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Healthy Niehaus back behind the mike

Healthy Niehaus back behind the mike

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners kicked off the Cactus League season at Peoria Stadium on Friday and Dave Niehaus took his customary seat in the broadcast booth, describing the play-by-play action.

The longtime voice of the Mariners was right at home, several thousand miles away from the London hospital he called "home" for almost a week last December.

Niehaus and his wife, Marilyn, traveled to Europe to visit their daughter, Greta, and son-in-law, Steve, who live in London with their three children.

"I had always dreamed of going to the D-Day beaches in Normandy," Niehaus said prior to his 31st Spring Training opener. "I read [Stephen E.] Ambrose's book and it was a place I've always wanted to go."

The journey began with a 10-hour bus ride on a cold, blustery December day.

"It was a miserable day, weather-wise," he said, "but more emotional than I ever imagined. I got to walk on Omaha Beach and to know what happened there made it more emotional. We went to the cemetery where 18,000 American soldiers are buried and the German cemetery, where 22,000 German troops are buried."

The lousy weather put a damper on the one-day trip.

"It was cold, rainy, miserable and I wasn't feeling well," he said. "When we got back to Paris, we were in front of our hotel when I collapsed and couldn't get up. Eventually, I got up and went to bed.

"I didn't know if I had had a stroke, or what. But it scared the hell out of me."

Niehaus and his wife returned to London the following day, and that night, "I got so sick that Greta called the doctor. They still have house calls over there, you know. The doctor came to the house, looked me over and told me he was putting me in an ambulance and I was going to the hospital."

The 72-year-old Niehaus, who suffered a heart attack in 1996 while walking into the Kingdome and missed 17 games, was diagnosed with pneumonia.

"Don't ever vote for socialized medicine," he said. "They put me in a room with five other people, separated only by sheets. One elderly gentleman, on my left, sounded like he was dying. Same thing with an elderly lady on my right.

"It was something right out of a Jack Nicholson movie."

After a couple of days sharing misery with others, Niehaus called his daughter and told her, "You gotta get me out of this hospital and into a private hospital!"

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The request was granted and two days later, Niehaus was "transferred" to a private hospital.

"They put me in a wheelchair and rolled me down the hall, about 100 yards or less, and into a private hospital. The 'private' hospital was connected to the other one. I had a room by myself with my own television. I was feeling a little better by then.

"They had a menu in my room that looked like something that came from a cruise ship. At the bottom, it said, 'Wine and spirits are available, if you wish.'"

The recollection caused a belly laugh.

Niehaus checked out of the hospital five days after being admitted -- and took the menu as a souvenir.

He and Marilyn were supposed to return to Seattle on Dec. 19, but his doctor wouldn't give him permission to travel. Finally, four days later, they boarded a plane at Heathrow International Airport for the long flight home.

"We sat on the plane for five hours because of the fog," he said, "and the flight was 10 hours long."

Asked if he ever wanted to go back to Europe, Niehaus never hesitated.

A 10-hour flight got them back to Seattle and he's looking forward to his next trip to Europe.

"I would love to go back there, but only when the weather is nicer. It was too cold."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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