Tears, laughter and loads of nostalgia were shared by those who braved the rain outside and chilly temperatures inside the ballpark Saturday to share in the tribute to Dave Niehaus.
The man who shared the broadcast booth with Dave Niehaus for most of his 34 seasons with the Mariners wasted little time getting off the best line of the day.
“Tom Hanks had it wrong,” a choked-up emcee Rick Rizzs, struggling through his opening speech, told roughly 3,500 fans gathered at Safeco Field for A Celebration of Life for the late broadcaster.
And Rizzs had it right because on this day, there was indeed crying in baseball.
There was also laughter and loads of nostalgia shared by those who braved the rain outside and chilly temperatures inside the ballpark Saturday to share in the 90-minute tribute.
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They chuckled at the Niehaus stories told by former Mariners greats Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and Dan Wilson. Grew misty-eyed at the intimate memories shared by members of the Niehaus family. And they cheered loudly when team president Chuck Armstrong announced that the very first statue erected at Safeco Field will be of a broadcaster on hand for every season in franchise history.
“Dave Niehaus is a large part of this area,” said D.C. Lundberg, 25, of Shoreline, who waited outside before the event in a line with hundreds of fans that stretched nearly the ballpark’s length across First Avenue. “Not just sports, either. He’s been a part of everyone’s life here for the last 30-some-odd years. I haven’t been alive for all of them, so baseball for me is basically narrated by Mr. Niehaus. He’s not here anymore, so I think it’s only proper that we come out and give our respects.”
Rocky Solomon made the trip from Olympia with his mother, Jodeen, staying overnight in Renton so they’d be at the ballpark on time.
“Back in 1977, at the very first Mariners game, my grandma was there,” Solomon said. “And then I was here this year for Dave’s last game. So, his whole career spans through my family’s history. I’m really going to miss that guy.”
Eric Moberly stood shivering near the front of the line with his wife, Donna, and children, Andrew, 6, and Catherine, 5. They’d been there roughly 45 minutes waiting to be among the first inside when the gates opened.
“Dave is a part of our family,” Moberly said. “When we came to Seattle, we had no other family. We started listening to baseball, and the guy is just incredible. He makes you feel at home. He really is special to us. So, we had to be here for this.”
And once the event began, the late broadcaster’s daughter, Greta Niehaus Dunn, told the crowd that those who thought they knew her father like they would a family member weren’t too far off.
“The way he came across on radio and TV was the way he was,” she said.
Dunn and her brother, Andy, thanked fans for their support.
“The days since he passed away have been, without question, the most painful days of my life and Andy’s life,” she said. “I would only imagine that anyone who’s lost someone who’s close to them must feel the same sort of pain and anguish that we’ve felt since he passed away one month ago.
“But I know my Dad,” she added. “And if he was here, he would want us to focus on the positives. And in the midst of pain, we could find some joy. And that was in the amazing outpouring of love and emotion and kindness from everyone.”
Fans inside could sign one of several books of remembrance placed on tables in the stadium’s concourse area. Large-sized photographs of Niehaus were propped up on easels in the concourse area as well, while audio of several of his more famous on-air calls boomed from stadium loudspeakers.
Once the ceremony began, there were video tributes on the scoreboard from Ken Griffey Jr. and Hall of Fame broadcaster Jon Miller of ESPN. Mariners employees, dressed in blue jackets like the kind Niehaus favored, filled up several rows of chairs on the field in front of the speakers’ podium.
Buhner donned white shoes for his tribute, also of the kind favored by Niehaus.
In the day’s final speech, Mariners president Armstrong announced plans for the statue. He also said that Seattle players will don a commemorative Niehaus shoulder patch next season and that the announcer’s microphone would be “retired” in a display case in the broadcast booth.
“While none of those things can ever substitute for our great loss of our dear, dear friend,” Armstrong said, “they will help us remember Dave Niehaus every time we come to this home away from home.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners