Monday, May 03, 1999

The Big Life finds Mason's Patrick

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Being a sportscaster in the late 1990s is a little different than its was in the 1960s. These days, you give the scores and highlights, and you become a celebrity.

        This brings us to Dan Patrick, the local boy-made-good at ESPN. Patrick grew up in Mason idolizing the Reds. Today, with the exception of Barry Larkin and maybe Greg Vaughn, Patrick is better known than anyone on the Reds roster.

        Patrick was in town last week to speak at the Elder High School sports stag. If you watched real closely Sunday on SportsCenter, you may have noticed he was wearing an Elder tie.

        Patrick doesn't do a lot of this kind of thing. But if he wanted to cash in on his name, there'd be a market for it.

        “Most of things I've done are back in Cincinnati,” he said. “It gives me a chance to see my family. They still live in Mason ... If I can do it and not get killed travel-wise, I'll do it.”

        Patrick requested to speak to the Elder student body on the day of the stag.

        “The big reason why was what happened in Littleton, Colo.,” he said. “I wanted to get a sense of what they're like. It was a chance to talk to a thousand kids and find out what they're thinking. I've been fascinated by it.”

        He spent an hour or so asking and answering questions. Patrick is one of the few sportscasters in America who can hold the attention of a gym full of teen-agers.

        But when Patrick got into sports TV, he never expected or wanted the fame.

        “I got in for all the right reasons,” he said. “I got in because I loved sports when I was growing up. I loved going to the events. I loved collecting autographs and cutting out pictures from Sports Illustrated.

        Patrick, a star basketball player at Mason, got into broadcasting at Channel 2 in Dayton after graduating from the University of Dayton.

        He went from Dayton to CNN. He arrived at ESPN 10 years ago. He quickly became a star doing “The Big Show” — the 11 p.m. SportsCenter.

        Patrick deals with his celebrity status willingly.

        “If I'm out in public, that's pretty much free reign,” he said.

        But he will avoid the spotlight at times.

        “It's only a burden if I'm on vacation with my family,” he said. “I don't get that much time to spend with them. I try to go places where I'm not recognized, where I can enjoy time with my children.

        “I don't want to take time away from them because someone wants to talk to me about who should be the fifth starter for the Cincinnati Reds.”

        Patrick and Keith Olbermann formed the best SportsCenter anchor tandem ever. Their six-year run ended when Olbermann left for MSNBC two years ago. (He's since moved to rival Fox Sports Net).

        Patrick could have followed Olbermann's lead and moved on. He had a chance to go to ABC's Good Morning America. But he stayed at ESPN for less money.

        “I didn't get in it for the money,” Patrick said. “I didn't even know what a sportscaster made when I was growing up. Money has never driven me. If it had, I would have left a long time ago to go to another network. I think I got in for the right reasons, and I stayed in for the right reasons.”

        Patrick, with new partner Kenny Mayne, has kept The Big Show up to standard.

        Patrick's contract with ESPN runs through 2004. That could be the end of his SportsCenter days.

        “I've been doing it 10 years,” he said. “Ten years is too long. It's a young man's game. I'm only going to do it four or five more years.

        “Then I'll be doing those reports on steroids for the 7o'clock show.”

        John Fay covers TV/radio sports for The Enquirer. He can be reached at 768-8445.


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