Seven or eight years ago I was driving north from Fresno, headed up the 99 toward Turlock following a day at seminary. It was dark; the sun had long set, and I was scanning around the AM radio dial, wondering what I could pick up.
A baseball game came on, clear as day. For a few seconds I assumed it was out of the Bay Area, or maybe Fresno's minor league broadcast, it was that clear. But it slowly dawned on me that I knew the voice, I recognized the players. It was a broadcast of the Seattle Mariners, bouncing down my way across the atmosphere. It was the voice of Dave Niehaus. And suddenly, I was home.
I was that kid, going to M's games with my dad, brother, and sister, back in the days when you could park 1/2 a block from the Kingdome, when maybe 8,000 people showed up for the game, when it was fun, win or lose. A ship in the corner climbed out of its hole and fired a cannon shot with every home run. The floor would be littered with peanut shells and popcorn seeds. No-names ran the bases (well, they were big names to us, just not in the bigger picture of major league baseball).
But more often than not, we had the games on in the background at home. Dave Neihaus' voice filled our home, filled our summer nights. I just took him for granted, assuming he'd always been there.
During the eight years I spent in L.A., I only paid attention to the Mariners when they were down playing the Angels, or if they made it on TV (which they did during that amazing '95 season). But when we moved to Portland I found, to my delight, that they broadcast the M's games there. Many a summer day I was outside, working in the yard, and had Dave's voice to keep me company, to connect me to home.
Then there were those nights in Turlock. Once I discovered I could get the games, I listened every chance I got. Even there, in California, I could follow my beloved Mariners as if I were right there in Seattle.
Since moving back to the Puget Sound, I'm sure I've listened to 75% of the games each season (much to Karina's consternation, mind you). We don't have TV, so I turn the games on when I'm working around the house, or chopping firewood. Or driving home from Seattle. Or driving to the YMCA. Or anyplace else I'm near a radio. I can't tell you the times the girls have whined "Do we have to listen to baseball?" But of course we do. It's Dave. It's art. It's opera. Even as low as the M's have sunk in recent years, it was just comforting to have Dave's steady description of the game.
Last year somebody gave me a bottle opener. When you open a bottle it makes an electrical connection and plays one of Dave's famous calls, the Brett Boone "Grand Salami Time!" Olivia was playing it earlier today, over and over and over again. Then, tonight, Gene told me he'd heard Dave had passed away.
Truly, summer will be poorer without him. Baseball will be blander. The Mariners will simply stink (again). He was a connection to my past, to my family's past, to a Seattle that doesn't really exist anymore. To an innocent time when simply showing up to play was all that mattered. Wherever I went, it seemed Dave's voice brought me home again. I never met the man, but feel like I've lost a close friend. I suppose a lot of people are feeling the same way tonight.