The missing presence in M's press box

A veteran broadcaster was the press-box favorite, and he influenced sports and public life in Tacoma and Pierce County.

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Clay Huntington

A veteran broadcaster was the press-box favorite, and he influenced sports and public life in Tacoma and Pierce County.

The Safeco Field press box, not exactly a standing-room-only destination during recent seasons, has seemed even more vacant this year because of the absence of perhaps the favorite colleague habitués of the place ever had.

Dave Niehaus, you say?

Actually the man referenced is Clay Huntington, who hadn't been able to attend games lately and passed away June 1 at age 89. Niehaus obviously was more famous than Huntington. But no one, to my knowledge, was better-liked than the latter, the man who was a radio-broadcasting giant and for half a century was something of an indispensable presence for sports and public life in Pierce County.

The engaging one-time game announcer and custodian of KLAY radio in Lakewood (1180 AM) was every reason to value the collegiality of those who practice the loosely defined journalism trade. I got to know him the past decade during Mariners and Seahawks seasons, spending hours side by side mostly in the Safeco press area reminiscing about Northwest sports activities and the characters who chronicled them.

Huntington, among them, was a character in excellent standing. This was noted by many of his friends and colleagues Sunday (June 12) at a public appreciation of Huntington’s career. The event, appropriately, was held at the new Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, where Huntington had been instrumental in nourishing minor-league baseball and other sports.

Several among the official speakers noted for the hundreds of Huntington admirers that the day’s weather lent perfectly to baseball, which Clay would’ve appreciated. The balmy skies also defined an ideal canopy for the appreciation of Clay’s many achievements in business and public life (he was, among so many roles, a Pierce County commissioner).

My own impressions of him, beyond his knack for remembering so much about the minutiae of Northwest sports, was his willingness and ability to recall names of and personal details about seemingly everybody who ever walked into a local press box. He was the honored and deserved center of attention at every game. It was a marvel that he could maintain a train of thought during the incessant hand-shaking and chatter prompted by his presence.

What I valued most, here again, were his stories about broadcasting colleagues. On several occasions, for example, he spoke about his contemporary and friend Bob Blackburn (who died last year).

Clay and Blackburn were well-accomplished in their careers when I was just a grade-school kid in Portland listening to Blackburn call Beavers AAA baseball. It was at about the time Clay was helping build the original Cheney Stadium (renovated after the 2010 season) and getting the San Francisco Giants organization to move its Pacific Coast League franchise from Phoenix to Tacoma in 1960.

The versatile Blackburn covered several teams, not least, of course, being the Seattle SuperSonics for the first quarter century of the franchise. Huntington on several occasions described for me the intricacies of creating the illusion of realism in radio sports-broadcasting. Clay recalled how Blackburn and other game announcers would “cover” out-of-town baseball from their remote studios, describing play via game information coming to them on the sports wire and enhancing the “action” using recorded crowd noise and “big-bat, little-bat” sound effects.

Such illusory broadcasting tactics seem quaint now but colorful nonetheless. Fortunately such lore will be kept alive by many who pass an empty press-box chair and feel privileged to have been befriended by Clay Huntington, one of the great gentlemen of Northwest sport


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