Baseball has always been my favorite sport. My friends, wedded to the Sounders or the Seahawks don’t understand how I can give my time to a game that to them seems so slow, so boring, especially when the home team can’t seem to find a way to win while looking so foolish in the process. They don’t understand the beauty of the game that proceeds at its own pace, unhurried by the clock proceeding eventually through nine innings and 54 outs whether we like the results or not. They have forgotten that not so long ago the Mariners were a marvel of major league baseball.
I grew up in Seattle in the 50’s and 60’s. My dad took me to games early. Once upon a time I had a certificate for a free Seattle Rainiers game signed by Fred Hutchinson. We went to Rainiers and Angels games at Sicks Stadium. My first heroes were ballplayers. I was a huge fan of the San Francisco Giants and Willie Mays. My first major league game was in 1963 while visiting my grandparents in San Francisco. My father took me to Candlestick Park. I watched the Giants beat the visiting Pirates 3-1. Six Hall of Famers played in that game-Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and Willie Stargell played in the field, while Gaylord Perry started for the Giants. Last year I paged through the 1963 Giants season on BaseballReference.com and found the box score, and it was like I was there once again, with the Giants cap my father bought me that I wore to bed the night of the game.
When the Pilots came to Seattle in 1969, I was in the stands. I saw three games with fightin’ Ray Oyler, Don Mincher, Marty Pattin, Tommy Davis and all the rest. 1969 was Reggie Jackson’s breakout year and while I didn’t see him hit a home run, I did watch him steal a base while A’s coach Joe DiMaggio looked on from the dugout. The Pilots were awful in 1969, but that was okay because they were my team. But they absolutely broke my heart in 1970 when they moved to Milwaukee.
And though I moved to the Bay Area for my high school years in the early ’70’s and found a way to root for the Giants and some very good Oakland A’s teams, it wasn’t until the Mariners came back to Seattle in 1977, that I fell deeply in love with baseball all over again. And the M’s have owned me ever since. Ruppert Jones, Bruce Bochte, Alvin Davis, Mark Langston, Ken Griffey, Jr., Jamie Moyer, Ichiro Suzuki, Felix Hernandez, Ketel Marte, I’ve loved them all.
I was in the stands on Opening Night in 1986 when Jim Presley homered twice, including a grand slam in the 10th inning to beat Ken Forsch and the California Angels . I still have the ticket stubs to Junior’s first home game in 1989 when he hit his first home run. I went to my only playoff game in 2000 during the ALCS, bought my M-Head, and watched Roger Clemens knock down Alex Rodriguez in the first inning and go on to pitch a one-hitter against the M’s. I went to Dave Niehaus’ memorial service at Safeco Field the week he died. I watched Fernando Rodney melt down on September 13, 2014 walking four batters in the tenth inning to lose a key game against the A’s that cost the Mariners a tie for the second wild card spot–and I will never forget it or forgive him. Despite all their tradition of turning rays of sunshine into drought and Dust Bowl, the Mariners are in my soul and I anxiously anticipate Opening Day with all the excitement this 61-year old kid awaits Christmas Day and my birthday. In 2014 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and it was a summer of games of Safeco Field that made recovery bearable. There is NEVER a bad day at the ballpark.
Despite the good and the bad, there is always the knowledge that baseball is like life, it always goes on. There is always a game tomorrow. We’ll get ’em next year. Cano will make adjustments for the next at bat. Felix will strike him out next time around. Cruz will straighten the next pitch out and it will go in the seats. On the day before Opening Day there is always the belief that the home team, my beloved Mariners can go 162-0, that they can win their division, that they can win the pennant and go to the World Series and win it all. If reality is different nine innings later, so be it.
But today, the Boomstick is my candidate for home run king. King Felix will win the Cy Young Award. Robbie Cano will be the AL MVP. Steve Cishek will be Fireman of the Year. Kyle Seager and Leonys Martin will win gold gloves. Franklin Gutierrez will find a way to kill flying things once more. The pundits will talk more about Ketel Marte than Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. Nori Aoki will be the most pursued sports interview in Seattle since Marshawn Lynch retired. Jerry DiPoto and Scott Servais will be viewed with the same sense of awe and genius as Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Today my Mariners are the best team in major league baseball, the best team in Seattle sports. It’s the day before the season opener, and nothing is impossible.