My Thoughts on Dave
So, since about Sunday evening, I’ve been laid out either in bed or on my couch, getting beaten down by a particularly nasty version of the flu. I haven’t been particularly plugged in to much of anything; just a reality consisting of the aches and pains that the flu drags along with it.
Then, at one point this afternoon, I rolled over and caught the ticker scrolling across the bottom of ESPNews; “Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as winner of the Ford C. Frick award for 2008”. A rare smile crossed my face; my body was still chilly, but my heart was a little bit warmer.
Growing up, our family didn’t have a TV. I read books – every single Hardy Boy book ever published, in fact – and listened to the radio. My parents ran their own business, and often I’d go to work with them in lieu of having a babysitter. I wasn’t particularly interested in auto repair, so I’d find the radio. And in the radio, I found Dave Niehaus. He was usually welcoming me, along with all his other friends that were apparently listening, to a beautiful day out for baseball. It was always a beautiful day out for baseball. Listening to Dave string sentences together, I learned how to love baseball, even without seeing the game be played. His words painted a vivid enough picture for me.
I learned baseball from him. I learned that Jim Presley was terrible, Harold Reynolds was fast, that Alvin Davis was Mr. Mariner, and that the team didn’t have any pitching. They never had any pitching. Through Bill Swift, he taught me what a sinkerball was. Through Scott Bradley, he taught me that catchers could be left-handed. Through John Moses, he taught me that you can give anyone a nickname by just shortening their last name. And through Ivan Calderon, he taught me that hispanic players could have Russian first names.
Dave Niehaus taught me how to be annoyed by Bip Roberts, who seemingly killed us every March in spring training. I knew the games didn’t count, but listening to him call yet another hit for a guy named Bip just got my blood boiling. He taught me how to love Erik Hansen’s curveball, Mike Jackson’s slider, and Henry Cotto’s mustache. He made sure I never called Greg Briley anything but Pee-Wee, and reminded me that Ken Griffey’s real name was just Junior. I remember hearing Dave call Junior’s first at-bat in spring training of ’89, as well as his Opening Day double in Oakland. I didn’t see either of those things happen, but you can’t convince me of that, because the call is etched in my memory stronger than any picture I could stare at.
Dave was the voice of 1994, when the M’s made a furious charge to take the lead in a division race that would never finish. And he was the voice of 1995, when I realized I didn’t care about labor stoppages or player’s unions but just wanted baseball to come back again. He was there on May 26th, when I heard him call Kevin Bass’ shot in the gap that broke Junior’s wrist. He was there on August 24th, when Junior launched a walkoff HR against the invincible John Wetteland to start the miracle run. I have these dates memorized thanks in large part to the audio of Dave’s voice that runs through my head. I can’t separate those moments from his descriptions, not that I would ever want to.
I don’t know Dave Niehaus. I’ve met him once, but I don’t pretend that gives me insight into who he is. All I know is what I’ve seen and heard; the man likes Hawaiian shirts, Lou Piniella, and the squeeze play. But I feel like I know more about him than that. I grew up with him, and he’s involved in more of my childhood memories than anyone whose last name isn’t Cameron. For me, Dave Niehaus was like that cool Uncle who always brought you something fun. He just happened to bring me baseball.
Congratulations Dave – you deserve this. You deserve to know that you taught me, and thousands of people like me, how to love this game and this team, and you did it well. Enjoy Cooperstown; I’m sure July 27th will be a beautiful day out for baseball.