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Fly, Fly Away

Dave Niehaus
image from mlb.com
Seriously, Dave Niehaus's heart attack hit me like bad news about a family member. A friend called me tonight, and I mentioned that - and as I thought about it more, I'm okay with it feeling like that. Dave Niehaus entered my world 162 times a year for about 3 hours for my whole childhood. That's a pretty steady force, like a close friend or family member.

Dave Niehaus definitely influenced me as a child, like my close friends and family. I write a blog about Mariners baseball. The voice that entered my world 162 times a year as a child has something to do with who I am today. And that voice is gone. There's a big hole there now, and I know it will close up some with time, but I know it won't close all the way.

As morbid as this might sound, from time to time I had wondered what it would be like when Dave Niehaus passed away. Would he die in the booth? Would he retire? Would it be fast? Would it be long?

It doesn't surprise me that Niehaus passed away before he retired. He loved baseball so much. He loved announcing baseball so much. He didn't just know how to paint a picture with his words; he enjoyed painting it. I am sure Niehaus had a wonderful life outside the booth, but broadcasting seemed like so much more than a job to him. It was as much a part of his life as he was a part of our lives, as listening M's fans.

Which is why I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it is so sad that Dave Niehaus is gone. He brought me to the Mariners as much as the Mariners brought me to him. I don't know how he did it, but he straddled the line between professional, fan, and enthusiast so beautifully. I think it was just part of him and who he was. I've got a strong hunch that Detroit feels the same way about Ernie Harwell, and maybe Chicago feels like that about Harry Caray, and that St. Louis has that feeling about Jack Buck.

Dave Niehaus never knew me, and really I never knew him, yet I share a special bond with him that I'm sure many others feel too. To me, Dave Niehaus is like my baseball godparent. He didn't teach me most of what I know about baseball, but he might be the biggest reason I know as much about baseball as I do today. He made me want to take a closer look at the game.

When I was in third grade, watching the 1996 Mariners offense (one of the most prolific in baseball history, as it turns out), I didn't want grand slams because they would score four runs for the M's. I wanted grand slams because I wanted grand salamis! No joke, if Niehaus was on radio, and I was watching TV, I would mute the TV and turn on the radio if the bases were loaded. I would think two or three hitters ahead, theorizing about how the Mariners might be able to load the bases. I wanted the grand salami call so bad! Dave Niehaus made special events in a baseball game so special. In the process though, I gained an appreciation for just how rare things like grand salamis are, and which scenarios were more promising than others, and a whole litany of little insights that informed my budding baseball obsession.

I'm going to miss you, Dave. We are all going to miss you. You were family, and you'll always be. You didn't save baseball in the same way that Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson did in Seattle, but I'm pretty sure you were the one that kept its pulse alive. You were definitely the one that breathed life into it with your exuberance and insight. I hope there is enough rye bread and mustard wherever you are at now.