Dave Niehaus, 1935-2010

Seattle residents have the pennant at half-staff today, after the death of local legend Dave Niehaus. Dave was the color commentator for the Seattle Mariners from its inception in 1977 until … well, until yesterday, pretty much.

You may not care about baseball. But if you lived here, you’d have cared about Dave Niehaus. I don’t, and I did. He was that kind of guy.

Here’s a typical Dave Niehaus moment, that I excerpted in 2002:

Co-announcer Rick Rizz: We just got word that White Sox are leading the Royals 14-0 in the eighth inning.

Niehaus: I’ve been following that game. The White Sox need only three more runs to tie the record for the most lopsided shutout in the history of baseball.

Rizz: Man, I wonder what the scorecard looks like for that one.

Niehaus: I’ve seen it, and it’s a mess. The turning point in that game was the National Anthem.

There’s so much Dave in that exchange. He’s following one baseball game while narrating another. (That the dude liked baseball was well beyond dispute.) He had some esoteric but fascinating fact queued up and ready to roll. And even after 25 years of commentary, he could still pony up a witticism you’d never heard before.

For fair-weather baseball fans (and that includes me; sorry, dad), Dave was about as essential to the game as the bats. It’s like: have you ever seen a movie in a crowded theater and found yourself swept up in the collective sentiment, enjoying the hell out of it even while recognizing that it wouldn’t usually be your cup of tea? For me, that’s what watching a Mariner’s game was when Dave was announcing. He had a full-cinema quantity of enthusiasm for the game, and it was crazy infectious. When he declared a play “amazing”, your jaw dropped. When he got excited, you leaped from your chair. Listening to Dave call a game was like watching an appreciative kid open Christmas presents for three straight hours.

Dave was one of very few sports constants around here in the last 30 years: the Kingdome got blow’d up, the Sonics left town, people started caring about the Sounders. But Dave was as dependable as rain on the weekend.

Hell, he was one of the few Seattle constants, period. The loss of the Space Needle from the Seattle skyline would be felt no more keenly.

RIP Dave. Fly, fly away.

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