After 34 seasons, M's lose their Voice

Well, this was a real kick in the pants:

    In the decades since the Mariners inaugural 1977 season, the team had hundreds of players, 17 managers, multiple owners.

    But there was only one Dave Niehaus.

    The Mariners broadcaster since the beginning and the only original employee of the organization who remained, Niehaus died Wednesday of a heart attack at his suburban Bellevue home. He was 75.

    "From now on, there will be just two eras of Mariner baseball," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said, "the Dave Niehaus era and everything else."

There's much, much more. I'll be posting other things, here and there, written by people who knew Niehaus much better than I did, people who followed the Mariners for many more years than I did.

Here's the Dave Niehaus I knew, though.

We were not friends, Dave and I. In 15 years, we probably saw each other five or six times. Funny thing, though ... When we did see each other, he always made me feel like we were friends, like he couldn't be more thrilled to see me.

The first time, I think, was during the 2000 season. I was living in Boston, and producer Kevin Cremin -- who's been working with Niehaus for nearly 30 years -- invited me to visit the booth at Fenway before a Red Sox-Mariners game. I'd been in Seattle some weeks before, and listening to the radio when Niehaus called a game-winning home run. It might have been one of Niehaus's beloved "grand salamis" (or it might not have been). Anyway, I mentioned to Niehaus that I'd enjoyed his call, and within a few seconds Cremin had the homer cued up, and Niehaus was offering me his headphones so I could hear it again.

I don't believe Niehaus took any real pleasure in my compliment, or hearing his own voice. I think he took pleasure (again) in that great moment for his Mariners, and he took pleasure in sharing it with someone else who loves the game so deeply.

Since then, I've visited the booth at Safeco Field occasionally, maybe every two or three years. In the Big Baseball World, I'm a nothing and Dave Niehaus is an Institution. Frankly, every time I walked into the booth and saw him, I halfway assumed he would have completely forgotten me. How many people must Niehaus have met over the years? How many other broadcasters and writers and glad-handers and just plain baseball fans have wanted their little moments with the man who had seen nearly every game in Mariners history?

And every time I stepped into his office, Dave Niehaus seemed genuinely glad to give me a few of his precious moments, happy to invite me to sit down next to him and talk about baseball or his trip to Cooperstown or whatever was ailing his Mariners.

I wish I had just a few more of those moments. I didn't visit the booth in 2010. I didn't want to impose. And I didn't imagine, for even a second, that I would never have another chance. I sort of thought Dave Niehaus would live forever.

Tonight I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'm feeling sorry for his family. And I'm feeling sorry for the many thousands of Pacific Northwest baseball fans who have spent huge and hugely important chunks of their lives with Dave Niehaus. All of us will go on next spring, because that's what we do. It's just not yet apparent how, exactly.