnaird, Dick was a local celebrity and a friend all at once. That’s how he wound up with them in the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame.
That’s why the press box is going to seem a little lonely at Roger Dean next spring, even on those afternoons when the ol’ ballyard is sold out.