Sunday, November 14, 2010

Good bye Dave

Lorri, Pat and I drove up to Safeco Field yesterday to say good-bye to Dave Niehaus.  The open house farewell estimated 3,400 attendees.  The crowd was just right.  The ballpark was chilly and a longer wait than the 30 minutes or so we encountered to snake down to the field and past the Niehaus memorabilia would have been pretty uncomfortable.

We determined to arrive at about the same time as the noon opening, and when we got to the Home Plate entrance a long line stretched down First Avenue.  Many remembrances fixed to the main entrance greeted us, with Niehaus admirers busy signing oversized cards for the Niehaus family.  Here Patrick is signing on the ground.

The line moved quickly through the gate and up to the 100 level.  Many of Dave's greatest calls rang through the largely empty ballpark.  Down on the field, his tradmark My Oh My filled the infield just behind second base.  A giant Mariner compass covered the pitcher's mound.  While mourners waited patiently in line, they could sign guestbooks.  Lorri signed and I passed, believing what I wrote in my blogs for public consumption would have to be enough.  I decided not to subject the Mariners organization or the Niehaus family to my wretched handwriting.

We quickly got in line to see what was happening on the field.  Neither Lorri or Patrick had been there before so it was a great opportunity.  I'd had the good fortune to view batting practice from the track some years ago, but it was still exhilarating to view Safeco from a field perspective.  Patrick made an interesting observation.  As the three of us stood in line we chatted, told stories, some about baseball, the Mariners and Niehaus but most didn't.  We are a family of storytellers, Pat recalled, and of course he is right. I couldn't imagine being there with anybody else.

As we made our way toward the display on the field behind home plate, we looked up into the press box and saw the illuminated jersey the Mariners made in Dave's honor.  Number 77, the year he began calling M's games.  On the visitors scoreboard the teams were the Angels and Mariners.  I'm not quite certain of the significance, whether it represented the 1995 one game playoff, or whether it was because Niehaus called games for both teams over his long career.

As we neared Dave's Mariners Hall of Fame plaque and first game scorebook from 1977, it was clear that Rick Rizzs and the Niehaus family were greeting those making their way through the line.  What a brave thing to do under the circumstances.  Brave and classy.  I shook Rizzs' hand and wished him well.  He's going to need it.  I hope he is given the role of lead man on the broadcast team.  Having worked with Dave for so many years, in his giant shadow, Rick deserves an opportunity for his shot, to be his own man.  Twenty four years is a long time to study under the master, and at some point the pupil should be allowed to show his chops.

It was a great day.  We dashed off to the Portage Bay Cafe for a late lunch and headed home.  It was worth the trip.  Dave Niehaus played a big part in our lives.  During many summers baseball has always been on the radio or television at our house.  We have seen so much of a seemingly simple game through Dave Niehaus' eyes, yet he shared all of its story, the drama, the exhilaration and the disappointment with all of its color, its emotion and yes moments of absurdity in a way I'm convinced nobody else could.  What a loss.

Finally, though the Mariners are in a mess of mountainous proportions at the moment, from front office foul ups to a wretched team of Cleveland Spiders proportions, they managed this well.  If only the 2011 Mariners were as smooth, as professional and as classy as this memorial open house, far more fans would be gracing the friendly confines of Safeco Field.

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