On a scale of 1 to Rick Rizzs, how much joy did you feel Friday when Cal Raleigh clinched a playoff berth for the Mariners?
Was your emotion on par with that of the M’s play-by-play man who’s been in the team’s broadcast booth for 37 seasons? Is that even possible, or is his enthusiasm as unmatchable as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak?
Rizzs has been behind the mic for a slew of magical Mariners moments. His “Everybody Scores!” call of Luis Sojo’s base-clearing double in 1995 may be his most memorable of all. But the passion in his voice Friday when Raleigh ripped a solo home run over the right-field wall with two outs in the bottom of the ninth was distinct. Given that it sent the Mariners to the postseason for the first time since 2001, it was equal parts exhalation and exhilaration.
“I wasn’t sure exactly what I said after I said it, but I got so excited — it was 21 years of joy and jubilation coming out of me,” said the 68-year-old Rizzs, who screamed “How sweet it is!” after the ball left the yard. “That’s what baseball is — it’s a wonderful journey. You really appreciate the good times knowing that you’ve battled through the rough times in this game.”
It’s hard to know how much the playoff drought — which was the longest in the four major men’s North American sports leagues before last week — weighed on Rizzs. There are some broadcasters whose mood is contingent on their teams’ success, striking fear in inanimate objects with every defeat.
But the Mariners losing a game or season never equated to Rizzs losing his cool. The standings may have said the M’s were 20 games below .500, but the look on his face said they were undefeated.
“Rick takes it in stride more than anyone I’ve ever known. He’s about as optimistic as anyone I’ve ever been around. He always thinks the next day is going to be better than the day before” said Gary Hill Jr., Rizzs’ producer. “Every year going into every season, he thinks, ‘That’s the year.’ And as it turns out, this was the year.”
This attitude was partially instilled in him by late Mariners broadcast legend Dave Niehaus, a Hall of Famer whose statue is in the right-field stands at T-Mobile Park. Rizzs idolized Niehaus as an announcer and cherished him as a friend, telling listeners Friday that even if they couldn’t see Dave, he was right next to him in the booth — adding later that he would have jumped out of it upon Raleigh’s homer.
And though Cal’s long ball might not stack up with, say, Edgar Martinez’s series-clinching double in the 1995 ALDS, it still ranks as one of the all-time great moments in Mariners history.
So how did Rizzs prepare for something like that?
“My thought process is that it can happen at any moment. It could happen with two batters in front of him, or the guy in front of him, and then Cal Raleigh comes up and it goes to a 3-2 count, I’m thinking I’m trying to be prepared for Cal’s moment, not so much my moment, but Cal’s moment,” Rizzs said. “I just wanted to make sure that the fans enjoyed it. I didn’t prepare anything. Maybe I should have. But you just gotta be in the moment and let it happen.”
You can tell Rizzs is just as fond of broadcasting as he is baseball. He can rattle off old calls he or Niehaus made verbatim, as if the plays were unfolding in real time. But as much as he appreciates the craft, it’s clear he appreciates people even more — whether it’s players, coaches, executives, his broadcast team or most of all, the listeners.
“This is all about the fans,” Rizzs said. “I wanted to make sure I got them excited, and I felt their excitement; that’s why I almost jumped out of the booth.”
I’ve gotten to know these fans and their unwavering optimism toward the Mariners over the years. Matt Canida would tell me the team was bound for the playoffs every time he brought me mozzarella sticks at Paddy Coyne’s in Bellevue. Eric Brake would be just as insistent during karaoke night at The Lime in Kirkland. My skepticism was ignored, and why shouldn’t it have been? They were channeling their inner Rizzs.
Now the M’s are headed to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays in a best-of-three to advance to the second round. The second of four rounds in Rizzs’ mind.
“Now we can take a deep breath, reset, and go win a World Series,” he said.
Hey, why start doubting now?