Remembering Dave: Andy Niehaus shares thoughts of his dad
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of The Grand Salami.
I know many of you reading this have lost a loved one, a close family member. Well, when my dad, Dave Niehaus, passed away late last year, it was my first, and I have found all of the tired old clichés to be true. I used to snicker when people said things like, “You never know what you have until you lose it,” but not anymore.
My dad had his faults—we all do. In many ways, he was a typical American dad of his generation. He had a temper. Sometimes he drank too much. He smoked for about 40 years. He was stubborn. He couldn’t fix a darn thing (my mom bought “Mr. Fix It” fridge magnets that we all giggled at). His “sense of style,” if one could call it such, was notorious. He argued with his kids and his wife, usually winning with us and losing with her. He had a bit of Archie Bunker in him—sometimes bumbling, but always in charge.
When Dad passed away so suddenly last fall, all of that was brushed aside like so much dust. The jewels underneath, I knew they were there all the time: unconditional love and an overwhelming respect for a man who did everything in life for his family and for his extended family, a region of baseball fans.
The author (right) with his dad, circa 1960s
Most of you who listened to Dave Niehaus in your homes, cars, backyards, and garages, you felt like you knew him. And actually, you did. He wasn’t much different off the air, albeit with occasionally more colorful language. He was your neighbor, maybe even your uncle, the friend with the big smile and an even bigger heart. He was ordinary to the point of being extraordinary. He was the guy at the barbecue that, when he told you a story, you listened and you laughed. And sometimes you shooed the kids away for a bit so he could tell a “better” one. Looking back, the privilege of having Dave Niehaus as a father does not escape me. But as a boy, it seemed normal.
Like most kids, I went to plenty of baseball games. And like most kids, I went to work with my dad sometimes. Yesterday I sent my son to the printer to get a pile of paperwork. My dad sent me to the outfield at The Big A to shag fly balls with Mickey Rivers. I take my kids to the zoo. Dad took me to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium (OK, not a huge difference there). When he brought friends home for dinner, they were guys like Don Drysdale and Lou Gorman, and later Dick Williams, Lou Piniella, and Ken Griffey Sr. My oh my, the stories I overheard! Especially from Drysdale, a man whose idea of an intentional walk was a 93 mile per hour fastball in the ribs. “Why waste 4 pitches?”
Dad sent us to summer camp, to ski school, to college. He took us camping in Oregon and Big Sur and brought us to Spring Training. The baseball schedule is brutal and he was away a lot, but he always made it up to us in too many ways to even list. Even when he wasn’t physically there, Dave Niehaus was Super Dad.
In 1977, dad took a huge gamble with his family. He uprooted us all—kids aged 12, 9,and 5, and a wife with all her family in LA—to a city he had scarcely even visited. I remember my mother being worried, since he only had a couple of years on his initial contract. But the Northwest liked his style, and more contracts and more years followed. We had put down new roots, hoping they were permanent ones, in the best place in the country for us to grow and eventually raise our own children. He chose wisely.
There were two more scares to come—one being the Jeff Smulyan threat of moving the team to Florida, the other being 1995. One crisis was averted by the grace of a Japanese billionaire, the other by Edgar Martinez and crew against the Yankees. I remember these being some of the most stressful times in Dad’s—and therefore our entire family’s—lives. If the M’s had left town, Dave Nie haus would have had little choice but to follow his team and livelihood. We grown kids would have stayed here to raise our own. Having seen what a doting, lovable grand pa he would become, we are forever grateful he was able to stay put.
Dave Niehaus received many honors during the latter years of his life. Grand Marshal of the Torchlight Parade, throwing out the first-ever pitch at Safeco, raising the 12th Man Flag, Mari ners Hall of Fame. And, finally, enshrinement in Cooperstown, the pinnacle of any baseball man’s career. With each of these, he was humble, almost embarrassed by the attention. Since his passing, he has his own street and this month he will be immortalized with a fantastic bronze statue. I know my dad, and he would be genuinely thankful and wonder what all this fuss is about.
If I were to say one important thing to Northwest baseball fans, it would be this. We all cheer for, get frustrated by, and argue with what goes on between those two beautiful white lines on the field. It is part of what defines us as baseball fans. But I would plead that we never question the heart and passion of the men and women in the Mariners’ organization—especially Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Lincoln. They have shown immeasurable grace and support to our family, and to our city, during a difficult time. After all, they were, and are, Dave Niehaus fans too.
Before the December 11th memorial service last winter, I asked for advice from a friend on what to say. He told me, “speak from the heart, but whatever you do, do NOT address the deceased.” I understood his point, and I didn’t. But I will here.
I miss you dad, every single day. I still feel your warm smile, I still hear your voice, all the way down here. Stop yelling at me, I’m 47. I hope I told you “I love you” often enough; I know you did to me. And thanks for the Father’s Day foul ball. Yeah, I know it was you.