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12/11/10 7:01 PM EST

Niehaus remembered at stadium memorial

SEATTLE -- Finding words isn't usually a problem for broadcasters, but for a few moments Saturday afternoon, Rick Rizzs struggled to find his composure. Which was understandable, given the entire Seattle Mariners nation had lost its voice with the passing of Dave Niehaus.

But as Rizzs fought back his emotions at the Safeco Field ceremony for his Hall of Fame broadcast partner, suddenly former players Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and Dan Wilson surrounded him on stage, with Buhner engulfing Rizzs in a bear hug as the tears openly flowed.

"Tom Hanks was wrong," Rizzs said, referring to the famous "no crying in baseball" mantra.

Eventually Rizzs regained his composure and went on, as the entire Mariners organization is attempting to do since Niehaus died of a heart attack on Nov. 10 at his Bellevue home overlooking Lake Sammamish.

A crowd of about 3,500 gathered for the televised "Celebration of Life" at Safeco Field, the stadium Niehaus himself christened by throwing out the first pitch at the opening game at the park in 1999.

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said a statue, the first at Safeco Field, would be erected in Niehaus' honor. Additionally, players will wear a Niehaus patch on their right sleeve for all games in 2011.

Clearly Niehaus won't be forgotten, not after broadcasting 5,284 of the club's 5,385 games since its inception in 1977.

"A life isn't worth living unless it has an impact on other lives," Rizzs said, quoting Jackie Robinson. "Well, just look around this afternoon at the impact Dave's life had on all of us."

Buhner recounted funny stories of ransacking Niehaus' room on the road, painting his famous white shoes pink and such. Wilson and Martinez told how they used to hurry back to the video room at the park to hear Niehaus on the replays of big moments.

And Marlaina Lieberg of the Washington Council of the Blind spoke for the fans.

"It was a horrible day when we all heard the news that Dave Niehaus had passed away," Lieberg said. "I think it was especially horrible for those of us to whom he brought the visual to the verbal.

"You didn't have to see to know what was going on wherever Dave Niehaus broadcast baseball. He made baseball come alive. You were here in this beautiful stadium, you were wherever Dave was and you smelled the hot dogs and felt the breeze and you could picture what was happening. Eyesight wasn't necessary."

Niehaus, who died at age 75, touched millions of fans around the Northwest over the years. And he touched the players and those who worked with him as well.

"For me personally, it's tough to look up and see that jersey," Buhner said, gesturing to the broadcast booth where a tribute to Niehaus was lit up in the darkened area where he had worked. "I just can't believe it. I love him like a dad and am just so grateful that I got to rub elbows with him.

"Dave Niehaus is the heart and soul. He is a Seattle icon. He is the Seattle Mariners."

Rizzs, who worked alongside Niehaus for 25 years, noted his partner made the best of some difficult seasons.

"When the ballclub was bad, Dave was at his best," Rizzs said. "Dave made them not only bearable, but enjoyable. Dave always said, 'It might be a bad game, but it doesn't have to be a bad broadcast.'"

Greta Niehaus Dunn and Andy Niehaus, two of his three children, spoke eloquently of their father's love for family and baseball.

"You may not know this, but dad had many offers over the years for more money and exposure," Andy Niehaus said. "But it was never about any of that. He had some of the greatest fans in the world to talk to and you listened. We've always felt we had this huge extended family and we're honored to have shared him with you."

Ken Griffey Jr. addressed the gathering by video. And as usual, the Mariners' greatest player delivered a home run in describing the franchise's last original employee.

"When he walked down the street, everybody knew him," Griffey said. "He was more recognizable than any player that's ever been here and that just says a lot about him and how much people care about him. It'll never be the same. It'll never get better, because there's nobody better than him."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohns1 as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.