EVERETT — The 2021 Minor League Baseball season has been one of change for the Everett AquaSox. The offseason upheaval in Minor League Baseball, in which Major League Baseball took over operations, reorganized the landscape and contracted about 25% of the teams, had a profound impact on the Sox, who have both reaped great rewards and faced tremendous challenges.
One of the consequences is that we no longer have just one radio voice of the AquaSox, we have two.
Pat Dillon was the only voice a generation of Everett fans had ever known, serving as the lone radio broadcaster for more than two decades. But if you’ve tuned into any away game broadcasts this season, then you know he’s been joined by Steve Willits.
Dillon is an AquaSox institution. The 56-year-old was hired in 1998, taking over radio duties just four seasons after Everett became a Seattle Mariners affiliate and was rebranded from the Giants to the AquaSox. From 1998-2020 Dillon missed just one game, that coming in 1999 when he attended a family wedding. With his dulcet tones and encyclopedic knowledge of Sox history, he’s the Vin Scully of Everett.
But working every night during a 76-game schedule, when Everett was in the Short Season-A Northwest League, was tolerable. With the Sox moving to a 120-game schedule this year with their switch to High-A West, it became a more daunting prospect, and Dillon decided it was time to cut down the workload.
“Just when my wife and daughter would be tired of me being gone every night for a 76-game season, the season would be over,” Dillon explained. “I knew with 120 this year, then 132 in 2022, it was going to be a lot. I did the first road trip of the season, then found Steve.”
Dillon didn’t have to look far to find Willits. The affable 48-year-old is every Sox fan’s best friend, having served as Everett’s on-field host for games at Funko Field dating back to 2017. Willits has a background in broadcasting, including being part of KRKO’s high school sports team, and he happened to be in between sales jobs.
“Pat Dillion basically called me up out of the blue and asked if I was interested in doing it,” Willits said — when he wasn’t being interrupted by fans saying hello during his interview on the concourse at a recent home game.
“I’d done a little bit of baseball in the past, a bit at the high school level and a little bit of community college, but this was a new animal for me.”
So, following the Everett’s season-opening series at Hillsboro in May, a new partnership was formed, with Dillon serving as the broadcaster for home games and Willits calling the away games.
How’s it gone? So far, so good.
“It was weird at first (not seeing every game in person), and it still is a little bit,” Dillon said. “But the trade-off is a positive one.”
That trade-off? He actually gets to spend part of his summer with his family. This summer included a long-postponed vacation to Maui with extended members of the family.
And for Willits?
“I’m having fun with it,” he said. “The first game or two were a little rough, we had to work some of the kinks out. But other than that it’s going real well. It helps that I have a lot of relationships with a lot of our fanbase already, just in the sense that a lot of the folks who listen to the games are those who come to the home games. I think when you walk into a position where you have someone like Pat Dillon, who’s been doing it so long, being the second person isn’t necessarily an easy role to step into. But the fact I do have a rapport with the fans helps. So maybe even if I’m not the greatest play-by-play announcer in the world, I think maybe they cut me some slack.”
What makes it fun for listeners is that Dillon and Willits have differing broadcast styles.
“I think of Pat as being more polished,” Willits said. “I think he’s more of an old-school broadcaster. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve a lot more, and I think that when I get excited I let that come over the airwaves — for better or worse.”
“The one word I would us to best describe Steve’s style is, ‘Enthusiasm,’” Dillon added. “And being friendly, he directs the broadcast outward. I enjoy listening to him.”
Will this pairing continue beyond this season? That’s yet to be determined. But both sides are receptive to the idea.
“I certainly hope he wants to come back next year,” Dillon said with a laugh.
“As long as it works into my schedule and as long as it’s working for Pat and the organization,” said Willits, who made sure to say that his top priority would be continuing as on-field host. “I could see myself doing this for years to come.”
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.
This story has been modified to correct the spelling of Vin Scully’s name.