Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 27- Seattle Mariners


Before you make an attempt to read this article I must first ask that you click on this link and either watch the whole thing first, or having it playing in the background while you read on. I assure you, it’s not a virus or anything, just a little something to help get into the experience.

Prior to about a month-and-a-half ago I had never heard that song in my life. I’m not one to seek out newer music as my preference in new music/bands took a hiatus some time after the end of the year 2000. I’ve always been a bit of an old school guy, classic rock to be more specific. Most of that has to do with my upbringing; born and raised in the Bay Area I quickly became accustomed to one particular local band whose best-selling album was released the same year I was born, 1983. That band and that album; Sports by Huey Lewis & the News. I know a lot of you are feeling where I’m coming from on this, and a lot of you probably think I’m the biggest cracker around. It’s ok, to each their own. Truth be told I do listen to a lot of underground rap; mostly a lot of old school Bay Area stuff. There are certain sounds and instruments within songs that trigger a deep fondness from my past and the sensation it puts me through sends me into a frenzy to the point where I have to keep listening to a particular song over and over and over until I get my fix. In some cases, the same thing can be said about sports.

When I first heard “My Oh My” by Macklemore I was immediately hooked. As inspiring as the lyrics are, if you take them out you still have a pretty solid song comprised solely of a piano, drum and tambourine. But the one thing that gets me the most is hearing Dave Niehaus’s final call of the Seattle Mariners American League Division Series win against the New York Yankees, a game that still sends chills down my spine despite the fact that I didn’t grow up rooting for the Mariners. Nope, I’m an Oakland Athletics fan through-and-through, but one thing I have grown to know over the 30 years I’ve been alive it’s that you have to take a time out once in a while to appreciate the joys of others.

1995, first off, was kind of an interesting time period for me. I was 12-years-old and in my first year of Junior High School n Bakersfield, California. A few of my friends didn’t have a specific tam that they followed, but they were all very quick to say that Ken Griffey, Jr. was their favorite player. By default of Jr.’s presence with the Mariners that essentially made them my enemy; however, for that brief five-game series we all had a common enemy, the Yankees. My friends and I took turn watching each game at a different person’s house. I really didn’t care where, I was just happy to be watching playoff baseball, something that was taken away from all the baseball fans the previous season.

Until Game 1 of the series I had never really heard Niehaus’s voice. Living in Southern California we primarily got Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers games, and of course became very familiar with Vin Scully. Within the first few innings I was hooked on Niehaus, an appreciation that grew stronger once I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2000. There’s a certain grainy ripple that catches the back of his throat when he talks, much like Mick Jagger’s voice if you ever listen to the Rolling Stones’ albums “Exile on Main Street” or “Sticky Fingers.” 

I think the line in “My Oh My” that gets me the most is, “the voice on the other end might as well have been God’s.” It’s an eerily true, but non-sacrilegious truth. No matter if it’s Niehaus, Billy King, Bob Sheppard or any other vocal figure of the game, to us, this is exactly how God should sound. The level of genuine excitement that exudes from Niehaus’s mouth as Griffey, Jr. is more than enough to make anyone believe that the unthinkable can happen.

Like my other Stars and Stripes posts, I compiled the Mariners Memorial Day record, but all ready wrote it in another post on May 13th. So, without further ado, my marks

“My Oh My”- I couldn’t think of a better way to mark this cap. David Arnold Niehaus was the lead play-by-play announcer for the Mariners from their inaugural season in 1977 until his death after the 2010 season. In 2008, the National Baseball Hall of Fame awarded Niehaus with the Ford C. Frick Award, the highest honor for American baseball broadcasters. Among fans nationwide and his peers, Niehaus was considered to be one of the finest sportscasters in history.

Niehaus graduated from Indiana University in 1957, entered the military, and began his broadcasting career with Armed Forces Radio. He became a partner of Dick Enberg on the broadcast team of the California Angels in 1969. Niehaus also broadcast the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL and UCLA Bruins football and basketball during this period.

In 1977, Danny Kaye, part-owner of the expansion Seattle Mariners, recruited Niehaus to become the franchise's radio voice. Despite working for a franchise who from its first year in 1977 until 1991 was without a winning season, his talent was recognizable, and Niehaus was considered one of the few attractions for Mariner fans. Even in the period before the team's memorable 1995 season, the Mariners were regularly one of the leading major-league teams in terms of the percentage of radios in use.

If there’s one moment I love to remember Niehaus by, besides the ’95 ALDS, it has to be what took place on September 27, 2009 in Toronto as the Mariners were set to square of against the Blue Jays. During the pre-game broadcast Blowers predicted Matt Tuiasosopo’s first career home run. What started as simply selecting a possible notable player for the day's game became an extended humorous rant by Blowers. In the course of pre-game banter, he stated that the home run would come in Tuiasosopo's second at bat, on a 3-1 count fastball, and that the ball would land in the second deck in left center field. This then happened - with correct prediction of player, at-bat, count, pitch and general landing area - in the top of the 5th inning.

Blowers was on the television side of the broadcast when the prediction came true, and was simply laughing, with no explanation to the TV audience. Radio announcers Rick Rizzs and Dave Niehaus, however, recalled the prediction, restated it for the audience, and were beside themselves in laughter and disbelief as the prediction came true. Said Niehaus on-air, seconds before the event, "I've never been so excited on a 3-1 count in my life!” Here’s the clip so you can fully appreciate it if you haven’t seen it yet. Being the voice of a team was its pluses and minuses. On one hand you’re always the bearer of bad news if the team loses, but on the other hand, like in this moment, you can rekindle the childlike wonder of the game, that first feeling you had when you saw baseball for the first time. At soon as Tuiasosopo makes contact with the ball you can feel it tingle through your body as Niehaus giggles while trying to get the call out. Only something so absurdly brilliant came make a grown man act like that.

Niehaus suffered a myocardial infarction (heart attack) at his Issaquah, Washington, home on November 10, 2010, and died at age 75 while preparing to barbecue some ribs on his deck. Heart problems had forced Niehaus to undergo two angioplasties in 1996, causing him to give up smoking and change his diet. He is survived by his wife, three children, and seven grandchildren. In a formal statement, Mariners Chairman Howard Lincoln and President Chuck Armstrong said "Dave has truly been the heart and soul of this franchise since its inception in 1977... He truly was the fans connection to every game." Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said "Today the Pacific Northwest lost one of its sports icons...Dave was an institution here starting with the team's first pitch in 1977. With all due respect to the great Alvin Davis, Dave is 'Mr. Mariner.'" At news of Niehaus's death, tributes came from Jay Buhner, Griffey, Jr., Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, other Mariners broadcasters, and fans.
Prior to the Mariners' home opener in 2011 against the Cleveland Indians the city of Seattle and King County declared that April 8 be "My oh My! Dave Niehaus day". A successful petition drive by Mariners fans Glen Garnett and Mark Caylor got the city of Seattle to give the block of First Avenue S. between Edgar Martínez Dr. S. and S. Royal Brougham Way the honorary designation of Dave Niehaus Way S. Up in the press area at Safeco Field a sign was unveiled giving tribute to Niehaus as well. A bronze statue of Niehaus was unveiled on Friday September 16, 2011 at Safeco Field. Niehaus 's longtime broadcast partner Rizzs presided over a private ceremony to unveil the statue. The statue depicts Niehaus at a desk, behind a microphone, wearing headphones with his Mariners scorebook in front of him. Niehaus is wearing a favorite necktie with tiny baseballs on it and a sport coat. He's holding a pencil in his right hand and wearing the 2001 All-Star Game ring on his left. The scorebook in front of him is open to the 1995 ALDS game against the Yankees. The pages are engraved with Niehaus's actual notes and scoring of the game. The scorebook is so detailed, you even see the word "Unbelievable" scribbled—and misspelled—at the top in Niehaus's handwriting.

2 comments:

  1. Very cool stuff. We go to Safeco atleast once a year, and while I've seen the statue I never gave it to much thought other than to look and remember a great man. With all the little details you described I think I'm going to have to give it a much better look over next time we go.

    As for the Tuiasosopo home run. I was thinking as you wrote this post that I remember that day. The only time I listened to Mariners games on the radio was on the way home from work. He hit that home run while I was in the car, and got to hear their entire story. It was an awesome moment.

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    1. I missed all the fine details when I first went too. When someone pointed it out to me I gave it a closer look. Amazing job they did with it.

      I tried to find a video of the entire Tuiasosopo at-bat without luck, but the conversation between Niehaus and Blowers before the payoff pitch was hilarious. I had chills, a huge smile on my face and was almost in tears when Niehaus yelled, "Swung on! And belted!" By far one of the greatest calls in sports history for the sake of the fun of the game.

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