When I was little, I used to pretend to be Dave Niehaus. We all imagine ourselves as our favorite athletes from time to time. But rarely do we pay such homage to our favorite broadcasters. This broadcaster was just that special.
I remember sitting in my bedroom with the game on the radio, staring out from my second-story perch overlooking the driveway. I would pretend I was hovering over a baseball diamond from the omniscient expanse of the press box. The garbage cans were home plate. A balled-up fist propped against the windowsill served as my microphone. I would speak into my microphone, softly mimicking the call of my idol for no one to hear.
“And that ball is belted, DEEP to right-center field and that ball will…FLY, FLY AWAY! My OH my…I don’t believe it!”
I made sure to hit all the inflections in all the right places. I wanted to sound just like him. He called it so wonderfully.
I pictured Ken Griffey Jr. rounding the bases 3,000 miles away in Yankee Stadium, bouncing, prancing, with his head held high, his eyes focused on the basepath, his grin just waiting to break out, sauntering as he trotted towards home. I imagined him making the turn around third, low-fiving his base coach as he casually ambled past, then making a deliberate line for the plate.
And all the while the broadcaster rattled off the stats, infusing them with emotion, gasping for breath as he relayed the excitement of the moment to a kid who sat cross-legged on the floor of a messy room that wasn’t getting cleaned, as it was supposed to.
I would rant and rave along with him, “closing the book” on pitchers who had hit the showers, “my-oh-mying” at the improbable, screaming at the top of my lungs when anything and everything was “belted.” They were always belted, those long drives. If Dave Niehaus told you a ball was belted, it was as good as gone. Belted meant it wasn’t coming back. Belted meant the Mariners were up a run or down a run. You couldn’t belt a ball without Dave Niehaus catching wind of it. He called every belted ball there ever was.
Sometimes I would whisper, sometimes I would yell. Sometimes I’d close my eyes to better visualize the field that only I could see.
Sometimes his voice would get low. Sometimes he’d call a “steeeee-RIIIIKE” on the outside corner. Sometimes he’d linger in the moment and let the game call itself.
I grew up. I moved away from the windowsill. I took him in my car. I took him on dates. I took him with me when I needed to figure life out and be away from people who wouldn’t understand.
My heart raced with his in the bottom of the ninth. I jumped when he yelled. I sighed when he lamented. I shook my head when he brought me a loss. I cheered when he brought me a victory.
The broadcaster knew how to speak to me, even when no one else could. He elicited curveballs and sliders and six-four-threes and dying quails and sandwiches of the oddest variety. Rye bread, mustard, and salami? I had never thought to put these three things together before. But he had. And he introduced an entire generation to this philosophy of meat, bread, and condiment.
I got older as he did. I went to college. I took him to my dorm room. I pored over research papers while he talked to me. We got through nightly study sessions together.
We bled together as the losses mounted. We languished as the years went by without playoff appearances. We suffered through our navy-and-teal hearts. We only wanted to see our team win a championship. Now he’ll have the best seat in the house while I’m scraping for tickets. It’ll happen eventually.
He’s gone. We never thought this day would come. None of us. Especially me. We weren’t ready for it. It happened so abruptly. In November, no less, when baseball has just exited our collective consciousness, headed for a four-month vacation.
He never prepared us for this day. No amount of words could have. He wasn’t prepared to speak on such a subject, I imagine. He was a professional, and professionals rarely articulate their own conquests with the same flair and pizazz that they bring to their work.
So we have to say it for him. Because it must be said. He was our city’s voice. He was our narrator in baritone. Whether you’re five or one-hundred-and-five, if you’re a sports fan from Seattle, Dave Niehaus told the story of your life through a microphone. He was the greatest there is, the greatest there was, the greatest there ever will be. He was that good. And it’s no understatement.
He was here when I was born. He was with me for the first 26 years of my fandom. He was the Seattle Mariners to me. No matter who put the jersey on, he bore the logo in his vocal chords. He was the entire organization personified.
We love you, Dave Niehaus. We’ll miss you.