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Sunday, June 27, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Voice Of The M's Looks Back

Special To The Seattle Times

PLAY-BY-PLAY VOICE SINCE THEY BEGAN PLAYING IN 1977.

Editor's note: Play-by-play announcer Dave Niehaus, who has been with the club since its first game in 1977, will call his final game at the Kingdome today. We asked the man who to many represents Mariner baseball about his favorite Kingdome memories.

Twenty-two and a half years. It kind of hit me Monday night. I was looking at the scoreboard in Cleveland late at night, and I saw a relief pitcher come in for the Oakland Athletics by the name of Laxton.

I wondered: "My gosh, that couldn't be Bill Laxton, could it?"

Nobody knows who Bill Laxton is, unless you're a real Mariner fan. He was the first Mariner ever to win a ballgame here, Game 3 in 1977. This turned out to be his son, Brett Laxton.

It's going to be a very emotional day for me as I come to the ballpark. I remember April 6, 1977, when I came up here, because it was somewhat controversial. I think they probably wanted a local announcer to do the games instead of a guy from California. You know what Seattleites think of Californians. To open against my old ballclub - I had been broadcasting the Angels - was really ironic.

Of course, Frank Tanana shut us out 7-0 the first game, Nolan Ryan beat us in the second game, and I was beginning to wonder not only if we'd win a ballgame but if we'd score a run. And then we won the third game; Bill Laxton was the winner.

Everyone asks you your Kingdome moments, the No. 1 moments. Probably Opening Day will be my No. 1 moment over the playoff game against the Angels, or Edgar's double down the left-field line to continue to go into the playoffs against Cleveland, which was a magical moment, or Gaylord Perry's 300th win, or Randy Johnson's no-hitter, or Chris Bosio's no-hitter, or Lenny Randle blowing the ball foul down the third-base line, or a speaker taking away Willie Horton's 300th home run.

There have been so many fine moments here, but we're finally going to get to see baseball the way I think it should be. That's one of the reasons I kind of enjoy going on the road, because with the exception of Minnesota, you get to describe the elements - what the wind does to a baseball, what sun does to an outfielder, what temperature does to a ballgame. We're going to experience all that at Safeco Field, to some degree. I've spent a third of my life here at the Kingdome. It will always be a part of my life. This place has some very pleasant memories. You know, for a dome, it's not a bad ballpark. The fans might disagree with me.

I'm sure when I pull out of my driveway, I could just put my car on cruise control and it would come out here and park in the parking lot, because I've done it for so long. Yeah, I will miss it. Had there not been a dome, there would not be baseball here. This place was actually built for baseball.

Of course, let's not kid ourselves. The franchise was probably really born in '89 when Junior arrived here and began electrifying everybody. Eighty-four was a magical year when we had the Rookie of the Year in Alvin Davis and the Rookie Pitcher of the Year in Mark Langston. Alvin Davis, to my way of thinking will always be Mr. Mariner, no matter if Junior hits 869 home runs (one more than Sadaharu Oh) because of what a gentleman he was and the way he captivated the community. And the way Harold Reynolds captivated the community. What a gentleman he was.

I love Seattle. It was a great place to raise a family. I never really seriously considered going to another franchise. I've had 6-8 opportunities to do so.

I've always said, first of all, the fans didn't owe the Seattle Mariners anything. The Mariners owed the fans a competitive ballclub, and it would be a great franchise. You saw what happened when they became competitive in '95.

I believe I am the last original Mariner employee. I'm the only one who spans the Kingdome to Safeco Field. I will not make the other span, by the way, wherever and whenever it is. ------------------------------- Post-game ceremony: Twenty minutes after the final out of today's game, the Mariners will conduct an on-field ceremony looking back on their years in the Kingdome. Mariners players, coaches and officials from the past and present will be among those honored in the ceremony, which also will include video highlights from 1977 to the present. Television: Fox NW will broadcast the game and post-game ceremony beginning at 1:35 p.m. Radio: KIRO (710 AM).

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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