Remembering Dave Niehaus: Northwests baseball family loses its patriarch
Thats what he was family.
Like his first play-by-play idol, St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray, Niehaus helped you imagine how it must feel to be at the ballpark even when you werent.
That was always his goal, to bring every element of the game from the joy of a home run to the disappointment of a double-play grounder to those who couldnt experience it themselves.
Since the first game in Mariners history in 1977, you could count on Niehaus being in your living room, your car, your office, your dorm or your hospital room. He was there game after game after game (only in recent years did he take a short midseason break) because he loved baseball like nothing else outside his wife, children and grandchildren.
He called Diego Seguis first pitch on April 6, 1977, and Ichiro Suzukis fly out to end the season on Oct. 3, 2010.
All the while, Niehaus looked forward to the next game.
I remember talking with him near the Mariners clubhouse at Safeco Field before the final game last month. He was thankful such a miserable last-place season finally was ending and he looked forward to an offseason when he could spend time with his family.
But he also looked forward to spring training, 2011, because his passion for baseball seemed as strong as it was after the Mariners playoff years in 1995, 97, 2000 and 2001.
Dave grew up in Princeton, Ind., and would sit on his front porch listening to Cardinals radio broadcasts. The way Harry Caray described the action and the athletes, the ballpark seemed like a cathedral and the players like supermen.
Niehaus wanted to paint the same picture when he began his broadcasting career after graduating from Indiana University. He knew how important it was to create a verbal image of the sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark for those who didnt have the means to get there.
He and I talked more than a few times over the years about the purpose of baseball and how it extends beyond the quest to win a ring.
He knew he was describing the action to more than baseball fans at home or in bars and restaurants. He realized there are people in hospitals and nursing homes who, just maybe, he could help by bringing three hours of relief from their problems and pain. He didnt take that responsibility lightly.
A lot of people across the Northwest across the world, really cried Wednesday when news spread of Niehaus death.
Former Mariner Jay Buhner had a hard time speaking through his own sorrow when I called him. Niehaus was among the first to welcome Buhner to Seattle after the Mariners obtained him from the Yankees in a 1988 trade, and the two became extremely close over the years.
To Buhner, Dave Niehaus is family.
There is not enough you can write that can do justice for what Dave Niehaus means to this city, to the Mariners, to baseball and to me personally, Buhner said. We lost one of the most beloved guys ever. Its a rough day to say the least.
Former Mariners closer J.J. Putz climbed through the Seattle minor league system and considered it an honor that Niehaus called the games he pitched.
I used to love it when he called me the Big Guy, Putz said.
Ken Griffey Jr., who may become the next Mariner to join Niehaus in the Hall of Fame, told veteran MLB.com writer Jim Street that Niehaus was a father figure to him.
There it is again, family.
A few years ago, I wrote a book titled Tales from the Seattle Mariners Dugout and devoted a chapter to Niehaus. In it, he described Griffey as the best player he ever saw in his prime.
Why not Alex Rodriguez? I dont know, because he was a marvelous player to watch, too, Niehaus said. But Junior exuded this certain aura about him when he went into the gaps to make catches against the wall. He not only looked like it, but Junior was having fun playing baseball. He loved to play the game.
High in the broadcast booth, for all but 101 of the 5,385 games in Mariners history, Dave Niehaus loved describing the action like nothing else besides his family.
As Buhner said, no words can fully describe what everyone connected with the Mariners the players, ex-players, team employees and fans have lost.
Niehaus touched them all.
Read Kirby Arnolds blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog
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