Monday, April 11, 2011

Opening Night -- My Oh My

Okay, this is kind of a personal one.  My account of opening day last Friday.  Might not be subject matter that interests you (in which case I invite you to click here for my other post today), but it held a lot of meaning for me so I thought I'd share it. 

Even though it was not my weekend to do play-by-play, I had to fly up to Seattle for the Mariners' home opener and Dave Niehaus tribute. Dave was the voice of the M's for 34 seasons -- a couple of them even winning. But the great thing about the city of Seattle -- they don't shoot the messenger; they exalt him. As well they should. Anyone can call a walk-off home run, but to make a game come alive and sound enthralling when you're losing 12-0 in the fourth inning, that takes an artist (or magician). Dave passed away last November at 75 and I'm one of his former partners brought back this year to keep the torch lit and give Rick Rizzs a break once in awhile (although he does get 10 seconds off every half hour during station breaks, so I don't know what the problem is).

Arrived Friday morning, took a shuttle, walked ten city blocks, weaved in and out of traffic, and finally made it to baggage claim at Sea-Tac airport. Lunch at F.X. McCrory's -- my favorite eatery in all of Seattle (Cheers with Dungeness crabs) then a long stroll back to my hotel where I encountered two guys at a table at the Safeco Field third base entrance. They were all alone; there wasn't a soul. I just naturally assumed they were two nuts passing out pamphlets for some screwball religious cult but in fact they were Bob & Groz, two sports talk hosts from our station (710 ESPN). They were broadcasting live, capturing the excitement of the fans arrival. Somebody should have told them the game wasn’t for seven more hours. They were nice enough to have me go on with them for a few minutes. I’d like to think it was because I’m a part of the Mariners’ broadcast team and not just cause I was the only one there.

Back to the hotel to get dressed for the game. Opening night requires an ensemble that is both dignified and elegant. Jacket, tie, and white shoes. Yes, white shoes. This was in honor of Dave, who always sported the uh ..."deck look". Hey, at least he didn't wear those loud "who shot the couch?" plaid jackets.

So I wore those white shoes proudly, happy to show the world I was a big fan of Dave Niehaus and  Miami Vice.

First ceremony was the unveiling of Dave's street sign on 1st Avenue. The corner was packed with adoring fans. Also present were members of the city council and the gentleman who wears 200 stuffed Mariner Moose. Dave's wife, Marilyn, surrounded by family members did the honors and a huge cheer erupted from the big crowd when we saw for the first time "Dave Niehaus Way South". I hope it's there for a hundred years. We'll all be gone but Jamie Moyer will still be pitching.

Then to Safeco Field, which was all decked out for opening night. You know it’s a special occasion when red-white-and blue bunting is festooned on the grandstands. For some American League parks that's the only bunting their fans will see all year. Went down to the field for batting practice. Reunited with all the players who didn't remember me from two weeks ago.

Caught up with my broadcast partners, also wearing spiffy white shoes. Dave Sims looked like Superfly and Rick Rizzs looked like the social director of a Carnival cruise. As a little feature for the game telecast, the three of us re-enacted the My Three Sons opening.

From there it was up to the booth to cover all the pomp and circumstance. Mariners Talk host, Matt Pittman and I described the scene on the radio. I thought we did well. If one of us was a woman I bet we'd be approached to host the Rose Parade.

The on-field tribute to Dave was tremendous. The Mariners did a spectacular job. A video montage on the Times Square-sized video board, complete with some play-by-play highlights had 47,000 people in tears. Local hip hop artist, McLemore has a YouTube hit honoring Dave and he performed it live. I’m sure if Dave were here he’d say it was off the hook, off the chain.

Dave's longtime colleagues Rick Rizzs, Kevin Cremin, and Ron Fairly unveiled a large sign of his name to be permanently displayed on the facade above the press box. As I’ve said many times, if Yankee Stadium is the House That Ruth Built then Safeco Field is the Haus that Nie Built.

Then the real killer moment when Dave's wife, children, and grandchildren all walked out to the mound. Marilyn, wearing a Mariner jersey with the number 77 (the first year of the franchise), threw out the first pitch to Cy Young winner, Felix Hernandez. We have much to thank Marilyn for. She and the family shared Dave with us for 34 years. That's a lot of missed school plays and birthday celebrations so we could hear the Veteran Spieler sing The Wabash Cannonball anytime the M’s were down by at least ten runs.

The crowd stood and cheered for a good fifteen minutes. And then, during the game, the absolute highlight, the coupe de ville, as Dave used to say (mocking a manager who once used that expression incorrectly), through the wonder of tape we got to hear Dave sing The Wabash Cannonball one more time on the air. My oh my! Thanks to the Mariners for giving up ten runs to Cleveland in the fourth inning.

I know I’ll never be able to forget that emotional, magical, special night. Just as I know I’ll never be able to get rid those white shoes.

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