Before I got to the age where I started losing direct family members at a far-too-quick pace, I lost Dave Niehaus. All Mariners fans did. In a sad way, it was a test run for the much bigger, life-changing grief I’d experience when my mom died unexpectedly just over a year later after Dave. But, losing everyone’s favorite baseball-loving grandpa was no small thing, even though I didn’t actually know the man. When you’ve spent so many hours of your life, through so many different stages of your life, hearing the same man’s voice and hearing his stories, you can’t help but feel like he’s this great friend you’ve just never met in person.
He’d been around for every single season of Mariners baseball. He was the only remaining original Mariners employee. It’s difficult to imagine that any other one person in the world bore witness first-hand to more Mariners games. The mind-numbing number of losses only made his enjoyment of the high points that much sweeter, more life-affirming, and sincere.
When I got the news that Dave had died on Wednesday, November 10, 2010, I had just gotten home from work. I didn’t have notifications on my phone at that time, but I got a text from a co-worker and immediately turned on my radio to 710 AM and the kind and somber remembrances from broadcasters, former players, and fans were already underway. I remember pacing in my room, listening to these stories while on the verge of tears, and feeling the strong urge to go to the stadium. I was living in North Seattle at the time, so I threw on a Mariners jacket, hopped back in my car, and drove down to an empty and mostly dark Safeco Field. I found a place to park on 1st Avenue South and walked to the home plate gate. I had hoped to find an impromptu gathering of fans perhaps, but all I found was one TV news crew filming well-known Seattle sports fan Big Lo as he stood solemnly by the gates. No one else was there yet, so I hung back a few moments, taking in the surreal scene, and then went home feeling unsettled and sad. It wasn’t the cathartic moment I had hoped for, but those are few and far between in this life.
Life goes on after we lose loved ones, whether we like it or not. When we hit certain milestones like landing your new dream job, getting married, or having your first child, the joy of the moment and accomplishment is often muted during the quiet moments when we remember those who aren’t there to share it with. Sometimes I think about the moments during the last 10 seasons of Mariner games where I would have given anything to hear Dave’s call. To hear his incredulous excitement during Félix Hernandez’s perfect game, or during the no-hitters by Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton, or to hear him lose his mind with the rest of us for Nelson Cruz’s go-ahead home run in game 161 in 2016, just to name a few. I think about what Dave would have said had he been there to witness Ken Griffey, Jr. and Edgar Martinez achieve baseball immortality by getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, having been there from day one for both of those players’ careers. Dave’s gift of perspective and absolutely flawless delivery in the big moments was second to none. There is a reason why the famous plays from 1995 are beloved not just by Mariners fans, but sports fans at large. It was the team’s first big moment in the national spotlight and the old man who’d seen every game made damn sure no one would ever forget what happened in those winning moments.
And I say all this in full recognition that we are utterly spoiled as fans by the team’s excellent broadcasters and TV personalities. These last 10 years would have been far worse without the warm, familiar presence of Rick Rizzs, the optimism and exuberance of Dave Sims, the wry humor and cutting insight of Mike Blowers, and the delightful homerism and passion from Angie Mentink.
Whenever I arrive to a Mariners game early enough to take a lap around T-Mobile Park before first pitch, I inevitably make a bee-line for the Dave Niehaus statue out in center field. I know many other fans do this, too. I especially feel the need to do this if it’s been a while since I’ve been to the stadium, and it just feels right to swing by and tip my hat or give him a love-tap on his shoulder if possible. It’s grounding. Whenever it’s safe to go back to the ballpark again, I know what my first stop is.
Dave might not be able to make the call the next time the Mariners win a postseason berth, but he’ll be there all the same in the center field concourse and in our hearts and memories, absolutely hollering “My, oh, my!” loud enough for every Mariners fan who ever lived to hear it.