I would like to describe the weather that June day, but since I was watching in the Kingdome from section 311, row 17, seat 10, all I saw was a gray dome. The Mariners who were good that year winning 90 games had Randy Johnson 11-1 pitching against Oakland’s Steve Karsay, 1-7. I thought it would be an easy win for the Big Unit, but this is baseball and nothing is a given.
Randy struck out Jason McDonald leading off the third, giving him six strikeouts in the first ten batters. Rafael Bournigal then singled, scored on Geronimo Berroa’s double, who then scored on Mark McGwire’s double, before Randy whiffed Jose Canseco and former Mariner prospect Patrick Lennon.
Mariners down 2-0 when McGwire comes up in the 5th with two down, both on strikeouts. What happened next is what occurs when speed meets power at a precise spot in the bat, the sweetest of the spots, unless of course you are a Mariner fan. I was sitting down the left field line and saw the ball jump off McGwire’s bat with such velocity that when the ball reached it’s apogee, I heard a thundering crack, or was it an explosion. I would like to say I saw the ball after that, but it disappeared from my view as it headed for the scoreboard high on the wall, above the bleachers, and so far away from the plate it was unreachable. I looked at the scoreboard to see what lights the ball would break. But alas, the ball did not get there. In my mind’s eye, however, it got close, real close.
It was estimated to have gone 538 feet into the second deck of the bleachers just below the scoreboard. Naturally it was the longest homerun hit in the Kingdome. And I was there to almost see it.
George Williams homered for the A’s in the 9th to take a 4-0 lead. Randy went the distance striking out 19 and walking zero while giving up 11 hits. He was the fifth pitcher at the time to have struck out 19 in a game. The others being Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and David Cone. Carlton, a lefty like Johnson also was the losing pitcher in his 19 K performance. The 19 K’s by Randy was an American League record for a lefty and a Mariner team record.
The M’s lost 4-1, scoring a run in the bottom of 9th on Griffey Junior’s leadoff triple, scoring on Edgar Martinez groundout. Junior had a single, double triple, and walk in the game.
It was memorable game of course as you do not see 19 K’s every day, nor a 538 home run, nor Junior going 3-3 (a homer would have been nice though), but it still burns me 18 years later that Randy had 19 K’s and lost. I did not know at the time, how could I, that the 538 blast may have been chemically induced. No matter. I lost the ball in the dark gray of the dome.
Though my parents brought me up to say thank you and your welcome at appropriate times, I could never master ‘please.’ It sounds too much like begging to me so I never use the word; in fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone say ‘please.’ But thank you is important as this lesson will illustrate.
Alvin Davis was the Seattle Mariners first true star. He arrived in Seattle in 1984. He did not make the opening day roster, but an injury to Ken Phelps the first week brought Davis up as a fill in, making his debut April 11th. Before the month was over he was leading the team in average, hits, doubles, homers, and rbis. By seasons end, the left-hand hitting first baseman was named American League Rookie of the Year.
In his first seven years he hit between .271 and .305 and had between 17 and 29 homers every season. He was consistent each of those seasons, but in 1991 at the age of thirty he hit .221 after hitting ,280 the previous season. After the season he became a free agent, signed with the Angels, but was released in late June, hitting .250 with no homers and 16 rbis as a part time player. When it goes, it can go fast. He never played in the majors again. But he was the first inductee in the Seattle Mariner Hall of Fame.
Back in the Kingdome Days of the 1980’s, once a year the Mariners would have picture day. Fans were allowed on the field-or turf, if you will- behind a roped off area stretching from behind first base to third base. The players walked down the line posing for pictures and signing autographs-at least some, others said the team said not to sign.
But Alvin signed. He was always smiling, always friendly, always the good guy. I noticed, however, that as he worked his way down the line, fans asked for and received autographs and after Alvin handed back the autograph, the fans quickly left, moving on to another player. When this happened Alvin’s smile left his face quicker than King Felix throwing a strike. When he got to me, I politely asked Alvin to sign my program, which he did. I then said, “Thank you Alvin. I appreciate it.” He gave me a big smile. I knew he was grateful that somebody had the decency to actually say those two words, two words that meant something to him.
I think it goes to making a person feel like a person, not a piece of meat. I don’t know if I have that autograph anymore, but I still see his face lighting up when I said thank you. So next time you get an autograph from a player, say thank you with meaning. A lot of players are good guys.
In the early 1990’s I sat down for an interview. The camera was a few feet away, the interviewer to the cameras left, and two bright lights, one to his left and one to cameras right, stood with bright intensity and radiating heat. I was nervous and embarrassed. It was not an interview I wanted to do. At the time I had a closed my bookstore due to the spotted owl.
My bookstore was in a logging community in the Pacific Northwest and when the front page article indicating logging would be severely curtailed because the spotted owl needed protection, my stores income dropped 60% the first month and never recovered. I was being interviewed because of the economic calamity that occurred. I knew loggers with million dollar operations who ended up on welfare within in a year. It was that bad.
Fortunately I was cut from the documentary. There were people far worse than me. I mention this because it was not unknown for me to end up on the cutting room floor. It previously happened in 1977 after the Seattle Mariners first game in history.
I still have my First Nighter certificate and my Kingdome ticket (section 319-row 6-seat 10, cost $5.00), both framed on my bedroom wall. Frank Tanana and the California Angels beat Seattle’s Diego Segui, the ancient Mariner, by a 7-0 score. Danny Kaye, Hollywood icon, was one of the owners sitting in his box seat along with other big wigs like Washington Senator Scoop Jackson. He was a political senator, not a baseball one.
After the game I was walking down a winding Kingdome ramp and I saw Harry Sloan of KOMO news interviewing people, but most just walked by him. I liked Harry, he was a good sports reporter. Because I just hated to see dear harry ignored, I walked back up the ramp fighting the incoming tide of thousands of fans. I then turned and walked towards harry and smiled. Then I stopped right in front of him. I gave him no choice. With a bright light in my face I let Harry interview me about the game. I said the usual; I did not mind the loss, though it would have been fun to cheer if we had scored a run or two, but it was great to see major league baseball in Seattle. Little did I know we would not really see major league baseball again until Ken Griffey Junior arrived many years later. But it was still fun to go to games.
After the interview my friend and I raced back to his apartment to watch the news. The things I said were actually quoted by lead sportscaster Bruce King. However, he attributed the quotes to what ‘many fans said’ and there were no interviews of any fans. None, zippo, a goose egg on my scoreboard. This was the first time I ended up on the cutting room floor.
I would have liked to have seen my interview about the game. As for my interview about the spotted owl, frankly I don’t give a hoot.
Seattle and Oakland have a history and it certainly favors the A’s. In the 528 games they have played against each other Oakland has won 304 and Seattle 224. That is a .424 winning percent for the not so good ship Mariner. But recent past is another matter. Sort of.
In the 1980’s Seattle and Oakland played 124 games and Seattle won 46, a .370 win percentage. Oakland simply killed the Mariners and the 1990’s were not much better. That decade they played 121 times and Seattle was 50-71, an improvement, but still a .413 win percentile.
The three years from 1977-1979 the M’s were 15-28 against Oakland . From their inception in 1977 through 1989, a total of 288 games, the M’s record was 111-177, a wining percentage of .385. This was not a rivalry, this was 23 years of embarrassment, of ineptitude, of having another team own you, year in and year out. It was swimming upstream during a flood.
But there is good news. A new century was born and the Mariners luck changed. From 200-2009 the Mariners were 90-93 against the green and gold. 2010 saw a downward slide-you can’t really slide up-with the M’s limping in with a 6-10 record, but bounced back in 2o11 with a winning 10-9 season. Last year the M’s were 7-12.
But opening day waves towards Seattle. They have met nine times on opening day, this year will be the 10th and Seattle has gone 6-3 against the mighty Oaks including a current four game win streak. At the Kingdome in 1986 Mike Moore and the M’s beat Oakland 6-3, but lost in 1988 and 1989, both times to Dave Stewart, by 4-1 and 3-2 scores.
They never opened the season against each other in the 1090’s but this century they had the opener in 2001, 2003, 2007, and the last three years. The M’s won in 2001, 5-4, lost to Oakland in 2003 5-0, but King Felix beat them 4-0 in 2007 and again in 2011, 6-3. In between the beat Oakland 5-3 in 2010 and last year in Japan they beat Oakland 1-0 in 11 innings.
For some reason, they have opened only three times in Seattle and the M’s won all three.
The Mariners record against Oakland in three stadiums is telling. At the Kingdome, Seattle was 64-76; at the Safe Seattle comes out on top 64-59 (applause here). But at the tomb called the Coliseum the Mariners are 96-169, a winning percentage of .362.
This season the Mariners open in Oakland April 1st. In case you have forgotten that is April Fools day and this is the second fools day opener for these two team against each other, the other being 2003, when Oakland won 5-0.
But this fool’s day is another year and King Felix, 2-0 against the A’s on opening day, will be going for a 3-0 record. Fool or not, I go with the King.
Build it and they will come. That line, now an iconic phrase, came from the classic “Field of Dreams.” Mariner fans had a dream and it revolved around a field. So the Mariners built Safeco Field, a ballpark built from the ashes of the Kingdome, which imploded following the magic run in 1995 that saw the M’s battle Cleveland for the American league title.
Of course, build it and they will come does not mean they will stay. In the Mariners case, ‘they’ stayed for a period of time, but one thing happened that saw the fans dwindle to meager numbers. After a 116 win season in 2001, Mariner fans filled Safeco in 2002 to the tune of 40,000 + per game. Ten years later attendance is down to 20,000+ per game. The Mariners have lost half their game attendance. Consider that if any business lost half their customers, the people in charge would be fired. Not so the Mariners; Chuck Armstrong and Harold Lincoln still run the show.
The one thing that happened was that the team on the field was bad, they lost, and then lost some more, and looked bad doing it. Fans love winners and will not pay money for mediocrity. It should be noted that ‘build it and they will come’ need not have anything to do with building a stadium, but building a winning team.
Does the Mariner brain trust care if fans fill the park or not? Consider the Mariners have a new television deal on the horizon where big bucks are looming. At least that is what is being reported. Teams today can not rely on people at the ballpark for money. Outside income keeps teams afloat. TV deals; apparel-all those jerseys and caps; trinkets and souvenirs; it is marketing and merchandising. It is selling the brand. But the brand must be good.
So the brain trust still want fans at the park. It looks good on TV and more importantly, a full stadium means much more money. And a stronger brand.
Are the fans who migrated away from the Mariners fair weather fans? Of course. But build a winning team and they will come. And Chuck and Howard can smile all the way to the bank. Mariner fans won’t mind those smiles because winning chases away nightmares, and dreams sweeten a day at the park. Then Mariner fans can be as happy as Seahawk fans. Now that is a brand.
The calendar says spring starts March 21. There is an unspoken acceptance, a passive acquiescence, to this flowery canard, and like lemmings scurrying towards a cliff, we don’t know any better; we just go along with the crowd.
But I don’t.
It is 35 days to Spring Training. I capitalize those words because they have meaning, they carry hope. Those words say it is time for baseball. And if they are playing baseball in February then by defintion-at least mine-it is spring.
I am not a winter person. I live in the Pacific Northwest where the winter skies look like a gray dome, as if you are living in the now imploded Kingdome. The only difference is that the Kingdome had lights. The winter is cold, rains every day, occasionally some snow, but beginning in November it is dreary, dreary, dreary. I don’t ski, snowboard, or do anything that requires wearing four layers of clothing and a goose down jacket.
I am a spring and summer guy. Once the sun comes out I only wear shirt and shorts, heading for the beach to watch surfer girls riding the waves and a whale or two. I need sun. I need light. The only thing that gets me through winter, besides therapy and a prescription drug, is football. Thank you Seahawks, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, et al.
But spring training means baseball. And if they are playing baseball it is spring, no matter what the calendar says, not matter what anyone says. Don’t believe the lies. February is Spring. Flowers bloom, life regenerates, we see the sun. Of course if you are a fan of the Seattle Mariners, their flowers do not bloom, they show no signs of life, nor does the sun shine on these wayward sailors. They are like Tom Hanks and Wilson, castaways removed far from the madding crowd. Speaking of which there are no crowds at Safeco. People wait for winter and the Seahawks. They love goose down jackets.