By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Safeco Field felt like a true church of baseball Saturday afternoon as thousands of Seattle Mariners fans came to say farewell to broadcaster Dave Niehaus.
They stood in line for hours, quietly filing past a memorial to the beloved broadcaster that was set up at home plate.
“He felt like a family member or friend, even though you didn’t know him,” said Sarah Logsdon, 27, of Sultan. “He had that kind of impact.”
Logsdon teared up as she neared home plate, where a wreath of white roses stood alongside Niehaus memorabilia, including a plaque from his 2008 induction into the broadcasters’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“He’s the heart and soul of this organization,” she said. “It’s going to be hard not to have him up there.”
The open house for Niehaus drew 3,643 fans to Safeco Field, team officials said.
Niehaus, 75, died Wednesday at his Bellevue home. He had been the lead play-by-play announcer for the Mariners’ since their inaugural 1977 season. He saw 5,284 of the team’s 5,385 games.
Many fans Saturday recalled the thrill in his voice during the Mariners’ 1995 playoff series, as the team beat the New York Yankees. Some had even been there that year.
“The biggest roar of the whole game was when they put the camera on him (Niehaus), and he was up there, pumping his fist, with tears coming down,” said Jon Bare, 35, of Mill Creek.
Bare sat near the visitor’s dugout with his wife, Lori Bare, and their two children, Brett and Jordan, ages 7 and 5.
“It’s important to bring the kids out,” Lori Bare said, “so they know that someone great has moved on.”
Plans are still firming up for a larger public memorial for Niehaus. Mariners officials wanted to give fans an immediate way to say goodbye, however.
“They needed an outlet, somewhere to come together, and be together and share their grief,” said Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hall.
Niehaus brought his own joy of baseball to fans thanks in part to his folksy expressions. It wasn’t a grand slam to Niehaus; it was a grand salami.
“He was like your dad or an uncle, just talking about the game,” said Marie Brookins, 43, of Edmonds.
Niehaus’ voice filled Safeco Field during the open house. Clips from his play-by-play announcements were intercut with uplifting music from the soundtrack of the movie, “The Natural,” and solemn instrumentals.
That voice was a vital part of the Northwest, fans said.
John McCoy served in Iraq from 2003 to 2005 with the Washington Army National Guard. He got in the habit of listening to Niehaus online while he was overseas.
It brought him home.
“He had an unbelievable way of painting a picture when you weren’t there to see it,” said McCoy, 35, of Mountlake Terrace. “It was like being front row center, right behind home plate.”
McCoy said the open house was a fitting tribute to Niehaus, but the broadcaster deserved more.
“He deserves a World Series and his number retired,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455; email@example.com.