It is Sunday, July 31st, 1994. Chicago's afternoon sun blankets the city with a musty 85 degrees, and on the city's south side, flanked by I-90 and an ocean of cold, metallic industrial warehouses, Jay Buhner is hitting a double to Comiskey II's deep centerfield, scoring Felix Fermin from second. Lou Pinella doesn't notice. No. He is writing something on his clipboard at the end of the dugout, unintelligibly. In fact, Lou doesn't even know what he is writing. He just wants to look like he is in control of something, and at the moment, well, this is all the guy has got. He bites his lip and turns his eyes upward to meet the bright sunlight like the other half of a duel at noon. The Mariners are on a 6 game losing streak. August 12th is less than two weeks away. The day of the impending strike. Lou Pinella doesn't want it to end like this, and he knows what the chatter is like around the front office, from ownership, in the papers. He knows what lies ahead of him. But he doesn't care. He bites his lip again and it tastes like metal. The Mariners are out of the inning and it's time for Jim Converse to pitch.
It is Saturday, August 10th, 2013. The Seattle Mariners had thrown an emotional festival honoring one of the best players to ever play the game of baseball, and the sellout crowd in Safeco Field is clutching onto their Ken Griffey Jr. Bobbleheads and cold beers trying to forget everything that had happened for the past 12 years. Tonight is about baseball, and if they had just learned anything from the hour-long ceremony, it was that baseball is a lot bigger than a few years of struggle and irrelevancy.
So they watch as Hisashi Iwakuma takes the mound to face the Milwaukee Brewers--fitting that it is the former Seattle team on this of all days--seeing him dispose of Norichika Aoki and Jean Segura before he gives up a 5-pitch single to Jonathan Lucroy. But Kuma gets Carlos Gomez to fly out on the first pitch of the at bat, and makes it through the next 5 innings giving up only a walk to Juan Fransisco in the 2nd, a single to Jonathan Lucroy in the 4th, and a two out double to Jean Segura in the 6th. It looks like the good Iwakuma is back. Chatter is faint, spirits are high. Someone knocks over little Timothy Olsen's Pepsi with light ice, spilling the sugary liquid down three rows into a group of college students too drunk to notice their shoes now sticking to the concrete facade. Timothy's father promptly flags down a vendor to purchase a refill. Can't ruin the night, he thinks. Not this of all nights.
It is July 1994 again. Joey Cora is sliding home after a deep fly ball into right field. Lou Pinella watches as Cora gives a few high-fives and promptly returns to his home Chicago White Sox dugout, clad in white pinstripes. He watches with envy. The game is reset at 1. Pinella doesn't even think about the six game losing streak as he walks to the other end of the dugout to greet Ken Griffey Jr, taking the day off before a trip back to California to face the Angels. Lou doesn't want to play Griffey today, but losing streak be damned--if he needs him to hit he'll ask him. Pinella watches as first the second, third, fourth, and even fifth innings go by with no change in score. Tino Martinez has the only hit here, a weak single in the top of the second, and it's blanks with a few walks here on out. Lou could see how tired everyone was in the dugout, sick of losing, sick of traveling, sick of being a joke in a city that apparently doesn't even deserve baseball in the first place. Hell, they can't even play in their own damned stadium, what with the roof caving in. He thinks about that for a second, wishing it was a figure of speech. It isn't.
The sun is setting in Seattle on August 10th, 2013. It is the sixth inning, and the Mariners have three hits: a Michael Morse single in the bottom of the second, and two Dustin Ackley hits. Yes! Dustin Ackley, who screams a line drive in to left-centerfield in the second and rockets a double in to very much the same area in the bottom of the 5th. Little Timothy is excited about this, and even though his dad is trying to get him to understand why he bought him a Ken Griffey Jr. shirt before the game, his hero is Dustin Ackley, and Timothy is happy just to get to watch the man play baseball in person today, let alone see his two hits.
But then the top of the seventh rolls around, and before anyone can start drinking the beers they ran to purchase before the taps close, Hisashi Iwakuma is in trouble. It has been such a great pitchers duel up to here, hasn't it? First, Carlos Gomez reaches first after a stupid bunt that Justin Smoak barely misses tagging him with. Next up, Caleb Gindl, who singles and sends Gomez to third. Khris Davis sends a grounder to Kyle Seager, who can't get Gomez on the throw to home, and Humberto Quintero falls to the ground, having slammed his knee into the scoring Brewer runner. Quintero rolls on the ground for a moment and quickly looks to the Mariners' dugout, locking eyes with Henry Blanco. Quintero thinks about Mike Zunino and he thinks about Kelly Shoppach--or at least he thinks it was Kelly Shoppach--whichever catcher it was that broke camp with the Mariners this spring. Quintero realizes that his job for the rest of the season might depend on him not being hurt, not leaving games. He gets back up. He is in pain. The damage continues.
First, a Juan Fransisco double, scoring Gindl. Then, of course, who else but Yuniesky Betancourt, scoring Davis. And finally, Iwakuma gives up a home run to Scooter Gennett, and before you can blink your eye it's 6-0 Brewers. Iwakuma goes another two hitters before getting pulled for Yoervis Medina and the night is officially colored with a rotten taste in the mouths of the 46,000 baseball fans in Safeco Field. Timothy has broken the bat off his Ken Griffey Jr. bobblehead, which he has just now taken a liking to, much to his dad's frustration. He doesn't cry at first, but lifts it up to his father using both hands to show him the pieces, and he is met with a Well We Can't Get A New One Of These Now Can We? His father is upset. Now Timothy cries.
It is once again 1994, and Lou Pinella watches as first the Mariners walk in a run, and then give up a grand slam to White Sox Centerfielder Lance Johnson. Ken Griffey Jr. is quiet at the end of the dugout, flicking sunflower seeds through the rails like paper footballs. Lou Pinella walks out of the Comiskey dugout and tags his left arm, jogging to meet Jim Converse on the mound and tears the ball out of his hands like it was his last dollar. Later, as the Mariners yet again bleed a bucketful of runs to the White Sox, Pinella picks up his clipboard and starts writing again. He is tired of shouting profanities and tired of kicking batting helmets in disgust. The score is 8-0 White Sox and the season is going to end in 12 days and the Mariners are terrible. They have been terrible, and for the first time in franchise history, they were 2 games out of the lead in the AL West thanks to the new divisions that had been drawn up just that year. The team is finally doing something, and it's all going to be torn out of his hands in 12 short days. Lou looks down at his clipboard to see he had been drawing a letter 'L.' L for loss. L for Losers. L for bad Luck. L for dammit, who gives a shit. He realizes he has been writing so hard that the paper has broken and the ink has spilled down into the pages of the following day's games. To hell with it he thinks. Won't matter then, anyway.
It's the bottom of the seventh in Safeco in 2013 again, and Justin Smoak hits an inning-ending popup that is dropped by Brewers first baseman Juan Fransisco. E6. Inning continues. Michael Saunders makes it all the way to third after this play, but Dustin Ackley strikes out to end the inning. Medina has a fast top of the 8th, inducing a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play with the help of Quintero, who throws out Gindi at second after Medina gets Khris Davis swinging on a 3-2 fastball down the middle of the plate. Lucas Luetge comes into the game for some reason and proceeds to give up a single to Juan Fransisco, who advances to second on a wild pitch from the Mariners' lefty. But Luetge escapes the inning unharmed with a Yuniesky Betancourt strikeout, and the Mariners are up to bat.
Nick Franklin hits into a nice two-out single in the bottom of the eighth, thankfully not striking out and even making it to second after Kyle Seager walks right after him. But the threat dies when Kendrys Morales grounds straight to Yuniesky Betancourt, and the Mariners would never again threaten in the game. No, no they wouldn't. For just as little Timothy looks at his Ken Griffey Jr. Bobblehead with its new removable bat feature, Lucas Luetge is on the mound again and proceeds to give up a singles to Scooter Gennett and Norichika Aoki. Jean Segura flies out, but then the damage comes in droves and droves. Jonathan Lucroy singles in Gennett. Carlos Gomez doubles in Aoki. Some of these are on the first pitch and fall like they are spades in a game of 52 card pickup. Carter Capps comes into the game and leaves the vein open, only getting Carlos Gomez out on a Khris Davis sac fly, but finally ends the carnage a few batters later. Michael Morse, Michael Saunders, and Justin Smoak all do nothing in the bottom of the ninth. Game over. 10-0 Brewers.
The air is thin in Safeco, and fans are trying to think about the incredible thing they got to witness before the game started. It's not working for everyone though. A couple of middle-aged men in Seahawks jerseys behind Timothy mention something about how the Mariners still look the same as they always have, and boy, we sure didn't miss much in the 6 years its been since we've been down here. But Timothy looks at his bobblehead and feels something funny. He thinks about how much his dad was talking about Ken Griffey Jr. and he thinks about the Dustin Ackley shirt he wore to the ballpark. He thinks about how much he likes coming to baseball games and how much fun it is when the Mariners win.
Timothy hasn't seen a lot of losing from the Mariners. Well he has, but he doesn't quite realize it. It's only been in the past two years that he has even been able to pay attention to the players' names and memorize what positions they play. So when Timothy is a little older and the very same players he saw tonight are playing meaningful baseball in late September, he won't remember much about his Ken Griffey Jr. bobblehead, or even this night at all. He wont remember what it was like when the Mariners lost a lot of games because even his dad doesn't quite remember what it was like when Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez lost a lot of games, even though they did. No, when Timothy asks his dad about watching the Mariners when he was a kid, all he hears are the good stories. The playoffs. He thinks he understands, but he doesn't. And that's okay. He doesn't even have to. We'll do it for him.
It's 1994 again, and Lou Pinella has left all of his stuff in the dugout, having stormed back to the visitor's clubhouse following the 8-0 loss that spearheads the Mariners' 7-game losing streak. They wouldn't play a game in the Kingdome again that year, and for all Lou knew, baseball was going to be over for the year in less than two weeks. It would be. Junior and Buhner are in the dugout, picking up Lou's papers and jacket, strewn about the concrete floor and bathing in the puddles of tobacco and sunflower seeds. Buhner picks up the game's lineup sheet and sees a sharp figure drawn on the bottom of the page. Wait..what? He thinks. For the life of him, he can't figure out why Lou had drawn a shape of a corner on the bottom of the page. A corner. But for a second, he realizes that it might mean something more, something he had yet to understand and yet to experience. Something that was coming. That was in July of 1994.