Sports are full of interesting personalities, especially in baseball. Tulsa native Steve Sparks, radio broadcaster for the Houston Astros and a former Major League pitcher, is a prime example because of his experiences and penchant for mischief.
Sparks, 52, is a graduate of Holland Hall in Tulsa and made his debut with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1995 after spending 10 seasons in the minor leagues. He also pitched for the then-Anaheim Angels, Detroit Tigers, Oakland A’s and Arizona Diamondbacks before retiring in 2005.
In 1991, the Brewers persuaded Sparks to throw the knuckleball, which has little spin and dips, dives and drops without warning. The pitch extended his career.
“My time in the major leagues, because of the time in the minor leagues, made me appreciate every day,” says Sparks, adding that he “probably had a lot less talent than a lot of people, but the knuckleball allowed me to make a living at something I loved doing. I was very grateful.”
In taking the mound or broadcasting professionally, he has always carried the lessons he and his siblings learned while growing up in Tulsa.
“I had a very hard-working family,” he said. “[My dad] will turn 82 this year [and] never missed a day working at the tire lot. He taught me a lot … about how to work and treat people. It was a great place to grow up. Tulsa’s a beautiful city; it’s very clean. I take that with me wherever I go.”
Even at his own expense, Sparks is always up for a good laugh. One way he has tried to elicit chuckles is by including fictional tidbits for his biographies to see if anyone would ask about them. In Detroit, he wrote that his hobby was whistling show tunes, so, during spring training one year, a TV reporter asked him to demonstrate. Hilarity quickly followed.
“All I knew was ‘Oklahoma.’ I’m a horrible whistler, but I did it anyway,” he says.
His biography in this year’s Astros media guide calls Sparks “a serial couponing enthusiast who has saved thousands of dollars the past few years,” another funny falsehood that came “off the top of my head,” he says.
What Sparks does take seriously is the positive impact he, as color commentator, and Astros play-by-play man Robert Ford had on Houston and South Texas last year during the team’s run to its first World Series title in franchise history. The postseason string of victories came just weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated that part of the state.
“The Astros were providing a lot of hope in desperate times and situations for a lot of people,” Sparks says. “People would send us pictures of being inside their homes, a tarp on their roof, with a radio on a chair everybody huddled around listening to the Astros. That meant a lot to us, knowing we could provide a little respite, maybe a little relief for a few hours.
“The city really rallied around this Astros team and they brought a lot of joy to people when times looked pretty bleak.”