By KIRBY ARNOLD
SEATTLE – Forgive Rick Rizzs for feeling the euphoria of another postseason with a little more exuberance than your average Seattle Mariners fan.
He has walked more than 50,000 miles in this team’s shoes, lived through the highs and lows of a 162-game season and maintained a seven-month relationship with players who still leave him awe-struck.
So, please forgive the play-by-play announcer if his home run calls this week are an octave higher.
“You live and die with these guys because you know the effort that they put into it,” said Rizzs, who will work alongside longtime play-by-play man Dave Niehaus and analyst Ron Fairly in the KIRO (710 AM) booth this week when the Mariners face the Chicago White Sox in the American League Division Series.
“You know the struggles, what it takes to win a championship over a grueling season,” Rizzs said. “You know it’s a challenge every day and on through September to get to the ballpark and have that drive and competitive spirit day in and day out.
“You know what these guys go through, so yeah, you live and die with them.”
There may be nobody in the organization – outside those who pull on the uniform – who remains so close to the Mariners’ every move than the broadcast crew. They’re attached at the hip for seven months, from Day 1 at spring training in February until the final pitch in October.
“So you appreciate what they go through because you’re going through it with them,” Rizzs says. “I know how tired I am physically and mentally, and these guys have to go out there and hit a 98 mph fastball, they have to go to their right into the hole to backhand a ground ball, plant and throw to first base. They’ve got to go out and catch a line-drive in the gap in right-center field. I wasn’t able to do it, but I can see through these guys what it does take. They make it look so easy.”
And so do Niehaus, Rizzs, Fairly and their silent-but-invaluable engineer, Kevin Cremin.
When they go on the air for Game 1 today, it will be their 195th broadcast of the year, including 32 spring training games.
Unlike most of their regular-season duty, the M’s broadcast team won’t have television responsibilities in the postseason. ESPN will carry today’s telecast.
Rizzs, though, knows thousands of viewers in Puget Sound will hear his voice as they watch on TV.
“In ‘95 and ‘97, we found out a lot of fans were turning down the sound on the TV and listening to us,” he said. “We can give (Seattle fans) more information. We’re with this club on an everyday basis. We’re a part of everybody’s family and they’re a part of our family. It’s nice to know they’re going to take us wherever they go.”
In 1995, it was to the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Nothing, Rizzs says, matches the intensity playoff baseball.
“It’s a whole new level,” he said. “Every pitch means something, every play. There’s so much weighing on every ballgame. If you lose that first game you have to battle from behind like we did in 1995 against the Yankees. So to me, it’s not just another ballgame.”
He never realized it would be that way until he experienced it.
“I had no clue,” Rizzs said. “I had no idea how much a love affair it would turn out to be between the fans, the ballclub and the entire Pacific Northwest. It was a love affair that we will never, ever feel again. There’s nothing like the first time.”
Unless, of course, the third time in the postseason for the Mariners can carry them to the World Series.
The process begins today, and sign-on time for the KIRO crew is 12:35 p.m.
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