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Originally published Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Dave Niehaus overwhelmed by Hall of Fame experience

I took a walk with Dave Niehaus on Friday. We checked out his new home. The one in the Baseball Hall of Fame where he's going to live for perpetuity, with his new roommates -- Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Jack Buck and the 27 other winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — I took a walk with Dave Niehaus on Friday. We checked out his new home.

The one in the Baseball Hall of Fame where he's going to live for perpetuity, with his new roommates -- Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Jack Buck and the 27 other winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.

Niehaus, his eyes sparkling when they weren't tearing up, kept muttering the same word.

"Unbelievable. This is just unbelievable. I know I'm going to wake up, and it's all going to end."

But it's oh so real, as Niehaus and his wife, Marilyn, are finding out, to their unending delight. Since flying into Albany, N.Y., Thursday and taking the 90-minute drive to the idyllic village of Cooperstown, it's been a nonstop barrage of keepsake memories.

Niehaus and all the others who will receive Hall of Fame honors on Sunday -- most notably Goose Gossage and Dick Williams, both with Mariners connections that were, of course, chronicled by Niehaus -- stay at the stately Otesaga Hotel.

It is a sprawling old mansion on the shores of Lake Otsego, with porticos and cupolas and other elegant touches.

But mainly, the Otesaga has Hall of Famers. A record 54 of the 62 living baseball immortals are making the pilgrimage to Cooperstown for Sunday's induction ceremony, and this is where they all stay. Niehaus found himself with mouth agape Thursday evening and Friday morning as he wandered the lobby, viewing a Gibson here and a Reggie there.

"It's fantasy land, baby," Niehaus said with a delighted laugh.

That was Niehaus' first taste of the sensory overload that he expects to not end until Sunday night, when reality will hit. That's when he boards a plane to Dallas to resume, on Monday, calling this dispiriting Mariners season in Arlington, Texas.

But that's another world away from here, where wonder and awe rules the day.

"I saw Bobby Doerr this morning," Niehaus said of the 90-year-old former Red Sox star living out his days in coastal Oregon.

"He said he came up here just to see me," Niehaus marveled. "He's 90-something, can hardly walk; he thought he had made his last trip here a couple of years ago. But he said he had to come see me. I gave him a big hug. He's just so frail. What a wonderful man, the best friend of Ted Williams."

On Thursday evening, Niehaus found himself sitting at a table in the Otesaga lobby with Gaylord Perry, swapping stories of Perry's Mariners days in 1982-83. Paul Molitor, the M's hitting coach in 2004, stopped by to pay his respects.

"It was like we were all together again," Niehaus said. "Unbelievable. I called Gaylord's 300th win. I reminded him that Willie Randolph was the last out. He hit a ground out to Julio Cruz, who threw to Jim Maler, of all people."

Niehaus paused as he told the story.

"The thing of it is, I brought a couple of dozen baseballs I wanted to get autographed. I'm not going to get any of them autographed. It doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem right. You're with these guys. I just can't do it."

Friday morning, I made the same drive from Albany to Cooperstown, through the picturesque little villages of upstate New York that Niehaus described as "Norman Rockwell country, a Saturday Evening Post cover waiting to be drawn." The kind of places where the wash hangs from clotheslines with wooden clothes pins, bringing memories flooding back to Niehaus of his childhood in Indiana.

I went to the ceremony Friday afternoon honoring the late Buck O'Neil, an unveiling of a life-size statue that will stand in the Hall of Fame next to a display for winners of the new "Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award."

Fittingly, Buck himself was the first winner, and numerous members of his family showed up for the ceremony in the Hall of Fame museum. So did Hall of Famers like Bob Gibson, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, Lou Brock, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams, Joe Morgan and Bob Feller.

And, standing inconspicuously in the crowd of onlookers, so did Dave and Marilyn Niehaus.

"What a man Buck was. What a man," said Niehaus, his eyes welling with tears as he remembered fraternizing with O'Neil, who died in 2006, at Kauffman Stadium when the Mariners came through to play the Royals.

I asked the Niehauses, after the O'Neil ceremony, if they wanted to take a walk to see the broadcasting display to which Dave will be added after receiving the Frick Award on Sunday. They accepted eagerly.

To get to the "Scribes and Mikemen" exhibit at the Hall of Fame, where the broadcasters and baseball writers are memorialized, you have to walk through the Plaque Gallery. This is the sacred centerpiece of the museum, with a plaque for each player, manager or executive.

Dave turned to his wife. "This is the holy sanctum," he said. "You don't even want to speak in a loud voice, it's so hallowed. People speak in whispers."

They looked at the plaque of an old friend, Bill Mazeroski, who served as a Mariners coach in the early days of the franchise. Dave took Marilyn over to show her the initial Hall of Fame class -- Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

"Unbelievable," he said.

Then we walked up a ramp, turned a corner, and there we were, at the Mikemen display. All the previous 31 award winners are pictured, 30 of them with small portraits, next to a larger photo of last year's honoree, the Royals' Denny Matthews.

Once again, Niehaus welled up. He took it all in before speaking.

"My picture will go right up here," he said, pointing at Matthews. "That will be there for a year. Then it will go down there, and it will be there forever. Beginning Monday, my picture will be there. It's just unbelievable."

I asked Niehaus how many of those men pictured on the display meant something to him.

"They all do," he said quickly. "I have a lot of friends up there."

He started going through them.

"Caray means a lot to me, of course. Scully means a lot to me. I got to know Mel Allen in New York when I was working for Armed Forces Radio. Melvin Israel is his real name.

"I knew all those guys -- Garagiola, Gowdy. I knew Bob Prince a little. I certainly knew Jack Buck. I knew Ernie [Harwell] very well. Bob Elston. Of course, Jerry Coleman, Marty Brenneman

"I can't believe I'm going up there with them. I still can't believe it. Like I said, fantasy land, baby.

"Unbelievable."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners

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