The win-loss record wouldn't have mattered, nor the number of runs the Seattle Mariners had scored in a slow start to the 2011 season - to Dave Niehaus, it was baseball, and he'd have loved being at Safeco Field tonight.
Instead, the team will have a tribute to the man who broadcast 5,284 games over 34 years, and his widow, Marilyn, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The men who worked the game longest with Niehaus think he’ll be at the first home game of the year, too.
“Dave won’t miss an opening day at home. I don’t think he did in 34 years, and I’ve got a hunch he’ll be there for this one,” Ron Fairly said.
Rick Rizzs is even more certain.
“I know he’ll be there, because I’m carrying his picture in my wallet,” Rizzs said, then pulled out his wallet, flipped it open and looked at a photograph of a smiling Niehaus.
“Hello, Dave,” Rizzs said with affection.
The Mariners plan a pregame tribute to Niehaus, who died during the offseason, and the City of Seattle will name a section of First Avenue South, outside Safeco Field, in his honor. The Mariners are wearing a Niehaus commemorative patch on their uniforms all season – and a large replica of it will be unveiled at the ball park.
The team asks that fans wear white shoes to the game tonight, a light-hearted nod to Niehaus’ eclectic fashion sense.
For the broadcasters who worked with him, Niehaus has a presence in every radio or television booth they visit.
“I hadn’t been in the booth for a few years, and this last few weeks, spring training and then the start of the season, it’s been like something was missing,” Fairly said. “It was Dave – that’s what I was missing.
“The ugly sandals, sometimes socks that didn’t match – that’s what I miss, and the time at the park and away from the park together.
“Players always get keyed up for these big games, and Dave did, too. You go back to that tape of the first Mariners game, the first pitch in team history – and he nailed it.”
Fairly played the game for parts of three decades, and knew how much the game meant to many of the men he played with and for.
“I remember Gene Mauch, who’d say he always came to the ballpark ready to manage. You didn’t get there and then start thinking about it,” Fairly said. “Dave was the same way, he came ready to call a game.
“He was like the player who comes to the park and knows he’s in the lineup, knows he’s going to play. Dave was always in the lineup, day after day.”
Rizzs knows what Niehaus meant to fans of the team.
“From the first pitch in team history through last season, Dave was always there. He was the voice of the team, yes, but he was the face of the franchise, too. Players, managers, coaches came and went. Dave was the one constant,” Rizzs said.
Fairly talked about ballparks, broadcast booths and how Niehaus viewed them.
“This was Dave’s playground, and everyone has had one at one point in life,” Fairly said. “This was Dave’s, and he loved it.”
ADAM MOORE UPDATE
The Mariners announced that backup catcher Adam Moore did indeed suffer an injury to his right knee Wednesday afternoon in Texas. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test confirmed Moore tore the medial meniscus while blocking a pitch in the dirt. Needed surgery has not been scheduled.
Moore played in two games and batted .167 (1-for-6) with a double. The team will announce a roster move before today’s home opener. Josh Bard was starting catcher for the Tacoma Rainiers in their opener at Sacramento on Thursday night.