It’s that time of year again. The days are growing longer and all around the country, frigid temperatures are starting to rise. With that comes the start of spring training, one of the ultimate symbols of new beginnings of this nation. It is impossible not to feel optimistic during spring training; this time of year is what maintains the vitality of players and fans alike. Every club will come into this year with high hopes, including the Seattle Mariners. Despite all this fantastic energy, there has been a void in the Mariners camp for the last 3 years, an emptiness that will never be replaced. I’m talking of course about the late, great Dave Niehaus, the man that undeniably was the face of not only the Mariners, but all Pacific Northwest sports.
Niehaus was born February 19th, 1935 in Princeton, Indiana. He attended Indiana University and quickly began his broadcasting career after he graduated in 1957. Dave gained his big break in 1969 when he started broadcasting for the California Angels, as well as calling a slew of other sports, including football and basketball for UCLA. Niehaus quickly gained popularity along the west coast with his smooth delivery and homely voice. In 1977 the city of Seattle had attained at baseball team for the second time in city history, however this time the team was here to stay. An iconic voice is essential to any franchise. The Mariners knew the importance of assigning the perfect type of narrator for the team. This is why Dave Niehaus was chosen to be the Mariners radio broadcaster by part time owner Danny Kaye.
One of the most admirable qualities of Niehaus was something that wasn’t associated with his broadcasting. From Dave’s start in 1977 till 1991, the Seattle Mariners did not have one winning season, but you would have never known that listening to Dave. His enthusiasm and his passion were so evident during any broadcast. With so many years of futility, it is unfathomable to think that someone could stick with a franchise and continue to believe in it. Dave’s loyalty to this club was the reason of his legacy expanded so vastly. It is fairly uncommon for a broadcaster to be the face of a franchise, but that is exactly what Dave was for so long. Part of the reason is because the Mariners were the laughing stock of the MLB for so long, that Niehaus was literally the only recognizable person involved with the organization.
Fortunately for Niehaus and the Mariners, things would get better. In 1992, desperate for a turnaround of the franchise, the Mariners hired Lou Pineilla, an extremely respected manager who had recently led the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series title. Along with Piniella, there were plenty of other reasons to be hopeful. Edgar Martinez was solidifying himself as one of the most fear right handed hitters in the game. Jay Buhner had been putting up monster homerun seasons consistently. A young outfielder whom Dave had masterfully dubbed “The Kid” was establishing himself as one the greatest players of his generation. Niehaus is responsible for bringing these characters to life, whether it was on the radio, or the big screen.
Being a slow paced game at its nature, there is plenty of time to fill in between pitches. That is why it requires a voice that can narrate in a way that is captivating enough to hold attention of the listeners, this was Niehaus’ specialty. When any fan turned on the radio to listen to the Mariners, their minds would instantly go to the ballpark, as if sitting in box seats with Niehaus sitting right beside, masterfully crafting the beautiful game. Baseball is filled with nostalgia; in fact the sport thrives on it. There has always been a mystical element to the sport; it is what draws many fans closer to the game. More than any other sport, there is simply an unbreakable bond a fan makes with the narrator of their favorite team. Dave had an uncanny ability to sooth the hearts of his listeners, his omniscient voice was able to transcend generations. His calming vernacular was like one of a grandfather telling a bedtime story, making listeners feel like children, no matter what their age was.
Describing Niehaus’ brilliant style does not do it justice. If you have not had the privilege of listening to him craft the game of baseball, stop what you’re doing and listen to some of his legendary calls. If you a Seattle Mariners fan, Dave Niehaus is synonymous with every crucial play in Mariners history. Gaylord Perry’s 300th win, Randy Johnson’s no hitter, Edgar Martinez’s double to beat the Yankees in the ALCS; Ichiro Suzuki’s single season hit record. Dave’s legacy in the Pacific Northwest will never be forgotten, his genuine enthusiasm for the Seattle Mariners resonates with not only baseball fans, but sports fans in general. As famed Seattle rapper Macklemore states in his tribute song to Dave Niehaus “The Voice on the other end might has well of been God’s.” Macklemore represents the feelings of the entire city of Seattle.
So as spring training comes into full swing, it is important to remember what Dave Niehaus has done for The Seattle Mariners and baseball in the Northwest. He implanted a standard, an appreciation for the sport that he loved and his love of the game will be remembered by players and fans alike for ages.
Peter Reed is on Twitter. Follow him at @piratepeter11