DETROIT, Mich. (WOOD) — As he approaches his 60th birthday, Holland native Jay Allen is suddenly living a lifelong dream as the voice of Comerica Park.
“I’ve always felt comfortable from the first day I was in radio,” said Allen, who now lives in Grand Rapids. “I just felt this is where I belonged — behind a microphone. This is just a calling that I feel that I’ve been asked to do. It’s a dream.”
Yet it’s a dream Allen never thought possible.
“I always felt that I had the ability to do, like, a major league ballpark,” Allen said. “But living in Grand Rapids, I knew the limitations. I thought the only way I could get to a major league ballpark would have, we’d have to move.”
In 1993, Jay seemed on his way, serving as the PA voice of the Grand Rapids Hoops. Allen would briefly play that same role with the West Michigan Whitecaps in the mid-1990s and for the entire 12-year run of the Grand Rapids Rampage.
Over 20 years, Allen’s voice became synonymous with West Michigan sports, which he says helped him “immensely” in landing his dream job with the Detroit Tigers.
“All of those were like stepping stones,” Allen said.
After the Hoops and Rampage disbanded, Allen’s desire to stay in West Michigan led him to sell cars. It’s something he’s done for more than a decade now.
Except for some high school games, Allen has been out of the professional announcer business for more than a decade. But in fall, he heard the Tigers would be looking for a new public address announcer in 2019.
“When this opening came along, I said to my wife, ‘It’s probably now or never. Let’s see what happens,’” Allen recalled. “And I thought, what do I got to lose? So I called, talked to a gentleman — very nice on the phone. Asked if I had anything that had my voice on it, I said no. And he said, ‘Grab an old lineup from last year, do it into your phone.’ And I said, ‘Seriously?’”
The Tigers liked what they heard, but Allen said they told him they were going to try to find someone close to Detroit.
“And I said, ‘No problem.’ I said if I could do anything, if I could just fill in one weekend, it’d be a dream come true,” Allen recalled.
Two months, Allen got another call from the Tigers. This time they wanted to know if he would still be interested in the job.
“And I said, ‘Absolutely,” Allen recollected with a smile. “So I said, ‘What do we do next?’ I said, ‘Well, I think you should bring me down to the ballpark. Let’s see if we can create some magic and you’ll know and I’ll know right away if this is going to work.’”
And it did. Allen said about 45 days later he got the call.
“(They) said ‘We’d like to have you if you’d like to be our public address announcer,’ which I still can’t believe,” Allen said.
But to live in Grand Rapids and work for the Tigers in Detroit meant quite a commute.
“So I drove it every day thinking, ‘Could I do this every day?’ And the closer I got to Detroit, the more excited I got. And I thought, ‘This could be a second home for me really easy.’ So it’s not been an issue,” Allen said.
With the blessing of his daytime employer, Allen now makes the five-hour round trips based on the team’s schedule.
“My perspective is I love West Michigan,” Allen said. “I love Grand Rapids. I love the area, but if I want to do something at this level, I’ve got to make the sacrifice. So driving a couple of hours to make that dream come true and be a reality, it doesn’t even enter my mind as an inconvenience. It’s just part of the job to me.”
Allen says he passes the time listening to music and going over the lineups for the upcoming series, among other things.
“And before I know it, two hours is up. I’m here at the ballpark and the fans are just charged up and you’re ready to go,” Allen said. “You know what’s funny is, I’ve never had anyone yet say, ‘You know, you’re crazy.’”
While Allen gets more comfortable with every series, sometimes he still can’t believe Comerica Park is his new office.
“This is as good as it gets,” he said.
“I am the voice of Comerica Park. And God willing, I can do this for 20 years,” he added.