Something obviously was missing Sunday (Feb. 27) when the '11-vintage Mariners took the field against an opponent for the first time.
Actually a lot was missing if you count adequate position players, pitchers, etc.
Most conspicuous was the man who wasn’t there. Dave Niehaus, who passed away in November, won’t have to countenance what many believe could be another 100-plus-loss season for a team seemingly consigned for the foreseeable future to the lowest rung of the league’s only four-team division.
At noon Seattle time, veteran broadcasters Rick Rizzs and Dave Sims took the air on KIRO-710 radio, immediately acknowledging the absence of the voice that had given the franchise much of its peculiar allure since spring-training games commenced in 1977.
“For the past 34 years nobody — and I mean nobody — painted a better picture . . . than Dave Niehaus,” Rizzs said at the top of the broadcast. “Today begins a new chapter in Mariners history and, unfortunately, we have to write that chapter without him.”
“I really feel the loss right now, being in Peoria,” Sims added. “The guy was an icon.”
And with that the transition was made to the post-Niehaus era. For many of us it was a welcome non-maudlin departure from the we-remember-Dave days after Niehaus succumbed. Within a couple of minutes the Rizzs pre-recorded interview with new manager Eric Wedge was airing and, with that, Mariners baseball was moving forward. Or was it moving backward?
Ever aware of their public-relations imperatives, M’s managers may have considered it a tricky decision going with Erik Bedard tossing the first pitch of the exhibition season. The lefty, who turns 32 March 5, appeared in just 15 games during each of the 2008 and ’09 seasons, missing the entirety of 2010. Bedard’s record since he left Baltimore is 11-7: lucky in a craps context but not so much considering the, er, crappy deal many M’s fans feel Seattle made to acquire a guy who has only appeared in 164 innings spread across a paltry 30 games.
“We’re just looking for him to get through one clean inning today ... and feel good,” Wedge said of the left-hander during his chat with Rizzs.
Minutes later, when Bedard left the mound with nothing bad having happened, the M’s brain-trust must have been collectively ready to pencil him in as the team’s number-two starter. It would be another day before anybody could say whether the oft-suffering former ace had any lingering pain after his outing.
This much was known: Bedard threw just nine pitches, eight for strikes. He seemed to dispatch San Diego’s three batters faster than a typical mound conference with a catcher.
A few hours later the Seahawks had beaten the Chargers 13-12. Wait, it actually was the M’s 13-12 in the annual charity game with the Peoria-complex-sibling San Diego Padres, with nothing remarkable having transpired beyond a second-inning M’s bat-around rally that resulted in five runs: nearly two more than they put up per game last season. Seattle’s 513 runs last year were 74 fewer than the second-worst scoring team in the majors.
The Sunday game may have left Seattle fans daring to imagine Bedard coming back in career-prime fashion. If nothing else, his brief inning certainly impressed the Niehaus successors, among others.
Indeed, after Bedard’s final pitch, radio listeners could be forgiven for sensing that they could hear the faint but unmistakable sound of a familiar voice exclaiming “my, oh my!”