April 10, 2017
A voice that refuses to be stifled
can use our help in an epic battle
By KEITH GAVE
The voice on the other end of the line was clear and strong, absent the slightest hint of a stalker threatening to silence it.
The voice. Always so vibrant and optimistic. And as recognizable to many of us as Ernie reciting his poem at the start of our baseball season every spring.
Today, with so much history unfolding this weekend – the Tigers and a jubilant capacity crowd at Comerica Park enjoying the home opener, and the Red Wings gathering this weekend for their last home-stand after 38 years at Joe Louis Arena – I am brought to my knees by the cheerful and confident sound of Dave Strader’s voice. Not as he describes a goal by Steve Yzerman or a fight by Bob Probert or Joe Kocur, but his latest setback in his fight against Stage 4 bile duct cancer.
“I’ve always been a glass-half-full guy,” he was saying, “and I decided right from the start I’m going to fight this thing.”
He was absolutely right about the fight, and in some ways it already has been miraculous. But he was wrong about that glass. I’ve known Dave for nearly 32 years now. We were rookies together in 1985, he in the broadcast booth with Mickey Redmond, me as the Red Wings beat writer with the Detroit Free Press.
We logged many miles together covering that team over the next 11 years, until Dave moved on to bigger and better opportunities with the national networks.
No, for the Dave Strader I knew – and know and love – that glass was always overflowing with cheerfulness, with hope and kindness and laughter.
It was that buoyancy and strength of spirit and character that delivered Dave back to the broadcast booth nine months after he was first diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer that often claims its victims within a year of diagnosis.
So it was a special moment indeed on Feb. 18, when he rejoined his broadcast partner, Daryl “Razor” Reaugh, call his first Dallas Stars game in 283 days. And if you didn’t see the coverage of events that night, you missed something special.
The Stars fell behind that night, 2-0, in the first period, but mounted an impressive comeback to win the game in overtime. And as the American Airlines Center fans cheered, every player in a Dallas uniform gathered near the center red line on the press-box side of the ice, raised their sticks and pointed them in the direction of the Strader up in the booth.
“For the man who’s fought the fight.” Reaugh roared over the cheering crowd. “Cancer’s got nothing on you, Dave Strader!”
I defy anyone aware of Strader’s circumstance to get through that moment and not have to reach for a Kleenex. And yeah, it was emotional for Dave, too.
These things don’t happen so often in professional sports, for the people on the media side of the equation. It reminded me of how the Detroit Pistons rallied in support of my good friend, Corky Meinecke, our NBA writer at the Freep. We lost Corky to cancer 20 years ago this spring.
I remember calling Corky in those days during his fight, not knowing quite what to say – and he would be the one cheering me up. Then one day I got a call from him, a message left on the old answering machine: “Hey, this is Corky. Just calling to let you know I’m having a really good day and I wanted to share it with you.”
Play back a message like that, and smile through tears.
That’s how the final stages of this disease are: measured by the rare good days among the many bad ones.
So it has been for Dave Strader. Two days after that Stars OT victory, he was back in the booth for a national hockey telecast for NBC Sports.
And then. . . a setback.
When I spoke to Dave on Wednesday morning, he had just spent 17 days in the hospital. But you’d never know it by the way he sounded, chipper and hopeful, as always.
So pardon me if I can’t get too worked up over a blown 4-0 lead in the Tigers’ home-opener, or lament the end of a 25-year Stanley Cup playoff streak, or get choked up over the closing of an arena that, let’s face it, was lousy when it opened and didn’t get much better over the next four decades.
Instead I enjoy the echoes of a full and friendly and familiar voice, and I smile. Through tears.
NOTE: While keeping Dave Strader in your thoughts and good wishes, he’d appreciate you logging into www.Cholangiocarcinoma.org to learn more about the disease, and to help join the fight against it, if you’re so inclined.