Richard John “Dick” Vitale is no “Diaper Dandy” anymore.
But at age 75, the loud voice of college basketball for ESPN can wield a pen.
Vitale signed copies of his new book, “It’s Awesome, Baby! – 75 Years of Memories and a Lifetime of Opinions on the Game I Love” on Tuesday at the Wichita State University Bookstore in the Rhatigan Student Center for more than 90 minutes, well after the store had sold out of its 300 copies.
The line of autograph seekers stretched nearly the length of the building and included James Rhatigan, the former WSU administrator for whom the building is named.
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Vitale signed the books prior to ESPN’s telecast of the WSU-Alabama game at Koch Arena on Tuesday night.
He multi-tasked much of the time. He patiently wrote messages as requested, posed for cellphone photos, smiled whenever somebody threw his famous “Awesome, baby!” phrase back at him, nodded as people nervously rushed through stories they felt might connect with him, and even instructed people to tweet their photos of the event out to the world.
He told somebody to have ESPN get a camera to the event to show the size of the crowd.
“I never expected this kind of crowd,” Vitale said to somebody standing near his chair a half-hour after he started signing books. “What amazes me is they told me school’s out. Awesome.”
WSU started its winter break this week.
At one point, Vitale stopped signing, stood, walked around the signing table to the people in the front of the line, and asked them to pose for a group photo while holding up copies of the book.
Then in a voice that needed no amplification, Vitale addressed the long line that stretched before him.
He told them about why he was doing this. He pointed to the pictures of 10 children in the back of the book. They are 10 kids who died of cancer, he explained. He has dedicated the book to them, he told the crowd.
All proceeds from the sales of the book are going toward a pediatric cancer research grant in the children’s honor, he told the crowd. His goal, he told them, is to raise $2 million. Last year, he raised $2.1 million, he told them.
“You guys are very lucky today,” Vitale said, his voice booming down the Rhatigan Student Center hallway. “If you have your health and you’re doing something you love, you’re a billionaire. A lot of people would give their right arm to be able to stand in line like you are today. So God bless you and thank you so much for coming out.”
Then he sat down.
“I really gotta move the line,” he muttered.
The autograph seekers were happy to see him.
“It’s been too long coming,” said Bryan Malone, who owns an advertising agency in Wichita. “You can see by the amount of people here that he’s appreciated in this community.”
Patty Beamer, a longtime Shocker fan, said she is one of Vitale’s Twitter followers. He once responded to one of her tweets, she said.
“He’s being very congenial when people are asking him to sign several things,” Beamer said. “He’s being very accommodating to everybody.”
When it was over, Vitale posed for photos with those who didn’t make it to the front of the line.
His energy level remained high. He works out daily, he said in an interview. He walks at least an hour a day no matter where he is. Walking is the key to his health, he said.
Energy and enthusiasm is what his book is all about, Vitale said.
“I grew up in a home with a mom and dad without an education,” he said. “They always inspired me to chase my dream. I lost my eye as a kid and they kept saying to me, you can be what you want to be. Today I can’t believe what’s happened in my life.”
“Everything I do now, I want to give back, because people have been so good to me,” said Vitale.
And he wants to keep doing it as long as he can, he said.
“I’d like to be the first announcer to walk in and do a game and say ‘It’s awesome, baby,’ at 100 years of age,” Vitale said. “That would be gold.”
Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buying a signed book
People who couldn’t make the Dick Vitale book signing can purchase copies at www.wsubookstore.com through 5 p.m. Wednesday. The books will be sent to Vitale for his signature, then returned.
Copies also may be purchased on Vitale’s website, www.dickvitaleonline.com. Vitale will sign all books purchased from the site.