Inspired by Jamey Newberg’s piece, and seeing how it’s an off day and the blog could use a little more friendly fare than we had yesterday, I’m getting nostalgic.
In 1980, I was born into a family that wasn’t exactly what you would consider sports enthusiasts. We didn’t have a television. We didn’t get the paper. My parents had started their own business, and the hours were pretty long. When a babysitter couldn’t be found, my brother and I would often end up at the shop. There was a lot of sweeping involved. Oh, how I hate sweeping. But then Mom or Dad would give me a dollar or two, and I’d begin the long trek a block north to the 7-11 and figure out how I could best use my new found wealth. Sometimes, I’d get flowers for Mom, but not nearly as often as I’d get some kind of candy bar. Eventually, I bought a pack of baseball cards. I didn’t know who any of the players were. I had never heard of these people. But I would read the back of the cards and find stories. There was a vast world contained on the backs of those cards, and interesting faces on the front. And so I became a baseball fan.
I remember my Dad taking my brother and I to watch the Mariners host the Red Sox. Oil Can Boyd was pitching. We took a sign that read “Kick The Can”. Dad was a Carl Yastrzemski fan as a kid, and the Red Sox were actually good, so we took a trip to the Kingdome. There are a few things etched into my memory that I will never forget.
The massive opening when you came out of the tunnel and the whole world seemed to open up in front of your eyes
“Now batting, #21, Allllllllllllllllllllvin Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaavis”
The Kingdome wasn’t the most beautiful ballpark of all time, but man, to a 6 year-old kid, it was something else.
My brother and I shared a room, and we started listening to the radio at nights. If we weren’t listening to TalkNet with Bruce Williams (we were weird), we had Dave Niehaus describing the action. I loved Harold Reynolds, AD, and Dave Valle. The fact that Greg Briley would go by Pee-Wee made me root for him. I couldn’t stand Dave Cochrane or Rey Quinones. Ivan Calderon had weird hair. I thought Bill Swift’s sinkerball was the greatest pitch ever invented. Lee Guetterman was the devil incarnate. And Steve Trout was the worst pitcher of all time.
The team was terrible, but I didn’t care. I would memorize the back of baseball cards, and when our family would go to a game, I would listen for people around us to start asking questions about a player, and I would turn around and answer them, full of pride for knowing something an adult didn’t know.
Fat Drunk Guy remarks that Scott Bradley couldn’t hit? “He hit .278 last year.” Apparently, if you’re 8, it’s cute. I don’t recommend trying it after you hit puberty, though.
I remember hearing stories about the kid up in Bellingham, the guy who is going to save the Mariners. Ken Griffey Jr, the great Mariner hope. And then he doubled in his first at-bat. He was still a teenager. This kid was going to be something else. I was sold. That’s all I needed to see. We were on our way.
Of course, the M’s kept losing. I didn’t care, though. We kept going to the games. We went to see Scott Bankhead pitch, because he was the team’s ace. We went to see Edgar Martinez hit. We went because I had fallen in love with baseball. My mom would bring books. I didn’t care. I would talk to the people sitting next to me.
Eventually, I joined little league, and my Mom would come to those games with 34 blankets and a stack of books too. But she came. And she’d watch occassionally. And she’d ask questions. And after a little pushing and pulling, baseball got ahold of her too. She’d stop bringing books. She started keeping score for my team. She started watching Mariner games when I wasn’t around. She’d switched teams. I’d gotten Mom on the side of the Mariners. We were becoming a family of baseball fans.
The 1994 strike sucked. But at 14, you can forgive anything. And when baseball came back, so did I. The M’s were built to win, finally, and I wasn’t going to let a little bitterness make me miss it.
Jr’s injury. Three months of Alex Diaz. The Vince Coleman trade. Tino going yard. Doug Strange with the pinch hit home run. The unhittable Randy Johnson. Jr’s homer off John Wetteland. Everybody scores! As it did for the city, 1995 solidified my whole family as Mariner nutjobs. We were koolaid drinking members of the cult.
The first 3 games of the ALDS, my school had a trip to the mountains scheduled. We weren’t allowed to bring radios. I brought “an alarm”. They wouldn’t let me skip the night meeting to listen to the game, since we weren’t allowed to have radios and all, but I remember giving Mr. Kercher the alarm and telling him to give me updates. Mr. Kercher was the man. But we kept losing. By the time the trip was over, we were down 0-2. And I spent the whole busride back convincing my friends it wasn’t over yet.
Game 5 was surreal. I was sick as a dog, watching the game with my mom on the couch. When Edgar doubled, I remember jumping off the couch, grabbing her, and jumping up and down. One of the greatest moments of my life.
We went to hundreds of games over the next few seasons. My dad spent $500 so that the four of us could go to the first game at Safeco Field (screw you, Jose Mesa). I started posting to a usenet newsgroup in 1995, where I met these guys named Derek and Jason and a bunch of others. We started having meetups at bars, where I’d be the only there who couldn’t drink. And Derek, Jason, and I became friends. And now we have a blog that you may have heard of.
Baseball brought me joy and tears, hope and pain. The Mariners brought me from the Dick Williams era to being a Lefebvre Believer to wanting to punch Bill Plummer in the nose. I have hundreds of stories I could tell. Baseball is intertwined with my childhood. But now, I love the game most for the friends it brings me. Baseball is a great game, but the joy of watching Felix pitch would be diminished significantly if I had never met Derek, Jason, Jeff, Peter, Jonah, Jake, Pat, or Mike.
“Why do you love baseball?” is a pretty common question for me. I’m never really sure what to say. I just do.