Baseball A Hit With Elve

July 25, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — He is one of the few West Michigan Whitecaps who hasn’t struck out this year, missed the cutoff man or been caught stealing.

Plus, he has a law degree.

Still, it’s highly unlikely that Dan Elve will be voted the team’s most valuable player. But the senior counsel at local law firm Rhoades McKee certainly does qualify as one of the two most indispensable team members in the Whitecaps’ broadcasting booth.

“Oh, it’s going great and the firm has been good. They’ve given me extra time for that by giving me senior counsel status. I have the best of all worlds here,” he said. “I can split my time between the firm and the ballpark when I need to. I can talk to the ballplayers and the manager. And it’s really rekindled my interest in the game.”

Elve is the analyst for play-by-play announcer Dave Skoczen on the Whitecaps Baseball Network, a group of four radio stations that include the flagship WBBL-AM 1340 in Grand Rapids. This season marks the first time the two have worked together, having replaced Rick Berkey, the longtime voice of the Caps.

“Things are working out fine with Dave. I think he is going to be a big league announcer in due time. He is that talented,” said Elve. “I’ve known Rick since our high school days. I go way back with Rick and he has also been supportive.”

Born in Holland but raised in Grand Rapids, Elve was admitted to the bar in 1978 after earning his law degree from Louisiana State University, also the school where he received a bachelor’s degree in American history after two years at Grand Rapids Junior College.

“I specialized in the Civil War and LSU had one of the top programs at that time. So I was able to study under one of the top professors of that time in Civil War history. And there were battlefields in that area that I could study in-depth. It was a real interesting experience,” he said.

Elve joined Rhoades McKee in 1981 and has practiced in multiple areas, but has spent most of his time doing general commercial law. In 1987, though, Elve had a criminal case that led TV newscasts and was splashed across the front page of the daily paper.

“I represented a guy accused of trying to kill a Grand Rapids city policeman. A shot was fired, but we were able to get a forensics expert to show that the shot was aimed at the floor instead of at the policeman. The jury agreed. He was looking at life in prison and we were able to walk him out of the courtroom,” he said.

Before joining Rhoades McKee, though, he worked for the Detroit Tigers. From 1979 to 1981, he headed the team’s minor-league operations and helped the Tigers’ executives with salary arbitration cases at the major-league level.

“When I was with the Tigers, there were a number of guys that I was compatriots with who were with other organizations that now are big-time executives in major league baseball,’ he said.

“Andy McPhail, for instance, had the same job I had but with the Cubs, and now he is the president and general manager of the Cubs. Dave Dombrowski, the current president of the Tigers, had the same job with the White Sox. So I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I had stayed in the game. But I don’t regret choosing law. I think I’ve made some pretty good choices.”

The best choice he said he made, however, was marrying Lorna. They tied the knot six years ago, a first marriage for both. Lorna is a native of Calumet in the Upper Peninsula, not too far from Houghton, and has been the director of marketing at Witte Travel for the past dozen years. They spend much of their free time together at a Lake Michigan home they own in the Montague area.

“My pastimes are basically two things: reading American history and playing baseball board games. I don’t know if you remember the old Strat-o-matic and APBA games, where you roll the dice and have the individual cards for each player. I still do that,” he said.

Elve gave lots of credit to two people who helped him get where he is today. He said Roger Boer, a founding partner of Rhoades McKee, gave his legal career a boost by bringing him into the firm and helping him become a skilled litigator.

“The firm’s name at that time was Rhoades, McKee and Boer. He brought me in and made me a competent lawyer,” he said.

Bob Sullivan, a local businessman and the city’s unofficial “Mr. Baseball” with a West Side field named in his honor, used his connections to help Elve reach the majors.

“At the time I joined the Tigers they were looking for some inside legal help to help prepare for those salary arbitration situations,” he said. “Bob Sullivan knew general manager Jim Campbell very well, so he recommended me for that job and I was hired.

“But other than that, I’ve had a lifelong interest in the game. I played the game and was involved with Bob Sullivan’s ballclub back when he was sponsoring the teams. He and Phil Regan really taught me a lot about the game.”

Elve made the trips to Wichita for the National Baseball Congress tourneys, which the Sullivans won a few times, and to the Netherlands for the Honkball Tournaments, which the Sullivans always seemed to win.

“It was fun,” he said of his time with the Tigers and the Sullivans. “And I’ve come full circle now that I’ve got the announcing job with the Whitecaps.”

Coming full circle is a good thing. It’s like hitting for the cycle. It means that a personal journey was headed in the right direction all along, even when the path wasn’t clear and the destination was uncertain. For Elve, it means that he has crossed home plate — standing up.

“I think I’ve finally achieved the right balance and I plan to continue with the program I’ve got for a while,” he said. “It took me a long time to reach that balance, but I think I finally achieved it.”    

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