Friday, November 12, 2010

Dave Niehaus, 1935-2010


Dave Niehaus, the lead announcer for Mariner radio and television broadcast for the entire history of the club, has passed away of a heart attack at his Bellevue home.  He was 75, and is survived by his wife Marilyn, their three children: Andy, Matt and Greta and six grandchildren, Zach, Steven, Dave NiehausMadeline, Alexa, Audrey and Spencer.  He witnessed 5,284 of the 5,385 games played by the Mariners since their inception - only health issues or family weddings and funerals could keep Dave from the booth.

Photo from the Seattle PI

Clearly, God needed an announcer, and he drafted the best. I will never forget all the games I went to with a radio and earphones so I could listen to Mr. Niehaus tell me about the game I was watching. He wrote poetry on the fly, and made even the 100 loss seasons interesting. I was so happy for him when in 1995 Edgar doubled in the winning run in the division series, and he called the play. I was overjoyed as a fan, but I was even more overjoyed that this man, who'd called so many stinkers with good humor, was living a dream with the 95 team and he was calling playoff games at long last. I think that the man who loved calling games and teaching us about the game is the poster boy for life well-lived. He said he'd never worked a day, because if he hadn't been in the broadcast booth he'd have been in the stands.  I will miss him every game - though I love Rick and Dave and Mike, I will always be aware that Mr. Niehaus' sonorous voice is now silent.

Indeed, baseball will never be the same for me.  Mr. Niehaus was more than a great voice, more than a student of the game, more than a trusted figure in the clubhouse, he was a genuine and grounded man who valued each relationship in his life - even his relationship with the Mariners fans, most of whom he never met. 

My memories of Mariner baseball all revolve around Dave, and when I was traveling in the car I'd know instantly when I'd found the Mariners game on the radio dial.  From the lowest growl, "strike one", to the most ebullient "and this one will fly,fly, fly away...My, Oh My", Dave's manner and voice were unmistakable.  I was at the last three games of Junior's consecutive game homer run, the playoff with California in '95, the playoff win over the Yankees.  When Edgar nailed that double and the winning run crossed the plate, I wanted nothing more than to hear what Dave said.  After so many years, so many bad teams, it was a moment that I felt was somehow especially his.  He called blowout losses in a colorful and never beaten down way.  He taught the game to an entire region of fans, play by play, situation by situation.  We knew the look on the manager's face, the feel of a breeze when it kicked up, the excitement of every great play, and the greatness of some plays we might not have noticed were great (like the amazing movement on Jeff Nelson's slider when it was really biting, or an at-bat when Edgar fouled off ten or even fifteen pitches, fighting to get one he could drive). 

I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when a centerfield seat was $1 and I'd be at the game 30-40 times a season when I was in high school. I went with whatever friends I could round up, and even alone sometimes.  I'd have an earphone in one ear and sit at the end of the group of my friends just so I could hear Dave's call of the game and my friends both.  Back then, I was a statistics freak, and it got to the point I could calculate batting averages on the fly during a game.  I secretly hoped I could somehow be a stat guy for the broadcasts, so I could hear Dave every play  of every game (and travel with the team for 162 plus spring training). 

I heard Chuck Armstrong say that he wanted to have the number 162 on his headstone.  I can't think of a better summation of what Dave was.  He was there, almost every game the Mariner's ever played from the first pitch of the first spring training to the conclusion of last season.  35 years of excellence.  I know that the first few games I hear next season, though I love Rick and Dave and Mike, I will feel a sadness that Dave's voice is missing.  Though he was in the booth and I was in the car, or listening in bed, or listening at the game, I felt somehow that he was speaking to me from the next seat, like a friend I went to the game with.  The fans loved him, and I think he returned the sentiment. 

Rick will do a great job, and has done for 24 seasons now with the M's, and I am glad we have such a fine announcer to step in.  When Pete Gross passed away, it took me a couple of years to get used to the new announcer, and I still miss the sound of Pete saying "Touchdown Seahawks".  I know that I will miss Dave's "My, oh my!", too, and more deeply.  But I'll miss so much more.  It will be a bit like the Mariners will have a new personality, and I know Rick and whomever the team adds to the broadcast booth will do a great job.  But it won't be Dave.  I love the Mariners and have been at the ballpark hundreds of times since the Opening Day that launched the expansion team.  And Dave was my shepherd through the sights, sounds, breezes, brawls, highs and lows of most of those games.  Thank you Mr. Niehaus.  I'll never forget all those hours we shared over baseball - Mariners baseball. 

Godspeed Sir, and may your family be at peace.

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Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
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