Cremin, who became synonymous with the Mariners on the radio, is signing off for the last time. His final broadcast, after 35 years and more than 5,500 games, will be Sunday at Anaheim. “I’m going to miss the joy Kevin brings to the job every day,” broadcaster Rick Rizzs said.
In the mid-90s, before cellphones became standard equipment, Kevin Cremin’s sister was trying to get his phone number the old-fashioned way — through directory assistance.
“First name Kevin, last name Cremin,’’ she dutifully told the Seattle-based operator, to whom those words resonated from thousands of repetitions on the Mariners’ radio broadcasts.
“You mean ‘producer-engineer’ Kevin Cremin?’’ she asked.
The very same. And now Cremin, who became synonymous with the Mariners on the radio, is signing off for the last time. His final broadcast, after 35 years and more than 5,500 games at the helm, will be Sunday in Anaheim, California. At age 65, having witnessed for more than three decades all the ups and downs and twists and turns of the franchise from the vantage point of a small radio booth, retirement beckons.
“The equipment’s getting heavier,” he quipped.
The radio broadcasts will go on, of course, but it won’t be quite the same without Cremin. A radio neophyte when he was hired in 1983 at the behest of Dave Niehaus — more on that in a bit — Cremin didn’t take long to master the “engineer” half of his title. But it was as producer that he truly made his mark, guiding the daily broadcasts with wit, knowledge and passion.
“He knows what a baseball broadcast should sound like and feel like, and how the broadcaster should bring that to life,” said Rick Rizzs, who started his Mariners career on the same day as Cremin in spring training of 1983.
In 1982, Cremin was 29 and unemployed in his native Tulsa, Oklahoma, having recently ended a gig in the circulation department of the Tulsa World and Tribune newspaper. A friend in the radio business, Grayle Howlett, asked if he would be interested in making the four-hour drive from Tulsa to Kansas City to help the Mariners broadcasters during a series against the Royals. He would monitor out-of-town scores as well as go down to the clubhouse to hold the microphone for pregame and postgame interviews.
Cremin jumped at the chance, and did it again when the Mariners came back later in the year. Not only did he perform the duties flawlessly, and impress the Seattle crew with his baseball knowledge, but he and Niehaus hit it off instantly.
“I knew where all the rib joints were, and I took Dave around,” Cremin said.
That seemed to be the end of it, until a phone call out of the blue from Niehaus during the offseason.
“How would you like the producer-engineer job in Seattle?” Dave asked.
“Well, Dave, that sounds great, but I don’t know anything about it,” Cremin replied.
“Aw, don’t worry. We’ll teach you.”
Niehaus pulled enough strings to get Cremin hired at KVI AM, which had the Mariners broadcasts at the time. Cremin and his new wife, Margaret, took off driving a 24-foot U-haul to a city they had never even seen, for a job he wasn’t sure he could handle. But when they reached the Columbia River, the Cremins had a sense that they had done the right thing.
“All of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, look at this,’ ” he recalled. “Ferns and deer, mountains.”
After moving into a rental home on Alki, they got another shock in spring, one that prompted Margaret to call Kevin excitedly in Arizona: “You won’t believe what’s across that water: Snow-capped mountains!”
“We had no idea,” Cremin said with a laugh.
After arriving in Seattle, Cremin got a crash course in how to set up the equipment for a radio broadcast. He had all of three days to learn it before heading to Tempe, Arizona, where the Mariners trained at the time, for his first game.
“Boy, that first game, I was scared,” Cremin recalled.
The only saving grace was that Rizzs, just hired as Niehaus’ partner, had done his own engineering as a minor-league announcer for eight years. In a pinch, Rizzs could help out, or so Cremin told himself. Rizzs himself wondered, “Are we going to get on the air, or what?”
I’m going to miss my brother in the booth. He’s as much my brother as my real brother in Chicago, Donnie.” - Rick Rizzs
Somehow, Cremin made all the microphones and boards and wires and amplifiers connect harmoniously, and the broadcast went off smoothly, though not without stress.
“He was sweating bullets, man,” Rizzs recalled. “His hand was shaking. But like everything else in his life, Kevin faced it head-on and did it. We got on the air, and he did it the next day, and he did it for the next 8,000 games or whatever Kevin has done.”
If you count all the spring-training games, and the postseason games Cremin did for 10 years on ESPN radio, that number is not far off. His work day often starts at 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, when Cremin begins the long, tedious process of setting up the equipment. Technology has changed drastically over the years, but watching a ballpark slowly come to life while he does his duties remains one of the job’s greatest joys. Cremin is a believer in what Jim Lefebvre — one of 18 managers, including interims, during his Mariners tenure — calls “The Temple of Baseball.”
“I’ll especially miss when you get to the ballpark, and it’s just getting going,” he said. “You see it build. Guys are playing catch, and it sounds great. Until they turn the music on, it’s a beautiful place to be.”
Cremin has had a front-row seat to most of the great moments in Mariners history, and a casual friendship with its greatest personalities. The 1995 season, naturally, stands out, especially the play-in game with the Angels that Cremin calls “one of the greatest moments of my life, outside my family.” Watching Ken Griffey Jr. blossom into a superstar here was “just amazing — he was the kid that came and just lit things up for us.”
But Cremin’s closest relationships have been with the broadcasters to whom he is tasked with making each game go as smoothly as possible. Early on, before the advent of the internet, that involved hauling around a heavy library filled with reference material like the Baseball Encyclopedia, Baseball Register, Dickson Baseball Dictionary and media guides from every team. Whenever a question came up, Cremin would hastily do the research and provide the answer with a strategically placed post-it note — a technique he still uses, even after Google has made his library obsolete.
“He keeps the post-it note people in business,” Rizzs said with a laugh.
Cremin, Niehaus and Rizzs were inseparable road companions, and the three got together often in the offseason as well. Rizzs is the godfather of Cremin’s daughter, Colleen, one of his two children.
“We hit it off, the three of us,” Cremin said. “It would be really difficult to have guys you didn’t get along with in the booth. That does happen from time to time, but not here.”
Said Rizzs, who calls Cremin the best producer-engineer in baseball history: “I’m going to miss my brother in the booth. He’s as much my brother as my real brother in Chicago, Donnie.”
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Aaron Goldsmith joined the crew following Niehaus’ death and has built his own camaraderie with Cremin.
“We were lucky to get Aaron,” he said. “We needed youth on the ballclub, so to speak. He’s been a big help, and he gets better and better. He even rolls the equipment down at the end of the series. A couple years ago, I said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ He said, ‘No, you can’t go yet. I’ll take the equipment.’ I said, ‘OK, deal.’ ”
But now Cremin really is ready to go. He wants more time with his family, which now includes an infant granddaughter, Lillian.
“I’ve missed too much already,” he said, pointing out ruefully that he was in Toronto with the Mariners when his daughter, Kate, was born.
That’s not to say Cremin is done entirely with producing-engineering. He’ll fill in when the Mariners need him, and might even help out some visiting teams if they call. But mostly, Cremin envisions a life of travel (preferably NOT to American League cities), golf, babysitting (he and Margaret have a regular Monday gig) and watching baseball as a spectator, not a worker.
“I have the Gold Pass you get from MLB when you reach 25 years,” he said. “Theoretically, it’s good for two tickets in any ballpark. When I come to the games here, I’ll leave when the starting pitcher does.”
On Sunday, Cremin will stay until the bitter end, as he did for the 19-inning game against the Red Sox in 2000 and all the others, through good seasons and far more bad ones. Cremin once went 15 years with perfect attendance; since then, he’s missed a mere handful of games for the likes of funerals, graduations, illness and, in the past few years only, scheduled days off.
“I’m going to miss the joy Kevin brings to the job every day,” Rizzs said.
That first day, he could barely plug in the right cords. Now, when you say “producer-engineer” in Seattle, that’s the province of Kevin Cremin.