It’s Friday in mid-September and for the fourth night in a row I’m watching baseball.
Sure, it was hard to watch baseball when I either didn’t have cable and/or the channels that produced those games for the past five years, but the real reason I’m sitting here watching baseball in mid-September is that for the first time since 2001 the Seattle Mariners are in postseason contention with just two weeks remaining in the regular season.
For the first time in recent memory, I have a vested interest in the pennant race. I’m checking scores and standings wondering how the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s, all teams just a game or so ahead of the Mariners with a dozen or so contests remaining, are performing.
Do I think the Mariners have a realistic shot at making the World Series? Not really. They lack a heavy hitter, the kind that I hoped they would get to supplement the signing of All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano. I had hoped for the signing of ex-Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, who Cano publicly said he wanted, but they sat back, and Cruz has gone on to knock in 104 runs and smack 39 home runs for the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles.
And for those of you that complained about the signing of Cano, sure $240 million for 10 years is a lot to spend on a second baseman, but he’s been a leader since the first day of Spring Training, and though it seems like every time I watch him he grounds into a double play, he’s a superb fielder, is hitting .321, driving in 78. More importantly, I’ve noticed that he’s the first to console a pitcher after a wild at-bat, he’s the first one out of the dugout to congratulate his teammates after a score, a true clubhouse leader for a team that has lacked one since the days of Edgar Martinez (remember Ichiro’s knock? He just wanted to play, not lead). Yahoo! recently posted a nice piece complimenting my thoughts, you can find that here.
Now, do I think this Mariners team could wreak havoc in the playoffs? Absolutely. Especially when you have an anchor like “King” Felix Hernandez. What was that that slogan from that Lake City “club” that always caught our eyes? Hundreds of beautiful ones and one ugly one? In reference to the Mariners and their pitching it’s “Hundreds of young ones and one old one?” My apologies to the revitalized 35-year-old Chris Young. If you have the kind of arms the Mariners have, you’ve got a good chance to win not just the Wild Card but possibly even a series.
After last year’s Super Bowl confusion caused some to wonder, “Why don’t you root for the Seahawks, you live near Seattle?” I thought it was best to explain my love for the Seattle Mariners, before everyone jumps on their bandwagon (though the ‘Hawks bandwagon is so full, I’m not even sure Seattleites realize the M’s are this close to a postseason berth) and start to think I am a latecomer to this party.
I will always be a San Diego Padres fan (established June 6, 1986), and if for some miraculous reason the two teams were to meet in the World Series, I would root for the Padres. But considering both teams have only reached the postseason nine times (five for San Diego; four for Seattle), and that only the Padres (twice, 1984 and 1998) have reached the World Series, there are probably better odds that Levi makes a World Series before either of the Padres or Mariners.
I moved to Seattle in 1992, and was followed in ’93 by “Sweet Lou” Pinella, and the current logo and colors. My first love had always been baseball, and since I moved from the professional baseball-less state of Hawaii, it was easy to get excited rooting for the Mariners, and be back attending baseball games.
I have fond memories of attending those Mariner games, both from the Kingdome and Safeco Field. I took pictures of the ‘Dome’, just days before they imploded it, and I attended both the first time they allowed fans to view Safeco Field (I remember walking through the tunnels of the 300-level and then viewing from high above, the beautiful fresh grass of the stadium; A friend of mine commenting that I looked like a kid in a candy store.), and Safeco Field’s opening series in July 1999, versus my Padres.
I remember screaming at the TV in excitement as Ken Griffey Jr. scored from first on what is now simply called “The Double” in the clinching Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series. And since it continues to give me goosebumps, I’ll post it here.
I remember listening to the radio on my drive home during the disappointing 1997 postseason, when the M’s won the AL West with arguably the best player (Griffey, who won the AL Most Valuable Player), shortstop (Alex Rodriguez), pitcher (Randy Johnson) and designated hitter (Edgar Martinez), and set a record for home runs, but lost to the Baltimore Orioles three games to one, with Johnson losing twice. Ugh!
I remember sitting on the wrong side of a Red Robin bar when Carlos Guillen squeeze bunted home the go-ahead run in the Mariners’ 2000 ALDS sweep of the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately, our side of the bar was on a delay, so I heard an eruption while Guillen dropped the bunt down and then Rickey Henderson trotting across the plate. I had my own mini-eruption.
And then the 2001 116-win season … Double Ugh!
Alright Kevin we get it. You like the Mariners, but where are you going with this?
In honor of the Mariners push for the postseason I thought I would post my top 10 My Oh My Mariner Moments. These are games I physically attended. These are games that stick out in my mind, that hold both on and off-the-field memories for me. I’m sure there are some that I’m leaving off. I’ve had the privilege of sitting up in the Safeco suite and getting free food and drinks. I’ve rode the Sound Transit train to many of Sunday ballgames. I was there when Griffey returned, heck, I learned about Michael Jackson’s death while sitting in the Diamond Club during an afternoon game versus the Padres. And I’ve spent many of fun times with many of friends at baseball games. My apologies to those that may read this that think, “He didn’t mention the game that … ” If I forgot something please remind me.
And now here are my top 10 Mariner Moments …
No. 10 – All-Star Scalpers!
This first one isn’t quite a Mariner highlight, but back in 2001 the M’s and Safeco Field, hosted baseball’s annual All-Star festivities. My brother, a couple of our buddies and myself decided we wanted to not just attend FanFest, but the actual Home Run Derby. Problem was we didn’t have tickets, and we didn’t have a lot of money. Luckily we sweet talked a scalper, paid less than ticket value (the Derby had already started) for tickets scattered all over the stadium and snuck our way into the centerfield beer garden so we can watch Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi hit mammoth home runs (oh, the pre-drug testing days). After further review Luis Gonzalez (another rumored steroid user), actually won the competition but I’ll remember Sosa hitting one out of the stadium, and Giambi trying to break the windows of the Hit it Here Café.
No. 9 – You’re Out (and You Have the Right to Remain Silent …)
That time my 11-year-old brother was influenced by my dad’s business partner to jump over the rail pregame to snag a loose baseball that’s sitting yards away from (speaking of steroids) Jose Canseco, is then arrested, viciously handcuffed, loses the ball in the “scuffle”, and I’m standing there shocked, screaming for my parents, and watching my dad, with his wannabe Tom Selleck mustache, pulling his best Carl Lewis impression by hurdling aisles of Kingdome seats, sprinting towards us … it probably deserves to make the top 10 (and maybe higher now that it’s bringing back memories). My brother was detained for a bit, before both the Sheriff, the Kingdome security office and my livid father were able to realize it was a simple, and possibly stupid, mistake. In these overbearing times of more and more security, it’s weird to look back and think that we actually thought it was okay for him to do that, but we had seen it the night before (and the dude got away with it) and thought … let my brother do it, he’ll do anything.
No. 8 – The Post-Wedding, Pre-Reception Bachelor(ette) Party!
Lis and I were hitched in Brazil. No ceremony. No rehearsal dinner. No pomp and circumstance. And unfortunately no bachelor party. It was nice, but looking back, we probably should’ve done a better job of planning it. Either way, when we returned from Brazil my mom had planned a nice wedding reception for us. But something was missing, that bachelor(ette) party that we never got to have. The one that I had dreamed about – taking a limo with my pals to a baseball game. In my dreams there was a suite, however in my dreams my mom, aunt, brother’s girlfriend and MY WIFE were not part of it! Well dreams don’t often come true for me, and this was one that turned out better than expected. I remember wearing our rally caps (and looking back the caps worked as the M’s scored three runs in the ninth to defeat the Orioles 3-2), I remember my mom dishing out hot dogs, microwaved at home and wrapped in tin foil, but most of all I remember hanging with some of my best buddies, my parents, my uncle and aunt, my late uncle, and my wife and having a darn good time.
No. 7 – Pretty In Pink M’s Hat
As a baseball fan it’s always an extra special moment when I get to take my kids to their first professional baseball game. It took me a few years to convince myself to take Lia to her first game. She’s always been a little busy, which translates to less easy to handle for a length of a baseball game. When Lia was three (okay, that’s younger than I expected) I took her to her first M’s game. We played at the playground, we walked around the stadium, we watched maybe an inning of baseball, and I bought her a pink M’s hat that she wears, and still reminds her of her first Mariners game with Dad.
No. 6 – The Kid
Lukas attended his first game when he was eight months old. Since then he’s attended more than a dozen games. As I have mentioned, I’m a dad before anything else, meaning I’d rather take my son to a ballgame than take some of my best friends. The first few years he was not very interested. We would spend most of our time wandering the ballpark, and hanging out inside the playground in centerfield. Occasionally on a Sunday after a game, he’d get to run the bases and I would get the opportunity to walk the actual field. Then he turned seven and became a sports fan. It’s been enjoyable going to ballgames the last couple of years. He asks questions, knows the players, pays attention to the games, out of town scoreboard, the ball, strikes and outs. Last year my buddy Ian, gifted us with tickets to an afternoon game, where Lukas and I sat 10 rows behind home plate. We felt like we were catching King Felix. This year Ian invited us to an event through the Volunteers of America where Lukas was able to visit, get pictures and autographs, and even ask a question to a few of the players. “Who’s your favorite Star Wars character?” And the past few days when I’ve been planted in front of the TV hoping for them to bite into the A’s Wild Card lead, he’s been there with me, watching and rooting alongside me. He’s come a long way since he was two and fell asleep in his Caillou chair. Thank you God!
No. 5 – You’ve Been Zito’d!
Lis has never been a baseball fan, but when you’re temporarily living in this strange country, friends with a strange man, that wants to take you to a strange sport, you’ll try it out. Lis’ baseball debut was a memorable one. We were watching pregame warm-ups, standing along the railing on the left field side, watching the Oakland A’s pitchers throw long toss. One minute they are throwing back and forth, the next the ball is spiraling toward us, faster than a change up. I flinched. Lis, staring off to wherever she may have been staring, didn’t see it coming, and just like that SMACK! The ball had hit the hand holding her camera (they weren’t digital back then, so the film came flying out), and her thigh. She had stitch marks on her finger, ended up having a huge bruise on the side of her thigh. The camera was busted, ruining any shot we had at a photo op (where were you camera phones?). We retrieved the ball, she told the player, in her broken English, “Hey! You hit me!” And then Barry Zito apologized, signed her ball, and ended up winning the 2002 Cy Young award. The oddest coincidence, the game took place on April 7, 2002, three years to the day that Lis was diagnosed with leukemia.
No. 4 – Welcome Back Baseball; Welcome Back Life!
I had no idea when I had purchased tickets to the September 18, 2001 Anaheim Angels versus Seattle Mariners contest, that I’d be attending the most emotional baseball game of my life. It was a week after the September 11 attacks, and like everything else, baseball had been shutdown, taking a week to remember, honor, reflect, weep, and clear out the absolute confusion of what had happened to the country we love. Major League Baseball resumed play on September 18, and my parents, my brother and me, were in attendance. During that week, anytime I heard President Bush mention the word “resolve” I had chills down my spine. I found myself confused, frustrated, and often emotional, at just watching the images from that day. Well, the M’s game took all those bottled emotions, put them with 45,000 other fans that were experiencing the same emotion, creating a spout that allowed a week long build of tears to just flow. The M’s handed out little American flags, there was an emotional pregame ceremony and moment of silence, EVERYONE belted out the Star Spangled Banner, we waved our flags throughout the game, and then they played Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful” during seventh inning stretch and well … DONE! My brother said, “If I ever need to think about crying, I can just remember this game.” Oh, and the Mariners won 4-0, their 105th win of the season, clinching a tie for the American League West, a title they would earn the following day, en route to tying a major league record with 116 wins.
No. 3 – “Just Move the Cone”
Not sure why I always volunteered to drive. Hmm…maybe I didn’t volunteer maybe I was forced to, after all I had a ’95 Acura Integra that fit maybe 3-1/2 people comfortably. It was October 15, 2001 and Ian, Wes, Aaron and I were headed to the pivotal Game 5 of the American League Division Series. The Mariners had won 116 games in the regular season, and were supposed to cruise in their first round series against the Cleveland Indians. Except they stumbled. Shut out in Game 1 by Chuck Finley, bounced back in Game 2, got slammed 17-2 in Game 3, in Game 4 they used a little “Two Outs, So What?!” comeback magic forcing a Game 5 at Safeco Field. I had been to a few games during that magical 2001 season, but I had never seen the crowd so tense. We were quiet, we were nervous, we were anxious, we were scared. Ian and Wes attempted to bring their own “SoDo Mojo” to the game, saying they would stand up the entire game, I think it worked for an inning or two, or at least until the M’s put the first two runs on the board in the second inning. Thankfully this allowed the crowd time to relax, and by the end of the game, the M’s had clinched their second trip to the ALCS. Now to get the car … parking was crazy, but we noticed a spot that was loosely coned and (it’s debated on who actually) suggested “Why don’t we just move the cone over?” Just enough to allow my little car to squeeze in. We debated, took a vote and, moving the cone won. Except that it lost, because when we returned my car was no where to be found. After calling the tow company we realized that their office was across town, near the Space Needle. We walked a few miles to a bus route, took a bus through downtown, walked up a residential hill on the backside of the Needle, across the Seattle Center, and finally to the tow company where we realized the bill was $300-plus, oh, and the car is actually in a storage near Safeco Field. That’s right, on the other side of town. Livid, I borrowed money from my folks, paid their outstanding bill, told them they were jerks, and thankfully met nice enough people that were also ticked at the tow company (is anyone ever not ticked at a tow company?), that would let the four of us cram into their buddies’ truck and make the trek back to the lot. We learned a valuable lesson that day: Never, EVER move the cone!
No. 2 – Last Minute SoDo Mojo!
Those pesky Yankees. There is a reason so many didn’t like them, especially during the late ’90s and early ’00s. Before they did it to us in 2001, they did it to us in 2000. Ian and I scored tickets to Game 5 of the ALCS, the Mariners trailing 3-1, I can only assume that the person that scored the tickets didn’t want to watch the M’s lose a fourth straight, and watch the Yankees celebrate on our home field. It was October 15, 2000 (funny, No. 3 on this list also took place that day), and the tickets we scored sounded too good to be true. Turns out they were true. Game 5 of the ALCS and we’re sitting 10 rows behind home plate. The M’s scored one early before the Yankees bounced back with two in the fourth. Things didn’t look promising, the Yankees bullpen had been lights out, so the later in the contest, the less our chances looked. In the fifth inning the M’s struck, Alex Rodriguez singled off of ex-Mariner Jeff Nelson, giving the M’s a 3-2 lead, and Edgar Martinez and John Olerud followed A-Rod with back-to-back home runs. The crowd erupted. We were hugging each other, we were hugging the ladies behind us, it was an amazing comeback, victory and experience. Ian’s always been my M’s buddy (at least pre-Lukas), and he and I were able to celebrate an incredible game, at a stadium we so cutely have our names engraved on a brick.
No. 1 – More Like Sojo Mojo!
In what may forever be the most thrilling sporting event I’ve ever attended, No. 1 on this list is the school-skipping, early birthday present, stadium shaking, ear drum bursting, one-game playoff between the Los Angeles Angels and our Seattle Mariners. Down 12-1/2 games on August 20, the Mariners made comeback after improbable comeback, thus the slogan “Refuse to Lose”, en route to tying the Angels and forcing a one-game playoff on October 2 (a day before birthday No. 18) for the American League West championship, and a chance at the M’s first postseason series in it’s 19 year history. The M’s broke first, scoring one run in the fifth inning. They would nearly tear the roof off the Kingdome, when Luis Sojo’s bases loaded double, combined with throwing error, allowed him and three others to score, giving the M’s a 5-0 lead. The Mariners would end up winning 9-1, with Randy Johnson tossing a complete game, including the game-clinching strikeout, and Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus’ famously saying, “Randy looks to the sky that is covered by the dome and bedlam!” It was complete bedlam! I had never, and have since never, been a part of that kind of atmosphere. My parents, friend and I celebrated with everyone. We were hugging the people next to us, behind us and in front of us. People were running onto the field, leaping from the outfield bleachers (see below video), all to scoop up some dirt from the mound, and become a part of Mariners history. It was history, the most important moment in M’s history … until “The Double” trumped it days later.