Opening Day is supposed to be a happy time for baseball fans. After a winter hibernation, baseball makes its triumphant return, signaling the beginning of spring and the start of the long journey that is baseball season. And, for the most part, the start of the 2011 season for the Seattle Mariners was filled with jubilation -- Felix Hernandez put together a strong performance, the Mariners won and Chone Figgins hit the most surprising home run I've seen in a long time. But without Dave Niehaus, it just wasn't the same.
When Dave passed away, many Mariners fans knew the hardest times would come at the start of spring training and Opening Day. You see, Dave ushered in baseball each and every year for the Mariners, from the first pitch in franchise history to the first pitch of the 2010 season. Like clockwork, Dave would be there to welcome fans back as he narrated the journey that is a Major League Baseball Season.
On Friday, it struck me that this was real and Dave wasn't coming back. He wasn't there to call the first home run season, to narrate the gem Felix Hernandez threw or to celebrate an Opening Day win with the rest of us.
To their credit, ROOT Sports put together a few excellent tributes throughout the broadcast. The pregame tribute to Dave, with a highlight montage pieced together with a narration he'd recorded before his death, moved many to tears. The broadcast crew went silent for the first pitch, allowing Dave to call it himself from above. And, finally, the entire bottom of the third -- the inning Niehaus typically switch from television to radio, were he did his best work -- was a silent inning.
When the Mariners return home for their home opener, it'll be another somber day. Dave was always there to welcome fans to the ballpark, dressed to the nines and classy as always. Nobody could usher in a baseball season quite like he could, nor could anyone tell the 162 game story that is a baseball season like Dave.
We miss you, Dave. Baseball isn't the same without you.