Several thousand people braved the stormy wet Seattle weather to gather at SafeCo Field and say goodbye to Dave Niehaus yesterday with speeches from family and co-workers, the folks that knew him best. I tend not to be much of a public crier, but yesterday got me a few times. There isn’t much to say without photos, so let’s get to it.
I drove out to Redmond to pick up Conor, and by the time we were back in Seattle, the rain had already well established itself. We walked up the steps of the home plate entrance with quite a large throng of others, and found fellow fan and friend Su sitting with the 4 Old Bats and saving seats for us. Jon Shields from ProBallNW showed up moments later, and we sat chatting and taking in the scene.
Eventually, the Niehaus family and many people who worked in the front office, along with some of the guest speakers filed in and took their seats up front, and the Navy band came in and played the National Anthem.
I had mentioned earlier in the day that if Rizzs broke down, that would be it for me. He managed to do fairly well, pausing occasionally, but holding it together until he started to talk about how lucky he had been to have gotten to work with Dave, and that was when I lost it. Even seeing this picture now makes me well up a bit, and I took the damn thing.
Rizzs finished his speech, and introduced two of the three Niehaus children, Greta and Andy. A third brother could not be at the ceremony due to being in Arizona, but these two did a fine job, recounting their lives growing up with Dave as a father being on the road for half the year with the team, and other more personal memories.
Marlaina Lieberg of the Washington Council for the Blind gave possibly the most moving speech of the event, describing how Niehaus not only helped her “see” the game, but converted her husband into a baseball fan.
Ron Fairly was next, and provided a good amount of laughs, recounting some of Dave’s quirks and Fairly’s own history working with Dave. Fairly, incidentally, does a pretty decent impression of Niehaus, and used it to describe a call where Dave all but lost his ability to form words because he was so excited over a play.
Dan Wilson was introduced, and talked about how he used to like going into the audio/video room whenever he’d made a particularly interesting play so he could hear how Dave described it on the radio. He said it was the first place he went after Edgar Martinez hit his famous double, to hear Dave’s voice.
Wilson had to pause a few times to collect himself, as did Jay Buhner, who told a funny story about trying to shoe polish Dave’s white shoes red while the team was at an away game, but instead turning them pink. Dave wore them anyway. Buhner also told of an elaborate prank involving “reorganizing” Dave’s hotel room, removing the speaker on the room’s phone, then sticking quarters in the door to ensure that Dave was trapped inside, saying that they couldn’t open the door, and that he should call security.
Chuck Armstrong then approached the podium, and made a self-deprecating joke, citing that the last time he’d been applauded was the beginning of the 2009 season. He also made a very important announcement:
Unfortunately, the sound on this did not come out like I would have wanted, and I can’t hear it at all on my laptop (in related news, there may be something wrong with my laptop), but Armstrong is talking about a statue of Dave that will be placed in SafeCo Field, and patches that will be worn on the sleeves of the team’s jerseys for the 2011 season. Andy Niehaus had mentioned something about Dave Niehaus Avenue earlier in the ceremony, and I jumped the gun on Twitter, thinking that was what Armstrong’s announcement would be. A statue is a marvelous idea as well, and gives fans something a little more concrete, pardon the odd pun.
After we were all thanked for coming and Armstrong wrapped up the ceremony, several of us headed down the street to Hooverville for a few rounds and friendly chatter. And I’d like to thank those of you who were able to make it, even if I didn’t get to say hello – sitting around talking with other baseball fans about baseball and whatever else comes up is a great way to top off a memorial for one of the game’s greats. Thank you very much for showing up.