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Storyteller Niehaus enters Hall of Fame

Storyteller Niehaus enters Hall

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- In accepting the annual Ford C. Frick Award on Sunday, Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus painted a picture, his words as his brush, as he's done his whole career.

He sent the crowd attending the Hall of Fame ceremony back to when an 11-year-old boy sat next to his father on a porch in the evening in Princeton, Ind.

"Dad was sitting on the porch with a cold slice of watermelon on one knee and a hot ear of buttered [corn] with a cold beverage sitting on the ground," Niehaus said. "And suddenly, from the old Zenith model radio in the living room comes this voice, screaming, 'It may be! It may be! It is!' And the young boy jumps about three or four inches off the ground with each halting phrase. Magic is happening in St. Louis, Missouri. Stan Musial has hit another home run about a zillion miles away."

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This was Niehaus talking about the beginning of his career, one that was honored Sunday afternoon with the Frick Award, presented for significant contributions to baseball broadcasting.

Niehaus, 77, has been the voice of the Seattle Mariners for the franchise's 32-year existence. He's missed just 82 of the Mariners' 4,899 games, and some of the team's loyal fans didn't miss this honor.

Waving "My Oh My" signs -- in reference to one of Niehaus' famous calls -- and foam fingers, while creating some of the loudest cheers of the afternoon, the Mariners faithful from the Northwest followed Niehaus to Cooperstown.

"Cooperstown makes your heart sore while buckling your knees," Niehaus said. "Nothing can replace this."

Honoring Niehaus with the Frick Award, named in memory of Ford C. Frick, the former Commissioner of Baseball and a sports journalist, seems well-deserved in many ways. His famous calls of "My, oh my" and -- for home runs -- "It will fly away," landed him a spot in the the Mariners' Hall of Fame in 2000, one of the team's first two inductees. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the inaugural game at Safeco Field on July 15, 1999.

Niehaus was named Sportscaster of the Year for Washington State from 1995-1997 by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. In 2004, he was named Washington State Broadcaster of the Year by the Washington State Association of Broadcasters.

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During his speech, Niehaus talked about the beginning of his career with the Armed Forces radio and TV service, where he initially called Los Angeles Dodgers games, followed by New York Yankees coverage. After the Armed Forces Network, he went back to Los Angeles to broadcast the Dodgers, Lakers and Rams. From 1969-1976, he broadcast the California Angels, as well as UCLA football and basketball toward the end of the period. He joined the Mariners in the team's first season, 1977.

He is forever grateful to the organization, thanking its ownership for his career.

"I just wish everybody could experience the feeling I am having now," he said. "There will never be anything like it in my lifetime."

A month before the speech, Niehaus asked Reggie Jackson for advice. The Hall of Fame outfielder said not to look behind him during the speech, the sight of all the Hall of Famers being perhaps too intimidating. Niehaus did fine, delivering a classy and appreciative speech.

When it came to thanking people, he started with his family -- he has three children and six grandchildren -- first with his wife, Marilyn. He told the crowd about their first date, about how he wanted to take her to a Dodgers game, where Musial was going to appear in Los Angeles for the last time. They went to dinner and never made it to the game.

That voice, raspy but powerful, cracked at the end of another picture painted:

He said, "I wouldn't be here without you, Marilyn."

Willie Bans is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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