I don’t remember the last time the Seattle Mariners were in the playoffs. No, really, that’s not a joke! It was somewhere between 9/11 and my mom’s final cancer treatment, when we went out for lunch to celebrate a cancer that was gone and remains vacant some 21 years later. Those are two pretty miserable bookends to place the M’s last playoff appearance between. But 5th grade is the only year that hides in mind’s depths from an otherwise fondly remembered childhood.
Baseball was my first love. I grew up on the fields in Moxee, Washington surrounded by hop fields, pitching to my grade school best friend Kory, or my dad if Kory wasn’t around. If I wasn’t on the diamond then I was in the backyard playing catch. And if I wasn’t in the backyard then I was doing something else sports related (baseball games with Hot Wheel Cars, drawing pictures of Ken Griffey Jr., watching Angels in the Outfield, etc.)
Naturally, I loved the Seattle Mariners. Griffey, Edgar and Randy. Towards the end of summer my parents would let my siblings and I rent a Nintendo 64 from the local video store for a week and I’d check out Ken Griffey Jr. Slugfest, playing until my eyes turned red or until my mom told me to go outside for a bit.
Drives to baseball practices and games were serenaded by Dave Niehaus on the radio. You could tell within 5 seconds of turning on the radio if the Mariners were winning or losing just based on Dave’s tone. That’s not to say he was a moody son of a gun, you couldn’t be moody if you were the voice of the Seattle Mariners. He was just that good at his job. I know most Mariners fans could tell similar stories.
Eventually my love of playing baseball and the throbbing pain in my left arm and shoulder gave way to playing music with my friends, family trips and Husky games that I didn’t want to possibly miss and maybe a girl or two. Just maybe. But the Mariners were there and they were bad.
I look at life as a constant series of culminations. Chain reactions caused by some combination of our own free will, God, fate, chance, or whatever else you believe, make up whatever is going to happen next. Honestly, that way of looking at things can be a bit exhausting and overwhelming, if not melodramatic. But it puts things in perspective and makes me realize how many little miracles happen around me every day.
Some things supersede the culminations though. The very best of friendships do because they are people I count on to be there no matter what I’ve done. If you’re one of the lucky ones, family does. And weirdly enough, sports fandom does. The Mariners were just there through their ineptitude and my birthdays. I’m not going to walk out on them and they (I fully realize they probably don’t care about me) will remain my hometown team until Rainier explodes, baseball doesn’t exist or they’re moved out of Seattle. Let’s not think about those outcomes, especially the last one.
Grade school turned into middle school turned into high school turned into college turned into adulthood. My home switched from Moxee to Kirkland to Snoqualmie to Maple Valley and now Anaheim. Yes, I was there for the brawl and it was glorious. But the Mariners were there from April to September. Never October but at least April to September. I could count on that and didn’t need life to break just right to have it.
After I stopped playing the game, my love for the team only grew. I’d stay up at night to read Jeff Sullivan’s recaps on Lookout Landing. I’d wait to form my full thoughts on M’s transactions until reading the no frills analysis of Dave Cameron at USS Mariner. Later, Seattle Sports Insider would be a nightly stop on my reading tour. (RIP Jeff aka Dr Detecto, I hope you’re watching now.) For having such a crummy team, the M’s had a wonderful online community that taught me to think about baseball differently. I read every single post that they put out. I can’t remember what led to that, most likely my brother Matthew directing me to those sites in my high school days. Last week, when the Mariners clenched I saw Cameron and Sullivan have a brief exchange on Twitter and couldn’t help but smile.
Being a few hours away from Seattle as a kid, going to games was a treat. My mom took me and some friends over for Felix’s first ever home start about 24 hours after getting home from a different trip. My dad got me out of school early one day to go watch a rookie Michael Pineda pitch against a nearly retired Randy Johnson. My brother and sister-in-law always would have me over for a weekend (or more!) in the summer and we’d get to go to a game. It would have been easier for all of them to say no but they didn’t. It’s all of them and so many of my friends and other family members who have gone to countless games with me basically whenever I’ve asked.
While I wouldn’t walk out on the Mariners, they didn’t make it easy. Thankfully, there were players and moments that helped bridge the gap. Kyle Seager telling Jerad Weaver he was ready. Adrian Beltre being a delightful human and underrated during his time in Seattle. Leonys Martin hitting the most unlikely walk-off homer on a cool Seattle spring night. James Paxton fulfilling his prospective promise. Boomstick, baby! Ichiro being the coolest person to ever play baseball. Of course, there was Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs, Dave Sims being goofy and Mike Blowers playing off of all of them. And Felix. Those were enough to keep us entertained through the Figgins, Vidro, Bavasi, insert backup catcher or left fielders name, and Smoak eras.
As I was scrolling through Mariners related Tweets and stories today, it all hit me. I was sitting at my usual lunch spot on Thursdays, Knott’s Berry Farm (that’s a different story for a different day), and I became fairly emotional. Last Friday night, after Big Dumper sent the ball into orbit and punched the 2022 Seattle Mariners playoff ticket I celebrated with my family and Husky fans inside of the Rose Bowl during halftime of the Husky game. It was strangely euphoric and surreal. But now it finally set in.
The drought lasted more than two thirds of my life, I don’t know what this is supposed to feel like. I genuinely don’t remember! I’ll keep waiting for age to harden me but instead I think of all of these people that I’ve mentioned.
I hope Jeff Sullivan is able to sneak away from his job with the Tampa Bay Rays to catch an inning or two. I hope my family and friends all find a few minutes to watch and think back on a fond memory we’ve had at Safeco/T-Mobile. Hopefully, Kyle Seager is watching with his kids, cheering on his former teammates and cursing Jerry Dipoto the whole time. Ichiro’s probably watching from the moon or something weird like that. Dave’s calling the game and has all of Heaven captive, hanging with his every word. And, God, I wish Felix was up on the hill if even for just a pitch.
Life culminates in these moments we don’t forget, good or bad. Those last until the next series of events comes together and breaks the levy. Sports franchises don’t usually operate that way, at least the good ones don’t. Even the bad ones are always just there, annoying and frustrating, but there.
But October 7th feels like a culmination of 21 years. However you got here, take a minute and soak it in. Send that old friend you used to go to games with a text. Heck, tweet at a former player (preferably a good one) and tell them thanks. Then, grab some peanuts or a hot dog, maybe a beer or a fresh squeezed lemonade like my dad gets at the game and settle in. We’ve earned it. Go Mariners!