Friday, November 12, 2010

Mariners broadcasts by Niehaus transcended generations

Although this blog has been quiet for a while, I haven't made any movement to officially retire it. I wanted the blog to still be here when I felt that I needed to write. This week, I need to write.

On Wednesday, longtime Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus passed away of a heart attack at age 75. It was one of those days that I knew was going to come eventually, but never wanted to think about.

I've been listening to Dave Niehaus announce Mariners baseball since I was old enough to tune a radio. Our family lived far enough away from Seattle that we only made it out to one game while I was growing up, and "Mom forbid" that we would have any type of cable TV package that would allow us to watch every game (I still thank her for that). The radio was it, and the radio was available everywhere: in the car, the kitchen, and even in my room.

A kid with no serious life obligations (there wasn't even homework during the summers) could easily pass an evening listening to a game, executing full windups and releases in the middle of the kitchen. My career aspiration by 4th grade was to be a sports radio broadcaster, due to logging uncountable hours with Seattle broadcasting legends Bob Blackburn, Kevin Calabro, Rick Rizzs, and Dave Niehaus.

Of those, Niehaus's mannerisms were the most memorable. Before long I knew all his common exclamations, such as "Swung on and belted!", "Fly away!" and "It's grand salami time!" When a declaration such as "My oh my!" came out of Dave's mouth, it wasn't a "signature phrase", it was just something you believed Dave Niehaus would naturally say when he saw something incredible. It fit.

A game with Niehaus was not just a game. It was a production, a work of art, every night. As Steve Kelley put it, with Dave, "a pitch wasn't just low, it was 'loooooow'. In a close game, Dave was almost reverential. He could have been a preacher giving a sermon when he called the late innings of a tight game."

Dave could even make the commercials he was obligated to read throughout the game sound fascinating. He would work them into the spaces in the game's action and put all feeling into the words, varying the tone of his voice as he tolled the virtues of Sterling Savings Bank. He wasn't afraid to reveal his emotion about the action on the field either. Kelley remembers:

"If a game was meandering and a Mariners pitcher couldn't throw a strike, [Dave's] voice would get sharp and gravelly, and he would say something like, 'You gotta throw strikes.'"

"The pleasure of listening to him on a stormy day in April or one of those long, lush nights in July always has felt like an inalienable right of being a sports fan in Seattle."

Indeed, Niehaus's presence was something you could always count on, something maybe too easy to take for granted. If you go to bed, the sun will come up. If you turn the key, your car will start. If you flip on the radio on a summer night, Dave Niehaus will be there calling a game with all the fervor of his soul, even if the Mariners are down 7-0 and they can't buy a hit.

My dad shared an appreciation for Niehaus's broadcasts, although as a busy father and physician he didn't have as much time to kill listening to the radio. Our opportunity to hear games together often came in the car on the way to or from some activity. A father and a teenage son can strap themselves into a vehicle and sit together in silence for hours, each in his own world. But when we switched on Niehaus, we were on the same frequency.

One night this past summer my 5 year old son was having trouble settling down to bed. I switched on a Mariners broadcast hoping that would lull him to sleep. Wincing through the beer commercials, I took a few minutes to explain what was happening in the game, then left to go to bed myself. The next morning I asked who won, and he responded in a sincerely dejected voice, "the Angels". This episode reveals three things about Niehaus's effect on my son: he communicated what happened, he explained how we should feel about it, and he didn't put him to sleep.

It's this family bond of listening to Niehaus that makes his passing so difficult. Last night I was in charge of watching the kids. Two out of three were successfully in bed, but the baby boy was agitated. In desperation, I switched on an Internet recording of Niehaus highlights. My son's eyes became wide and the pacifier began bobbing up and down in his mouth contentedly. As I watched his reflection in the computer screen, I saddened at the thought that I wouldn't get to share a Niehaus broadcast with him. Then I felt happy that, even at my son's young age, I was having an opportunity to share what Dave meant to me.

If you're a baby, too young to understand words or baseball or the magic of a summer evening, I guess you can be excused for getting soothed to sleep by the golden voice of Dave Niehaus.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Learning Hebrew on your own: Some resources

Well, this blog has gone into hibernation although I wanted to publish a quick post to let you know it's not dead. I think things started to slow down when I started working a second job...and we bought a house, and we got pregnant with our third child, and I started traveling to California once every few months, know...

Since both my jobs involve creating Web content, I have been doing other things to relax and enrich my free time that don't involve sitting in front of a computer screen. One of my goals for 2010 was to learn enough Hebrew that I could read the book of Genesis in its original language. I've been spending about 15 minutes per night studying The First Hebrew Primer on the floor of my son's room while he falls asleep. I picked this book after reading a number of reviews for "teach yourself Hebrew" texts, and I am happy with this choice. The print is large enough I can read it, and the book doesn't throw too much information at you before you're ready. Plenty of exercises help you review the material, although there's no included answer book. The going has been slow, but steady.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to browse the Jewish section at Powell's City of Books and had another great find: The Pentateuch and Rashi's Commentary: A Linear Translation into English. This old volume had the entire book of Genesis with the Hebrew and English side by side, line by line (not just verse by verse). I also get Rashi's commentary if I ever want to foray into Jewish theology...we'll see if I get time for that.

Finally, an amazing Web resource for Hebrew that has helped me learn pronunciation is the Mechon-Mamre Hebrew-English Bible online, which allows you to listen to any chapter as you read along.

Last night I made it through Genesis 1 (a good chapter for learning because of the repetition!) There is a beauty and simplicity in the Hebrew text that is making my work pay off.

Shalom until next post! Maybe I'll be in Canaan by that time.

Note: The author of this blog has not received any compensation from the authors or publishers of any of the materials reviewed in this post.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thousands gather at Washington state capitol to support pro-life movement

On March 19, I gathered with about 6,000 other marchers at the Washington state capitol to protest the legalization of abortion in the United States 37 years ago. I choose carefully the political events in which I get involved, but I felt that this was an important enough issue that I could take some time and add one voice to the March for Life crowd.

This kind of an event is a good place to quickly learn things. Here are some thoughts I took away from the march:
  • Thirty-seven years after Roe v. Wade, opposition to abortion is still strong and is growing. Although many have tried to justify abortion with the "safe and legal" mantra (one might ask, "Safe for whom?") and others have tried to sweep the issue under the rug, public identification with pro-life principles is growing to the point where more than half of Americans consider themselves pro-life. This is up from 33 percent in 1995, causing me to cautiously wonder if the "abortion rights" movement is sunsetting.

  • The Catholic church is a major force holding up the pro-life movement. Most of today's crowd seemed to consist of Catholic parishioners bused in from all over western Washington. Catholic schools and organizations such as Knights of Columbus also showed strong representation. Other evangelical and orthodox groups were represented, but it was no question who comprised the majority. I do not suggest that the Mormon church formally organize groups to attend these rallies, but I do hope that more Mormons take motivation in themselves to get involved with the pro-life movement and consider it as high of a priority as Catholics do.

  • Some pro-abortion lawmakers cannot stop trying to hinder those who offer alternatives. Unsatisfied that abortion is already legal and readily-available in the United States, some activists and lawmakers cannot stop trying to suppress or throw roadblocks in the paths of those who would try to reduce the number of abortions through alternatives such as adoption or abstinence education.

    One such effort in the Washington state legislature this session is Senate Bill 6452, which would require any crisis pregnancy center not offering abortion services to state that no medical care is available at the facility in "thirty-point font size or larger on the main entry door of the organization", on the home page of the organization's Web site, and in all its advertising materials. I have read the full text of this bill, and it seems to be motivated only by persons upset that more young women were not being steered to abortion clinics. Perhaps the clinics are feeling the competition?

  • Abortion is not a partisan issue, a "wedge" issue, or even a political issue. It is a tragedy. On the Capitol steps we were addressed by various Democrats and Republicans who understand that abortion is wrong and are not ashamed to call themselves pro-life. They took time from their session to come out and stand with us in opposition to abortion. We need to pay attention to how legislators vote and support Democrats who have done a difficult thing and broken from their traditional party line that favors abortion. We need to sternly question Republicans who have broken from their party's platform of supporting pro-life principles. We are still a nation ruled by the people, and if the people vote for candidates who support pro-life principles, Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Today gave me hope that this day can come.