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.

19 comments:

Sanford said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I thought the organization did a pretty great job. I was doing okay through it all until that ceremonial first pitch. That really got me good. RIP Dave.

Tim T said...

Ken, I thought the tribute to Dave was great. Then I thought "oh great, nice tribute Mariners, get mauled by a pitcher with a 9-plus ERA." I laughed when I realized we were down by ten, yeah, this is a fitting tribute to Dave, bring on The Wabash Cannonball.

Phillip B said...

Long suffering fans do seem to bond with broadcasters who suffer gladly, and with style.

My word verification is "sucks" - the tribute in Seattle did not...

El-Sidd said...

Dave Niehaus Way South...thank goodness they specify 'south' on that sign!

Abby said...

What a lovely recount. Thanks for sharing your experience. I was only in Seattle for the past few years but loved listening to the Mariners games and Dave. He will be missed.

stenoslave said...

You have a wonderful writing style, and your Niehaus mentions bring a tear to my eye. Also bringing a tear to my eye is that you should fact check and spell check to content. It's 1st AVENUE. And it's city COUNCIL. Good grief! Are you a product of the Wisconsin education system? :) j/k

Roger Owen Green said...

lovely, lovely piece

Breadbaker said...

I can attest there wasn't a dry eye in the house during the ceremony. I thought I was over it, but the shot of Dave at the opening day of Safeco in 1999, in his tux with that wide smile on his face has brought tears to my eyes again. Thanks, Ken.

fjcurtis22 said...

the one thing i remember the most about Dave...
it was 1995 and Jr Griffy had slid across home plate and the m's had not only won their first playoff series,but they had knocked the damm yankees out of the playoffs! and fans were screaming,and hugging and high fiving for a soild non-stop 20 minutes. not one soul had left the Kingdome! and then just as the noise was dying just a tick..someone with a tv camera got a live shot of Dave up on the big screen in centerfield. and the roar started all over again. mostly because for 18 losing seasons and just about as many team owners. there were times that you were sure the only two Mariner fans left... were you and Dave. and when his live shot went up..there was 50,000 fans who felt the same way..and if you had some how kept your eyes dry up to this point,they were dry no longer.

RIP DAVE

dgwPhotography said...

Thank you for sharing your view of this emotional day. As Phillip B said, Long suffering fans do bond with their broadcasters. As long time Mets fan, I still miss hearing Bob Murphy "paint the word picture" with his remarkable style.

It sounds like the Mariners organization held a beautiful ceremony.

The next time you see Dave Sims, ask him about the time a bird used him for target practice while he was on the air doing his show outside Yankee Stadium for WFAN...

LinGin said...

We seem to be losing these guys all too often these days. You did a lovely tribute to Harry Kalas when he died, Ken, and I appreciated that. I hope Dave's fans will find their way here and read this appreciation.

In Philly we get to hear (and see) Harry singing his signature song, "High Hopes" after each Phillies home win.

Michael said...

Dgw photography, I was listening to WFAN when that happened to Dave Sims (who, in the Kevin Bacon world, is the brother-in-law of a friend of ours). Poor Dave. Imus played that clip for months.

Ken, you have made clear what Dave Niehaus meant to you and the Seattle fans, and you have provided a beautiful portrait of a special day in his memory. For the last few games, the Dodgers have been on local TV in LA and we don't get those games in Las Vegas, so I watched the Padres telecasts and heard Dick Enberg. With the news about Dave, I felt very nostalgic for my boyhood, when I'd listen to the Dodgers and Vin and Jerry, then switch to the Angels for the three D's--Dick, Dave, and Don Drysdale.

By the way, I hadn't known that Dave did the Wabash Cannonball, but I suspect that was his tribute to another voice of his youth, Dizzy Dean, who used to start singing on the air.

Neumann said...

Ken, I fondly remember your time with the M's. You brought out the best of Dave.

I recall the time, in yet another blowout, you asked Dave which Rocky movie was his favorite.

I liked the one with Clubber Lang.

Anonymous said...

Breadbaker, you will never be over it. It has been 9 years since St. Louis' Jack Buck died and I still get a catch in my throat and tears in my eyes when I hear his voice for some Cardinal legends thing.

Great tribute today, Ken. Thanks.

SisterZip

Cap'n Bob said...

Other than the crappy white boy rapper and the final score, it was a great day. Thanks for being there.

Dave Mackey said...

I have a lot of respect for the great voices who've brought baseball into our homes over the years... guys like Vin Scully, Bob Murphy, Harry Kalas, Ernie Harwell, etc.... Niehaus is in that strata. Thank you for that tribute.

HUTC said...

Great piece Ken. I remember listening to you and Dave back in the day. We were there on Friday, every time I hear Dave I choke up. It sure is easy to see how close all the broadcasters were with him. I have a hard time getting enthused about M's baseball without Dave. Looking forward to hearing you again tho.

bevo said...

One question. When does Enrique Palazzo sing the national anthem?

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Just like Dave, when we lose Vin Scully in Los Angeles they will declare it a national holiday.