Interview: De La “Pickem” with FOX 7′s Dennis De La Pena

Fox 7 sports reporter, Dennis De La Pena, is Austin Vida’s sports feature for February. Not only has he been with Fox 7 going on ten years now, but he is the only sports personality cool enough to have his own segment on popular alternative rock station, 101X. His “De La Pickems” is what put Dennis on our radar.

Dennis was born and raised in Austin, having attended Dobie Junior High and Rock Rock High School. After high school he attended The University of Texas in Austin where his first major was engineering. After a year of less than stellar grades, he rekindled his love for communicating and sports by switching to sports journalism.

After graduating from UT, he worked for a television station in Amarillo, Texas before returning to Austin to work for Fox 7. It is not everyday that one gets to live and work in the city they love, doing their dream job for a living. That love for his job, UT athletics and Austin life in general is what keeps Dennis going.

I was fortunate to sit down with Dennis for this edition of Austin Vida and pick his brain about everything from The Morning X with Jason and Deb to other pro level sports organizations in Austin. Dennis was open, honest, and proved he has a sense of humor.

How did your 101X segment come about?

It is wild how that happened. We (Fox) did something with 101X a long time ago when Drew and Trina were the morning personalities. I really don’t remember what gave birth to that. Sometime you will just have a random ting where the radio talent will have you call in or it is orchestrated by the higher ups somehow. I want to say this was about 7 or 8 years ago.

If memory serves me correctly, your segment started as just a call in segment. Drew and Trina would tease you and you’d give your sports picks. What do you think lead to you being a regular segment beyond just calling in?

I guess we fooled you because it is rare that I am actually in the studio. I guess it feels that way because of the synergy that Jason Dick and I have developed. You see Jason was the intern during the Drew and Trina era. When he became the regular morning guy with Deb, he called me and asked me to rekindle the segment. I mean, he’s a big sports nut and I was more than happy to call in and talk sports as long as I didn’t have to get up early and fight traffic to do it.

Your relationship with Jason seems very “Bro” or like a Fraternity Brother relationship. It’s funny. Was it Jason that coined the “De La Pick-ems” name? Lately it was more about Jason’s Fantasy football team, which he swears he’s God at.

I got to give to them. I never would have came up with that on my own. I am not enough of a self promoter that way. I love it though.

Do you keep track of those De La Pickems by the way? What was your record this past year? Were you at least .500?

Oh yeah. Again, not to toot my own horn but I totally dominate bro. Just kidding, but I do pretty well. Last year, Jason was ready to take me to Vegas. Its fun though and I couldn’t be happier it started back up. I don’t get to show that side of me on Fox.

Do you ever have to tell them that you can’t say something or do something they ask? I mean, they have to mess with you somehow.

Oh yeah, they love to push the envelope. After doing this for a while now, I think they finally figured out where that line is. I have had to say a couple times that I can’t say anything about that. It doesn’t make for good radio, but I still have a job the next day. I have to keep my guard up with those guys though. It’s early and they may catch me off my guard one of these days.

Are you going to be doing it again this fall when football season starts up again?

Yeah. The segments won’t be as long, but I will do it as long as they will have me. I say they but I mean Jason. During the sports talk, Deb tunes out. I really like Deb. I just know when I call she gets up to do some errands or gets coffee maybe. I know she isn’t a big sports fan.

Talking more about sports, let’s talk about sports in Austin. After living here as long as I have, I think it has slowly evolved here in terms of professional sports. I mean we got the Toros, the Aztex, the Ice Bats and The Express in Round Rock .What’s with sports in Austin?

It’s a fickle market to try and grow pro sports beyond those organizations you just mentioned. It never really had pro market size, but has pro market potential. Maybe it is changing with more people moving in from out of state. Who knows? Having lived here almost my whole life, it almost seems that U.T. is the pro sports team. That’s who we all grew up following. Keep in mind my frame of reference. Now there are people here who could care less abut U.T. football. That’s really how it is though. We don’t need a team of people we aren’t invested in. Time may change that.

Were you as surprised as me when Austin passed on what is now the Round Rock Express?

I was, but I knew baseball would end up here somehow. The Express people really had it figured out how fertile a baseball area this area was. There is alt of talent that comes out of the Austin area and a lot of people who really care about the sport. They really nailed it. It’s a first class organization all the way around. It helps too that they are affiliated with The Astros.

So what doesn’t work with the other sports organizations?

I don’t know if you’d heard of the Austin Turf Cats (Southern Indoor Football League), our new indoor football team who will be playing games at the Expo Center. As a sports caster, you hope they succeed because you want more options. I wonder what will draw fans to go watch this team. Arena football didn’t even work here, and you could watch that on TV. I hope it works, but it has a lot of entertainment options to compete with in Austin. That’s a big obstacle in itself.

Do you think the Cowboys will ever come back for training camp?

I think Jerry Jones knows that they had too much fun when they were here. That got a little rowdy. I think the last thing they need to do, especially with the climate of that team, is come reek havoc.

I would think Austin is a pretty forgiving city and embrace them.

I really don’t see it happening (laughing).

One can only hope I guess. What about basketball in this town? We have the Toros that feed into the Spurs. I think Austin is split pretty well between being Spurs fans and Maverick fans, maybe some Rockets fans here and there.

I think that helps them, feeding into the Spurs. It is kind of like The Express with the Astros. It’s not quite the same because you don’t have the frequency of call ups in the NBA. I’m actually surprised they don’t get more fans than they do. I mean those players on The Toros were studs in college. There is a lot of name recognition there if you are a college basketball fan. It really shows how tough it is to make it to the NBA.

When I saw them play, I saw very little difference in terms of skill in comparison to the NBA. I am surprised more people don’t attend games.

Again, it goes back to relevance to them. Toros is new thing and new concept. People haven’t wrapped their head around the fact that they could be watching the next San Antonio Spur for less than the cost of an NBA ticket. You hit it right on the nail. Those guys on the Toros are one step away from being NBA players. It is fun to watch as a basketball fan.

Speaking of relevant and needing to wrap your head around things, what do you think of the Aztex? I mean, talk to me about soccer here in Austin in general.

I’m the worst person to ask that. They way I grew up, Soccer was always that other sport to me. I played little league soccer one year as kid and that is about the scope of things for me in terms of soccer.

I think that’s generational, tying back into the Latino culture here. I know my grandfather watches the Mexican soccer games on the Spanish language networks all the time. I developed my love of soccer from him. I think the closer you are in generations to Mexico, South America or wherever, the more likely you are to be a soccer fan if you didn’t grow up playing soccer.

You’re absolutely right. We covered Club America at Round Rock High School last year when they came. I have to always remind myself that my sports lens isn’t the only one. If people are out there, then it is relevant. It is obvious that soccer will excite a lot of people here whether I understand it or not.

I was definitely happy to see the Aztex returning this year and that are playing in Austin. I often wonder about soccer in the U.S. in general also. I am shocked but glad that MLS is still around after all these years. What’s your take on that?

I think its kind of two pronged. You hit it with the generational point. That generation is out there. Two, it comes down to people in my shoes having to buy into it or embrace it. Even though I could easily have my blinders on to the sport, I have tried to highlight it. We do our best to try and cover Aztex home games. Any game we can cover, we cover. There is still some disconnect though. If you were to poll all the local sports guys and sports writers, you’ll see soccer is just not on their radar.

That’s honest…

I always tell the soccer people to pitch their stories to us. I now it’s not right, but they aren’t our first read. We’re thinking in terms of football, baseball, basketball…the big three. I tell them to give us story ideas and tell us how many people are getting out there. They have to beat us over the head with it.

It seems very underground still. I am surprised by that because we all just recently had World Cup fever. Local sports bars had crowded watch parties. There were even crowds for, I don’t want to say boring games, but for small countries like Korea versus The Netherlands.

We also had Olympic swimming fever when Michael Phelps was winning gold after gold. How many people now are jacked up about swimming? Again, I am speaking for the stereo typical American sports fan. Sure we’ll hoist a few and cheer on the stars and stripes. When it’s done, it’s done. With so little people here not growing up playing soccer, they don’t understand the nuances of the sport. It will take a while for it to grow here.

Something else on the underground brewing up here in Austin, is the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight scene. You have King of Kombat and now XFC is going to have evens at the Expo Center.

I grew up watching boxing, so MMA is sort of new to me too. I think it will have an audience here. It’s a killer sport and I can get why people want watch it at its highest level. I always am a little hesitant when the lower levels try to pop up. I have seen too many of these type of things go under. Too many times the talent level is just not there and that league fades away. Hopefully, there is enough talent and potential there to make you and I watch them perform.

My friends and I do already. We have UFC watch parties and have been to all the King of Kombat events.

You could probably educate me. It is one those deal where if we have the time we will go cover it. We may do a feature on a local dude who maybe sacks groceries by day and kicks the crap out of people by night.

What about local boxing? Last I heard anything about boxing was about Jesus Chavez.

You’d have to be watching the day we ran the story. We do more feature coverage versus smaller beat coverage.

Yeah but it is that local coverage that keep my peers and I interested in the local news, that and what the weather is going to be like the next day. Honestly, for those other scores, we just check them online or watch Sports Center. ESPN airs it like three times in the morning and two or three times at night.

And we know that. The local stuff is what we have to offer that they don’t. That’s our niche and why we hit local. We won’t make any money by doing just football highlights. I mean we need to obviously, but we know the realty. This day and age, the bigger games are televised in some form or fashion anyway.

What’s going on locally now that is building a lot of buzz?

Right now, beat coverage wise it is all abut basketball. Our beat coverage is UT. They are fun to watch and are relevant, so we hit that pretty hard. We will even cover the women’s team for the Longhorns.

What about at the high school level?

We have a story about the NCAA now has 7th graders as basketball prospects. How bad is that? I made that same face you just made when I learned that. We actually have an 8th grader in Pflugerville who is on that top prospect list. That’s just crazy to think that because the kid hasn’t even finished growing yet. We’ll find stories like that, but baseball is just around the corner so we’ll it that hard soon.

Any parting words you want to leave us with?

Oh sure. Hook em!

For more of Dennis online, visit the following links:

Fox 7

Dennis De La Pena Blog

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Ian Morales

Editor in Chief

Ian is a product of Round Rock High School and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He is an alumnus of the National Hispanic Institute and learned to dance at a young age with the Round Rock Ballet Folklórico. Ian also serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Austin Vida’s sister site, Red River Noise.

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