By Kirby Arnold
Dave Niehaus begins his 34th season today as the Mariners’ play-by-play voice, and the anxious feeling in his stomach is no different now that it was when he first started calling games.
“Tommy Lasorda used to say he’s got a weight problem this time of year,” Niehaus said. “He couldn’t wait to get down here.”
Niehaus and Rick Rizzs will call the first of 22 exhibition games today on ESPN 710 AM radio when the Mariners play the San Francisco Giants at 12:05 p.m. (PST) in Peoria.
“It’s always fun watching the club come together, young players trying to make an impression and veterans trying to hang on,” said Rizzs, who starts his 25th season with the Mariners. “There are always great stories to tell.”
Niehaus calls it the greatest time of the year.
“But,” he added, “it’s also the toughest time of the year.”
It’s spring training for the broadcasters, who must get to know the 63 players in camp and do their best to become familiar with the minor leaguers who’ll appear in the late innings of the exhibition games.
“We’re going to see kids the next 2½-3 weeks that we’re not going to see at any other time of the year,” Niehaus said. “You don’t know a thing about them. It’ll be the same when the Giants, the Padres, whoever, come in.
“There will be two No. 99s in there and you’ll only know who one of them is. And when they do cut the squad and send the kids down, lo and behold they’ll bring them back up and throw them into the game in the seventh inning, and you’re thinking, ‘Where in the hell did he come from?’ ”
Niehaus also is like most Mariners fans, eager to see how much farther the improvements to the pitching and defense will take this team but concerned about the offense.
“We won 35 games by one run last year, and you look at that lineup and still wonder where the runs are going to come from,” Niehaus said. “We know we’re going to have good pitching, although after one and two, you’re throwing darts.
“The Angels are still the club to beat, we know that. The tough pull is now. Going from 61 to 85 wins was unbelievable, but going from 85 to 95 or 100, where you want to be, is real tough.”
The process really gets started today with the first exhibition game, and Niehaus and Rizzs will be back in the booth describing how it unfolds.