Dear Mr. Niehaus,
I am unsure how to write this. I do not presume to speak on behalf of others, so many others, which feel a desire to say goodbye. You were such a personal part of so many of our lives and as the hours have gone by, the radio has been filled with dozens of stories of your grace, your humility and your kindness. You touched the lives of so many people. Some were lucky enough to meet you. Others like myself, just felt like we had.
Jeff has remarked on occasion that writing is far easier when you have an emotion than when you do not. When the news came to me of your death, I feel a little ashamed to say that I did not have an immediate reaction. Tears did not come to me right away and no pang of grief yet settled on my chest. Those feeling will come in time. Some tears did not wait long, but more will come. I know that when next season begins and the first games are broadcast, those feelings will come and be overpowering. Of that, I have no doubt. For now, when the news broke I only felt a gaping emptiness, like an important part of me was gone.
Perhaps it was because I did not find the news terribly surprising. It was sudden, yes, but not surprising. We all knew that your health wasn't the greatest; that you had difficulties in the past. More than once when I happened to come across an old broadcast of yours, I frequently remarked that one of the strangest things was how youthful your voice sounded. I didn't like hearing the difference because it reminded me how long you had been here and that eternity doesn't actually exist for us. But then something exciting would happen and wouldn't you know it, but you'd go get riled up and damned if it wasn't the same old Niehaus. Still there. I wish I could keep saying that.
I don't find your death tragic either. As easy of a joke it is to make, I don't think the Mariners killed you. This was your passion and if anything I believe that it helped keep you with us just that little bit longer. I m thankful for each and every little bit.
In times like these, there is an urge for remorse. I'm sure many people out there are lamenting that they didn't listen to more games during this season. "If only I'd have known," some may have thought over the last day. It's a natural reaction. But truthfully, if we caught you off the air, I think you'd smile and wouldn't hold it against anyone. You weren't a booster and I think you knew, probably better than any of us, how frustrating this 2010 team was. When you first came to Seattle, you were asked about the dearth of fan support here and responded, "[the] fans don't owe us anything, we owe [them] a team." You understood. You didn't begrudge us.
Still, I found it a responsibility of mine to continue following this team so I forced myself to keep attuned to the games each day. There was only one way I could manage that though and that was by switching off the television after the third inning and letting the radio carry it the rest of the way.
Baseball is a pastoral sport seemingly bred for the radio. I maintain that no other sport on earth is so well suited to the medium. Beyond its fittingness for the radio waves, I always enjoyed partaking in baseball games via the radio because it helped me feel connected to the past. I could turn a game on the radio and consume it in exactly the same fashion as anyone from the 20th century might have. It won't be the same without your voice coming across.
No matter that the team was boring enough to keep paint wet; you had a story to tell. Scratch that - you had twelve stories to tell. Your love of baseball was genuine. "I look at every game as 1/162 of a season. Each game has a different story," you said. "It's the reason why people fall in love with baseball. I look forward to coming to the ballpark and telling different stories every day." I don't know what baseball would have been like without your stories, Dave.
Part of it was the voice. I'm not sure what exactly it is that makes a voice special, but you had it. I'm not the first person to say it, but you could read me the fine print of a car loan and I'd sit and listen.
Some didn't share the same feelings. Some who could not get past the growing number of misjudgments about fly ball distance or pitch type. I understand. I don't resent them and I don't blame you. My natural eyes were downright useless and I haven't even gotten to 35 yet, much less 75. Some loss of visual acuity is to be expected.
That never bothered me however. Because I didn't need you to be eagle-eyed. I did not need you to spot things that I couldn't. I have my surgically corrected super eyes to do that for me. Even if I didn't, on TV, there is very little about baseball that the cameras don't adequately capture visually. But TV cameras aren't poetic and they don't have memories. That's what I needed you for, Dave.
Your timbre rising and falling, that slight Midwestern accent appearing and retreating, you had the talent to use your voice like the instrument it was to aid the narrative. I listened to countless Mariner games on the radio with you at the microphone and not once did I ever feel remiss about not watching on television. I didn't need the TV because you filled in for it yourself. An artist with your descriptions, you even received an award from the Washington State Society for the Blind. They told you that you allowed the blind to see the games. I know you cherished Cooperstown so much because of your love for the game, but for my money, being honored by the blind? That's your finest honor.
So many have already equated losing you to losing a relative. I do not find that overdramatic. You weren't some far off person - you were right here with us. For three-odd hours a day, 162 days a year over 34 years you were a presence. A soundtrack to so many of us here in Seattle that it is impossible to imagine the Mariners without you or you without the Mariners.
Over that immense time, an intimacy develops. It shows itself in the little ways as well as the big. When I talked about you, I never referenced you as Mr. Niehaus or Dave Niehaus or any of that. You were just "Dave", and not just to me. I could say Dave to most any Mariner fan and they'd know whom I was talking about. The same way that "Junior" is and will forever be reserved for Griffey, Dave was all that was required for you.
It seems unfair that you were taken from us at this time, but 34 years is a long time and right now I am filled not just with sorrow over the loss, but also an immeasurable thankfulness to have been gifted the privilege of your service. What kind of fan would I be without your calls? How many moments forever altered for the worse without your presence?
Like so many others, you came to Seattle from someplace else. Some Californian place even more typically. Some place less wonderful I like to think. And like so many others, you made here home. "People knocked us as a baseball town ... I've had offers to leave, but why be miserable in New York or Chicago? I want to be here when we turn around," you once said. You didn't get to see the ultimate prize with Seattle, but despite the horribleness of this most recent season, I bet you would consider this team turned around.
That may seem hard to swallow after the team's 2nd 101-loss season in its last three, but there's more to it than just the very recent team performance. This city has transformed and grown. Perhaps not necessarily into a baseball-only city, but into a city that embraced the Mariners and always appreciated the man who was their voice.
You saw an ownership group hell bent on moving the team replaced. You saw GM after GM come and go. You saw Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr, Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez. Through the numerous players that passed through the Mariners roster, you still managed to maintain an enthusiasm for each newcomer. You saw Griffey run around the Kingdome during his prime and however many other wonderful defensive outfielders but listening to you broadcast a Franklin Gutierrez catch, or a Felix strikeout, you made him shine like there's never been anyone else.
And God bless your defiant optimism that always shone through even the bleakest of times. Talking about some forgotten poor season, you said, "It's never been a downer for me because I always think maybe this day is a beginning of a winning streak." You sustained us all through the tough times and celebrated with us during the good times. And the lows were less low because you were there. Like an old familiar blanket always ready to provide warmth and a feeling of security, we could wrap ourselves up with your voice and remember that no matter how poorly the past season had gone, you would be there next Spring and we were looking forward to hearing from you again.
The next Spring will come. Right now the days are darkening, the clouds ever more present and gloominess settling in that needed no help in shackling us to a blue mood. They will pass however, and the annual ritual will begin anew. The players will assemble in Arizona. There will be the all too familiar Spring Training stories to wade past. The grass at Safeco will be cut and the field readied. Everyone will be anxious to put 2010 behind and start anew.
Despite any efforts to avoid it, to honor it or to commemorate it, there will be a gargantuan hole in that broadcast booth. You called 5,284 of the Mariners' 5,385 games. I don't envy the next person in the booth and I don't envy us. We miss you, Dave. We miss you and thank you for all the times. All the memories. We are all lesser off now than we were two days ago.