Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Open Letter to Seattle

Reunited with Dave Niehaus
Hello from Minnesota. I’m calling play-by-play for the Mariners until Sunday. That’ll be it for me for this season (of course the season ends three days later). But it’s been a joy and an honor to once again be part of the Mariners’ broadcast crew. And so, on this last week, I wanted to take a day to thank Seattle. It’s impossible to step in for the great Dave Niehaus, but Mariner fans have made me feel incredibly welcome. And for that I am forever grateful. I’ve had great great fun calling these games and hopefully that fun has been infectious.

So thanks to all the fans, especially the ones who made it a point to come up to me and say nice things. Thanks to the blogs. You guys were very accepting. Usually when you crushed me I deserved it. To my broadcast partners at KIRO – Rick, Kevin, Dave, Mike, Shannon, and Brian at the station – you guys are the best. I’ll wrap this up fast before the walk off music starts.  Thanks to Randy Adamack and Churck Armstrong of the Mariners for letting me reconnect with the team and city I really love.

I hope to talk to you all again.

And now, some highlights from this year in the booth.

The first batter on the first pitch in my first inning hit a home run. That player was later sent to the minors and then traded.

During spring training I almost didn’t get out to the ballpark one day because I couldn’t open my rental car. Turns out I was trying to open the wrong car. I’m lucky I wasn’t sent to the minors and traded.

Safeco Field is one of the nicest ballparks in America. And you don’t need to take out a loan to get a ticket.

For opening night the entire broadcast crew wore white shoes in memory of Dave Niehaus who passed away last November. Dave always wore white shoes. We looked like deck boys on a cruise ship all attending Pat Boone's wedding.

I got to spend the year with Larry Bernandez. Backstory: Felix Hernandez, the Mariners’ Cy Young winning pitcher did a commercial for the team where he didn’t want to come out of a ballgame so disguised himself and announced he was Larry Bernandez. The spot caught on and Bernandez became a Seattle sensation. The team even had a bobblehead night for him.

One of the things I love about the organization is that they have a sense of humor. Centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez got the nickname “Death to Flying Things” and one night the M’s gave away “Death to Flying Things Fly Swatters”.

We were the surprise of baseball for most of the first half of the season. As late as July the Mariners were only a couple of games out of first place in the AL West.

There’s an Ichiro impersonator, a young man who looks just like the Mariners’ All-Star (except for this year) rightfielder. During an inning I was calling there was a ball hit into the corner that was interfered with by a fan (a major no-no) and of all people, it was this impersonator fellow. This led to a discussion between me and my broadcast partner, Rick Rizzs over what it would look like to throw out the Queen of England for trying to grab a ball in play.

One night there was not one but four streakers. Talk about idiots. One was in the military (probably Corporal Klinger) and another was scheduled to get married the next day. Try explaining that to your fiancée the night before her wedding.

My best pun: Eric Bedard was pitching for the Mariners, coming back from three years of surgeries. At one time he had been the ace of the Baltimore Orioles. He was pitching one night against the birds and doing well. I said on the air, “The Mariners are hoping the Orioles are hoisted on their own Bedard”.

I called the game where the Mariners roughed up the Detroit Tigers’ starting pitcher – Justin Verlander. That tape is rarer than a copy of Jerry Lewis’ THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED movie.

One night the Mariners were trailing Toronto 7-0 going to the 7th inning and won. It can happen.

Just this Monday I called a Mariner nine run inning.  

It’s always special when you see a rookie make it to the big leagues for the first time. Their joy and excitement is palpable. This year with the Mariners I got to see it eleven times. One of the kids, Alex Liddi, became the first player born in Italy to ever play in the big leagues. Baseball is not big over there. As a sport it ranks right behind jousting.

Another sensational rookie story is Steve Delebar.  A former lower-minor league pitcher, he broke his elbow two years ago and was out of baseball.   He became a substitute high school teacher in Kentucky.  He discovered a program that would help add to your velocity and recommended it to the high school baseball team.  He started the program himself and pretty soon was throwing 95 miles an hour.  So he went to a tryout, got signed by the Mariners, worked his way up the minors, and made it to the major leagues.  And last Wednesday beat the Yankees.  He's just like Dennis Quaid in THE ROOKIE but better.  He doesn't have to pay alimony to Meg Ryan.

Another rookie pitcher this year, Tom Wilhelmsen, was out of baseball a couple of years ago tending bar in Tucson.  Didn't we do that show on CHEERS? 

Kids – don’t try this at home: Our catcher, Miguel Olivo was safe at first on a bang-bang play. His face hit the bag just before the tag. Face planting is not a good way to slide.

For midweek day games I offered on the air to write a note to your boss, teacher, or spouse excusing you for the day. All you had to do was send me a Twitter message. I must’ve written fifty notes, many to government offices.

My son, Matt joined me in Boston. It would have been a very special father-son bonding experience except I had to throw him out of the booth for rooting for the Red Sox.

Where were you when you heard Bin Laden had been shot? I was somewhere over North Dakota on the team charter. But if they didn’t announce it on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball my guess is no one would have known until we landed.

I called Trayvon Robinson’s first major league home run. It was a crappy call. He thought it was a double and stopped at second base. So it turned into one of my classic “It’s Gone…No, wait a minute!” calls. The umpire told Robinson to keep going. I told him in the future, if he hits the ball during one of my innings to just keep running. Don’t even look. Just keep going.

The Tampa Bay Rays have a great manager, Joe Madden. To promote team camaraderie he has “themes” for traveling. On their trip to Seattle the entire traveling party had to dress in grunge. Usually a team dresses in jackets in ties. The Rays blew into town wearing leather, torn shirts, and jeans. Their next stop was Anaheim and they all had to dress like surfers. They boarded their plane in Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops, shorts, shades, and a few sported straw hats. I’m sure that trip would have been more joyful had the Mariners not beaten them three out of four.

I learn a lot every night from my partner, Rick Rizzs.  I hope to someday be half as good.

Some of Brendan Ryan’s plays at shortstop would make Ozzie Smith say, “How did he do that?”

Whenever you go to a baseball game you never know what you’re going to see. There’s always the unexpected. Like that Saturday night in Anaheim when 40,000 white people stayed after our game to watch the Ludicris concert.

Other things I’ve never seen before: Brendan Ryan got an infield single, alertly noticed that no one was covering the next two bases and made it all the way around to third. It was ruled a single/fielder’s choice, but to my mind it was an infield triple.

The fans were booing our leftfielder, Milton Bradley so mercilessly that he started wearing earplugs. And this was during home games.

In Detroit, catcher Miguel Olivo hit a fly ball that bounced off of outfielder Ryan Rayburn’s glove and kangarooed over the fence for a home run.

An umpire lost track of the count and sent a batter to first on a three-pitch walk. And this same thing then happened to us one week later.

Despite the team’s struggles, they took two of three at home against the Yankees and Phillies. Don’t ask about Texas and Chicago.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more highlights from this week. Gee, I miss it already… and I’m still doing it!

Thanks again, EVERYBODY!


basura said...

Here's the link of the Yankee's John Sterling announcing, with color analyst work by Suzyn Waldman, one of the streaker's appearance on the field:

Roger Owen Green said...

I LOVE your baseball stories as much as your writing/showbiz stories. I'm probably in the minority in that regardless.

Larry Asher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Asher said...

Ken - Thank you for making a sometimes unbearable season quite the opposite. I'd be willing to trade Figgins for a full season of you. And how about if you got his paycheck? Certainly you're more deserving.

Bob Allisons said...

Thanks for your good humor and genuine love of the game, espec. for the M's, as they need all the love they can get. Wait, can you HIT????????? Even if you can't, you fit right in.

Infield triple, ranks right up there w/Rick's call of Louis Sojo's 'grand slam double' in the 95 playoff vs. the Angels. Good stuff.

'Sometimes unbearable' is a pretty kind description. This team sucks, and it has for a long, long time. I see some hope, but someday, some of these guys have to HIT! For a season, not a week.

Enjoy your week, especially those 3 games in Texas - you always get the series in Hell, don't you?!?!

The Curmudgeon said...

@Roger Owen Green - you may be in the minority, but you are not alone.

As for the streakers, I know of one who struck (is that the proper past tense?) the old Comiskey Park on Opening Day somewhere in the late 70's. He went on to have a very successful career in the law, even though his picture was on the front page of the Sun-Times and everything.

Well, not everything.

Paul Pival said...

Hey, you're much better than half as good as Rick, Ken. Looking forward to hearing you next year.

Brent said...

Ken, while we all know that no one can replace Dave, I always enjoy you on the broadcast. You come up with the most amazing, insane, loopy, off-the-wall stuff. Makes the small amount of actual game time between commercials and product placements more bearable. You were talking about the Darth Vader voice on the air, and I was thinking "If Ken Levine had Ken Wilson's voice..." I realize your "other" work is in L.A., and that's what puts food on the table. But I hope you are part of the crew next year. We just HAVE to get you away from the evil Dodger influence. :)

Someday you really do have to write another baseball book, and of course the title must be "The leadoff walk always scores... unless it doesn't."

Tim W. said...

"Where were you when you heard Bin Laden had been shot?"

Ironically, I was reading the comments in your blog. Someone referred to it in passing and I immediately went to Google news to find out what she was talking about.

Anonymous said...

Considering our troublesat shortstop, we here in St. Louis miss Brendan Ryan. But when you get on Tony's bad side....well, just ask Steve Kline what happens!

Ryan is a great kid and when he works for an open minded, less controlling manager, I'm sure he will be fine. But he was sure fun to watch!

Pam aka SisterZip

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful season calling games. I hope you and the team can find away to continue your involvement in calling the M's game.

Your humor (like a lead off walk) is particularly appreciated, unless it's not.

Breadbaker said...

Thanks for a nice recap of a crappy season (and not having Dave for it--among Dave's many other virtues, no one announced better for a losing team, ever), but it was a bit like watching my life pass before my eyes. I was at Opening Night (we fans all wore white shoes, too), fly swatter night, the comeback games against Toronto and Larry Bernandez bobblehead night.

Question: when calling Carp's grand slam on Monday, did you have to think "cannot say grand salami, cannot say grand salami"?

Charles H. Bryan said...

As a Tigers fan, I have to thank the M's for giving up Doug Fister. He's been awesome as a starter.

I agree with your point about unexpected events during baseball games; it seems like something strange happens every game.

abbey51 said...

Hi Ken, thanks again for this year. An intresting moment for me is when Shannon was hosting a live chat during a game when you and Rick were calling it, and she called you Ken Wilson...guess name tags in order next year!! LOL..Keep up the great work and hope to hear you up here next season!

TJ said...

Ken, I'm old enough to remember listening to Jack Buck turning over the mike to a 16-year old Joe Buck for an inning in New York, thinking Joe was the luckiest guy on earth. I've since learned that ANYONE fortunate enough to call a major league baseball game might be the luckiest guy on earth. Other than Tom Brady, of course. Keep the blog alive, it's one of my favorites and best wishes in the future!

Sanford said...

Come back next year, Ken! You were simply fantastic on the air. Much appreciated.

HogsAteMySister said...

“The Mariners are hoping the Orioles are hoisted on their own Bedard”.


Cap'n Bob said...

Come back, and next year how about being in the TV booth.

Fister was a fine pitcher, but he never got any run support in Seattle. He deserves a team that will hit for him. I hope he carries Detroit to a World Series win.

Thanks said...

Ken, just want to thank you for a great (partial) season of calling games. As a long-distance (Vancouver, BC) M's fan I listen to most games on the radio because they're simulcast here and it's been a treat to hear you again througout the season. Here's hoping we have the chance to hear you in years to come.

Josh said...

Ken, don't know what your plans are but I think the M's would do well to hire you full-time next year. I can't imagine they will keep the panel rotation going, and I thought you were definitely the best (no disrespect to Mr. Fairly). Broadcast fulltime!

Johnny Angels Suck said...

As Cap'n Bob and Charles H. pointed out, Uncle Fister deserved so much better than what he got in Seattle. And now he is getting it. Maybe he'll get even more - jewelry, in the near future.

Mike Barer said...

thank you, Ken. When I saw the headline, I thought that we were in for a rant
It was good to listen to some of the voices from the past like you and Ken Wilson. I'm hoping that you can do this again.

Jeff Randall said...

Hi Ken -

Nice work on the baseball broadcasts, your "different perspective" on the world in general always makes it interesting! BUT...whenever I hear you I just can't get "Beaver Cleaver on the New 10-Q!" outta my mind...hahaha!
Keep smiling and having fun!

A Radio Junkie & Seattle Baseball Fan

D. McEwan said...

Nice statue of Kelsey Grammar.

Mike Heath said...

Love "Death to Flying Things."
BTW, the Original "Death to Flying Things" was Bob Ferguson

Great stuff. I still tell my friends about your "No school tomorrow in Borneo" call.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I really enjoyed listening to you on the radio during a difficult Ms season. I stayed on the radio at times just to hear your stories and enjoy the game of baseball with you. I look forward to hearing you on the radio next season with the Ms!

Anonymous said...

If you really like Joe Maddon, spell his name correctly.

Matt said...

As an Englishman, this post was Klingon to me. But entertaining Klingon nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I have to wait for an announcement from the Mariners, but I am certainly hoping that they hire you as a full-time play-play announcer. It has been a delight to hear you this year. And, yes, I did send several notes to the Mariners suggesting what I was wishing for. You've done what Dave used to do and made this difficult season much more enjoyable. It sounds like you've had a very good time doing it and I'm glad about that. Thanks for all your hard work, Ken.

cjdahl60 said...

I'd just like to echo some of the comments above. Great job on the blog and also with the M's this season. It's been a real treat to listen to you on the broadcasts this season. You bring a unique and comedic perspective to baseball and I love it.

Any chance this could become a permanent gig for you? Are you interested in this becoming a permanent gig? Please say yes.....

VP81955 said...

Ken, I'm sure when the Phillies came to Safeco, both teams' announcers discussed with each other the difficulty in following a legend. From the few times I hear the Phils on radio (hey, I'm a Nats fan now), they seem to have weathered the storm, though it will never be the same as when Harry Kalas was around. Looks like your announcers are doing likewise.

Mike Barer said...

Isn't it amazing that baseball which boasts stars like Joe Dimaggio, Tony Lazari, Rocky Colovito,Yogi Berra, and Joe Torre, did not get it's first Italian born baseball player until this season when the Mariners brought up Alex Lidi?

AAllen said...

After listening to old clips of Dave Neihaus this off-season, I realized the value of saving some of these games. I recorded some of the games you called this year that I couldn't hear live, and look forward to hearing them this fall and winter (don't tell Bud Selig). We lost you suddenly with the strike of 1994, and hope you come back. In the meantime I have you on my MP3 player, but that means I have to slog through the games from the losing streak.

Nate B said...

"If I had a catchphrase I'd be saying it right now" was the best call I heard all season. Thanks a bunch for your hard work. Dave would have loved it.