Voiceless

And the 2-0 pitch to Ichiro on the way - swung on and a fly ball hit to left field. This will end the season. Right there drifting back is Carter to make the catch, and the ballgame is over. So here in the ninth inning of play, no runs, one hit, and one man left, and the season is over, and for the first time ever, the A's come in and sweep a four-game series in Seattle. The final: the A's four, and the Mariners three. Be right back.

---

I'm sitting here, thinking about all the people I know, and all the people I'm close to. I'm trying to imagine what they sound like. Obviously, I have some idea. I would recognize them if I heard them. But, just using my imagination, I can't nail them down. I can't imagine exactly what my girlfriend sounds like. I can't imagine exactly what my mother sounds like, or what my brother sounds like, or what my friends sound like. I can get close, but there's still something off. It's like my mind is spitting out some blend of 75% them and 25% generic gender-specific voice, just to be safe.

I can imagine exactly what Dave Niehaus sounded like. I wouldn't call him the narrator of my memories, but he's the narrator of a lot of them, and I've listened to him describe Edgar's double so many times that I've got the whole thing down to a science. Right now, the Mariners looking for the tie. Hold the -w a little bit. Insert a little pause between the 'for' and the 'the'. In the event of an impression, speak the whole thing from the back of the tongue, with a bit of a drawl.

To say that Dave was the voice of the Mariners is to say it all, really. If the Mariners were a thing - a big, awkward, stumbly thing, moving around without any real sense of direction - and if that thing were to open its mouth, it would sound like Dave Niehaus. He felt how all of us felt, and he expressed what all of us wished to express. Through all of the good and all of the bad, one needed nothing more than to listen to Dave Niehaus for a few minutes to figure out where the Mariners stood. There was no hiding his delight when things were going well, and there was no hiding his disappointment when they weren't.

Lately, things haven't been going well very often - certainly not in 2010, when the Mariners saw a legend up and retire and went on to perhaps their worst year in franchise history. It's easy to imagine the toll this must have taken on Dave after all of the positive feelings before the season began. He didn't take it well, and more and more, fans expressed the sentiment that the M's had better get it done while Dave was still around. Something about the awfulness of it all, and the step back it represented, put things in perspective and caused people to realize that Dave wouldn't be with us forever.

And, no doubt, it's a great shame that Dave never got to see the M's in the World Series. Having been with the organization from the very beginning, he deserved it more than anyone else, and it hurts to just imagine how excited he would've been. Dave would've had the time of his life.

But rather than get mad at the Mariners for failing to deliver for Dave over 34 years, I think what people need to understand is that, even without a deep trip in October, Dave had the time of his life anyway. Earlier today, we were talking a little about Joe Buck, and it's evident that Buck doesn't approach the game of baseball with a childlike enthusiasm. I do not think that's a barrier from being a good announcer. But in order to be a great one - you gotta love the game, and Dave loved the game like few others do. Announcing was his job, and from time to time it would most certainly feel like a job, but it says something that, on his infrequent days off, Dave would relax and listen to a game. Some people use their offdays to clear their heads. Dave's was never cluttered.

Don't be mad at the Mariners, and don't feel bad for Dave. There could've been more highs, but the man lived his passion every day. He was a lucky one.

It's weird when these things happen. When Ernie Harwell died, it didn't mean much to me. When Harry Kalas died, it didn't mean much to me. Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Chick Hearn, and so on - their deaths didn't stop me in my place. News of Dave's passing did. I lost my grandfather a few weeks ago and Dave's passing doesn't affect me in the same way, but it does still feel like a death in the family, just because it resonates so strongly within a tight group of people. People from Los Angeles or Denver or Kansas City won't feel about this the way that we do, and we shouldn't expect them to, but many of them understand. Most fans understand that, while another team's long-time announcer may not mean much to them, they mean the world to the listeners at home. There's a bond that forms, and it stirs this strong, fierce devotion.

It's a devotion that, in many ways, may be even stronger than one's devotion to a team. When a team is good, you're all about it, and you're brimming with enthusiasm. When a team is lousy, though, one becomes objective, and critical. That objectivity and criticism isn't there with announcers like Dave. Not nearly to the same degree. I think we were all aware of some of Dave's flaws in his later years, but none of us thought worse of him because of them, the way we think worse of the M's for some of their drawbacks. I know, myself, while there's no statistical measure of narrator quality, I'd argue until I was blue in the face that Dave was the best there ever was.

He was the best there ever was, to me, to you, and to so many others. In Detroit, of course, the same doesn't hold true. Harwell was the best there ever was. In St. Louis, Buck was the best there ever was. And the beauty of it all is that none of us are wrong. There is no right answer with something like this. Only a man you grew up with, and a man connected to so many memories.

As hard as this is, I don't know that it's really going to sink in until next March. Or maybe not even until next April or May. Until the Mariners get going in their first season ever without Dave Niehaus in the booth. That's going to be rough. That's when it's really going to feel like something's missing, and that's when we'll understand that nobody - not then, not ever - will replace Dave Niehaus. Someone will take his title, and someone will take his chair, but no one will take his place in our hearts, and I pity the poor son of a bitch who has to try to follow Dave's act with his own.

I miss you, Dave. Wherever you are now, I hope you've got a limeade and a ballgame.

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