As poor, poor Mariner fans, we've all put a lot of pressure and anticipation of only greatness on Dustin Ackley's shoulders from the moment he was drafted. We thought: finally, we'd have a hitter that would be a main-stay in our lineup for years to come. We could count on Dustin for line drives, solid contact, few swinging strikes, doubles into the gaps, and home-runs down the RF line. We'd even let our imaginations think of this club, led by Felix and Ackley, performing well in something called the playoffs. There is, after all, according to Dane Cook, only one October. Ackley was our offensive piece that would guarantee our invitation to this playoff-thingy. And hopefully Dane Cook would be far, far away.
This year has been frustrating for Ackley, without a doubt. We watch as his college teammate, Kyle Seager, has made an impact at the plate while we wallow in the frustrations with Dustin Ackley's lack of progress. We lament and shake our heads. This guy was a great college hitter. We start to think about the past hyped-hitters that have flamed out. The 'sure-to-stick with the stick' hitters like Jeff Clement and Jeremy Reed. Oh man, the comparisons to Jeremy Reed. While Ackley is not sinking the USS Mariner, we were hoping he'd do more than swab the deck. But Ackley is young, playing great defense, and our team is young and maturing. We can worry about Ackley's plate production as more time goes by and he's able to make the needed adjustments in his game. However, this entire lead-in has nothing to do with Ackley's play. It's a bait and switch. See, I had you going left, now you're going right. I had you zigging, now you're uncomfortably zagging. In all likelihood, you're sitting in a chair reading this and didn't move at all. Thus, I have failed in this lead-in. Damnit, that's a lot of wasted words.
This post is a thank you to Dustin Ackley for being a part of something that I could not have done on my own.
My girlfriend and I had been dating for just over 2 years. When we met she didn't drink beer, didn't watch much sports, let alone knew more than a couple Mariners that have played for us in the last 15 years. Her only Mariner apparel was a Jose Lopez t-shirt. As we spent more time together she realized and accepted the abusive relationship I shared with the Mariners. She didn't understand why I'd care so much about a bad team. Why I'd put so much emotion and attention into a team that would slug 4 singles in 9 inning game. I couldn't explain it either. I was of the generation who was 10-16 years old during their great '95-'01 run. They had reeled me in as a fan. And as often as I was able to jump back in the water, their lure kept me biting. Like most of you, I was screwed.
I'm sure I had talked to her more in detail about players than she'd care to learn. But she went along with it. Soon she'd be able to name most of the team, and even know the general position of them on the field (infield versus outfield). Especially Dustin Ackley. Maybe it was his rugged good looks, or all the hype I had shared about him being our savior. Or both. Probably not both. It was probably just his looks. Women are so shallow.
She'd end up watching more games. Try some beer. Like some beer. My type of girl! Also, our relationship evolved and we fell in love.
Before too long, she was texting or facebook-ing (is that an adjective now?) her sister-in-law, Lindsey, about Dustin Ackley. They both liked him. Again, new boy in school syndrome. Women are shallow. It became a friendly, yet persistent, argument over who chose him first as their 'Mariner boyfriend.' It was cute. I was just happy it made my girlfriend talk about the Mariners. It was fake interest, but interest nonetheless.
All the while, my girlfriend was watching as her single friends became engaged and then married. We had discussed getting engaged and it had actually become a routine conversation. Almost as common as her questioning if I'd seen the most recent Teen Mom episode. Usually my answer was 'no.' Usually. While I now had a girlfriend who would drink beer, watch a Mariner game, and know a majority of the M's roster, I couldn't get her away from that show. I'm not that amazing.
By about June of this year, my drinking buddies (weekly guys night to catch up on sports...non-girl stuff....etc) had put an over-under bet together on when I'd actually propose to my girlfriend. That date, August 15th, put a little more pressure on me to get a plan together. After all, I was working on taking a cut from the guy with the under to ensure his victory and me some additional cash flow. Financial incentives always help move things along at a little bit quicker pace.
The idea was born at the end of last year when Root Sports did an auction of items signed by Mariners players. Thus, I wrote a letter in July to Dustin Ackley for his assistance, in exchange for a donation to a charity of his choice. I wasn't sure if he'd help, but it was worth a shot. I gave him the back-story on the playful back and forth my girlfriend shared with her sister-in-law. I just needed a message and an autograph. After a couple weeks of waiting, I employed a co-worker with ties to the Mariners PR department to help me out. I was running out of time. You see, on Friday July 27th, my girlfriend and I were flying to Minnesota to see her family for 4 days. Later on this trip, while in DC, I'd planned on proposing. This would be the part of the trip I'd promise we'd celebrate her birthday. It was the perfect cover to have a romantic, private night together and not have her suspect a proposal. She had been set up like only Felix could set-up a right-handed hitter. I had just thrown an inside 0-2 fastball at her hip. The next pitch would be a slider, just off the plate. Like Felix, I knew the result and was ready to deliver my pitch.
I was eagerly awaiting a response from the PR person about 3:00pm on Thursday the 26th. I finally got the email I had been hoping for. Ackley had signed a baseball and a birthday card for my girlfriend. I could pick it up immediately. My flight left in 15 hours!
I purchased an Ackley t-shirt from the team store, as well as a plastic display case for the ball. This would ensure it's survival through TSA and their dirty, dirty hands. My girlfriend knew we'd celebrate her birthday sometime in Washington DC, and knew I had a birthday present. However, she didn't know I had tucked a 2nd gift bag in my luggage.
On July 31st we landed in DC. That night we'd go out to dinner and grab some wine for the hotel room. I managed to coax her out of the room to the swimming pool outside the Wardman Park Marriott (I HIGHLY recommend this place for any travelers in DC.) After 20 minutes of swimming, it was near 10pm and the pool was closing. I slow played leaving by small talk and packing my belongings into my backpack at a Josh Beckett pace so others would leave the area. As we walked out of the pool area alone, I noticed a bench on the pathway not 30 feet away. I had her sit on the bench, which was enveloped by a tree just behind it. To the left and right we were surrounded by red and pink flowers. The light poles that lit the path next to the bench were not overbearing, but would allow her to read a card. I gave her the gift bag from my backpack that contained the Ackley t-shirt and birthday card I had picked out. She thanked me for the gift and was excited she'd be able to wear her new shirt to New Jersey for a family reunion with my folks for the upcoming weekend. The Mariners would be playing the Yankees in New York while we were there and we were going to wear our M's gear with pride.
Next, I pulled out another gift bag. I told her I had one more gift and that she'd need to open the present before she got the card. I told her the card might give her a hint as to what the gift was, so she opened the wrapped square. She tilted it towards the light and asked if it was Ackley's signature. I told her it was and that I picked it up from Safeco the night before we left. She asked how and was pretty excited to learn that I'd got this specifically from Dustin Ackley for her birthday. She still wondered, 'how?' I simply said, "I had connections." With that she'd forgotten about the card I had withheld. I reached back in the bag and said, "Here. Dustin also sent you a birthday card." Her smile got wider. While it wasn't the most romantic gift (or shiny) a girl could get, she realized I'd worked hard to get something that meant something to her, and really, us.
As she tore at the envelope to open the card, I reached into the front pocket of my backpack. I grabbed a small white box. I waited about 2 seconds after she opened the card, stood up, turned around, and then went immediately back down again. On one knee. She was already crying, and I knew this moment was perfect.
The birthday card reads:
"Happy Birthday to my #1 fan, Liane (not Lindsey). Time to say 'yes.' Congrats Kyle and Liane!-Dustin Ackley"
So during a difficult offensive season, Dustin, my hat is off to you. You may forget the autographs and few seconds of your time that you provided us, but they'll remain cherished memories and keepsakes that we'll share with our kids and grandchildren. Thanks for taking just a few seconds of your time to help my world get forever better.
The invite to the wedding will be in the mail soon.