- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

SEATTLE (AP) - For 34 seasons, Dave Niehaus narrated baseball in the Pacific Northwest.

The golden Midwestern tones and trademark “My Oh My” and “It will fly away” tags of Seattle’s first baseball icon were silenced Wednesday.

Niehaus, who called the first pitch in Seattle Mariners history and described more than three decades of occasionally good and mostly bad baseball, died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack at his suburban Bellevue home, according to his family. He was 75.

“He was one of the great broadcast voices of our generation, a true gentleman, and a credit to baseball,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “He was a good friend and I will miss him. But he will be sorely missed, not only in the Pacific Northwest, where he had called Mariners games since the club’s inception in 1977, but wherever the game is played.”

From Diego Segui’s first pitch on April 6, 1977, through the end of the 2010 season, Niehaus called 5,284 of the Mariners‘ 5,385 games. He was the instructor for a region void of the major league game sans the Seattle Pilots’ one-year experiment in 1969. Adults and kids regularly tuned in on summer evenings to hear Niehaus try and put his best spin on what were among the worst teams in baseball during much of the club’s history.

But no matter how bad the Mariners were, Niehaus never let the on-field product affect his approach to the game. He always brought enthusiasm and drama to some horrible teams, horrible games and horrible seasons.

“This is the saddest day of my life. It is like I am losing a dad, someone that was a father figure to me,” former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner said. “He was the voice of Northwest baseball and the heart of the Mariners‘ organization. He described everything with an art and painted a picture you could see in your mind.”

At Safeco Field on Wednesday night, an image of Niehaus, who threw out the first pitch in the stadium’s history when it opened during the middle of the 1999 season, was shown on the video board in center field. Twitter and Facebook were full of tributes to the broadcaster.

“This is a day that I was hoping would never come,” former Seattle star Ken Griffey Jr. told the Mariners‘ flagship radio station Wednesday night. “It’s just a sad day for all of us, not just his family, but for everybody in the great Northwest.”

Niehaus was the recipient of the 2008 Ford C. Frick award and was inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is the lone Seattle Mariners representative in Cooperstown.

Dave has truly been the heart and soul of this franchise since its inception in 1977,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday night.

Niehaus got into broadcasting as a student at Indiana. He worked for the Armed Forces Network in Los Angeles and New York before anchoring himself in the L.A. market in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, calling games for the California Angels and UCLA football. In 1976 at the baseball winter meetings, Niehaus was encouraged to interview for the lead play-by-play job with the expansion Mariners.

He got the job, and with few exceptions, never left the seat.

“All of us in this business, guys, this is the toy department of life,” Niehaus said before his Hall of Fame induction in 2008. “It’s a narcotic. Anyone who is involved in this business, whether it be my end or (the writing) end or the front office end, we’re lucky. We’re lucky people.”

As much as Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki were responsible for making Seattle relevant in professional baseball, it was Niehaus telling their stories along the way.

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