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The ZOOperstars Will Not Be Performing At My Birthday

And so ends the most successful LL-related trip to Seattle I've ever had. Of course, the beauty of the whole racket is that even when my vacation's over, I get to come back and watch baseball. On the other hand, I suppose one could argue it's a little weird that my vacation from my job is basically part of my job, but still. It was a blast. Countless thanks go out to Dave, Derek, Bill, Bob, Geoff, Mike, Pat, Red, all you guys, and most importantly Devin (who long-time readers will remember as the original LL minor league writer) for making the trip so much fun.

For three days, it was wall-to-wall baseball. Flying in early Thursday morning, we had a quick turnaround between dropping stuff off at Devin's house and picking up Dave for lunch with Geoff Baker by his office. Negotiating the traffic and navigation on the way was less than pleasant (the gridlock is why I don't think I could ever live in Seattle for very long), but it was worth the trouble once we got to where we were going, as Geoff's a great guy who's full of stories and real easy to chat with for a few hours as you lose track of time. And he'd never so much as met any of us before in his life. I know a few of his opinions have caused a stir in these parts, but he isn't lazy; everything he says has been thought through from start to finish, and even if you disagree with a few of his conclusions, you have to respect the fact that he's done his own research and doesn't say anything without thoroughly considering every angle. He's a huge, huge upgrade over the clinically retarded Mariner barnacle he replaced, and I hope he never stops writing. At least, not until I do.

After lunching with Baker, the three of us drove down to Cheney to pick up the tickets and get ready for that night's Tacoma LL/USSM event with Bill Bavasi. Adam Jones had literally just been promoted, and while I was disappointed that I didn't get to spend the duration of the Q&A wearing a Jones mask over my face, I can't help but think that Bavasi made the call in large part so he wouldn't have to answer 500 versions of the same question.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mike Curto and Jason Churchill a few hours before the game, but soon thereafter it was time to go to the gate and hand out tickets to the arriving hordes. People filed in, and around 5:45 or so we all crowded into the designated section to give Bavasi an "(Expletive) Dave Samson" t-shirt and listen to him and Dave compete over who can talk for longer without opening up the floor for more questions. (Bavasi won.) I'll leave it up to other peoples' discretion as to what's okay to report from the talk, but I will say this - it renewed my belief that our next GM needs to have the same personality and completely opposite philosophies. I love that Bill is so warm, affable, and willing to show up at these things to interact with an assortment of his harshest critics, but that just makes it harder to understand why he's seemingly so ready to stab us in the back with some of his signings and trades. I have very little faith that this is the guy we'll have running the team when we finally get to where we all want to go.

Perhaps the greatest part of the whole talk came when ticket-holders walked up before the game and started to lay claim to their seats around where we'd gathered. Cheney doesn't have an auditorium anywhere, so we had to hold the Q&A in one of the sections, competing with a PA soundtrack dating to 1996. Because of this, naturally, there were other people with tickets for the section, and I got a kick out of watching how they responded to the casual presence of the guy running what's presumably their favorite team. A few noticed and sat down around the periphery while a few more sat a row behind him and didn't so much as turn around, but by far my favorite response came from the people who had tickets for the row in which Bavasi was standing. Seemingly taking no notice of the 40-odd people hanging on this man's every word, the ticket-holders asked him to move and, when told to wait a few minutes, collectively cast the irritable glare of someone who doesn't understand where this gigantic bald clown is coming from in telling them to hold on to their horses. That a man that conspicuous isn't immediately identified at an affiliated baseball stadium just boggles the mind in more ways than it's ever been boggled.

The game itself was pretty good, as Robert Rohrbaugh extended his scoreless inning streak to 20 with his second consecutive CG shutout. (I'll take "guys who're better than Ho" for $500, Alex.) Dave was busy fielding questions for a solid three hours while I enjoyed my status as a secondary attraction, keeping an eye on the field and shooting the breeze with Devin, PLU Tim, and okdan. Eventually it came to a close and people started filing out, but while the USSM crowd took off, most of the LL guys came down to chat for a little while longer. Which is good, because the downside of having an event that large is that it's hard to talk with everyone during a three-hour game. You guys are a fiercely loyal bunch, and I appreciate it. The average LL reader also appears to be younger than the average USSM reader, which must've played a part in determining who stuck around and who sprinted home to go to sleep. It's weird how the demographics are so different between two extraordinarily similar sites. I guess Dave is right after all - they're the classroom, and we're the frat house. We just need a sister sorority.

After the game Dave, Tim, Jim Thomsen, Devin, and I went out for a few drinks with Curto, which is only notable for the fact that I'm pretty sure I still owe Curto about twenty bucks. Although on the other hand, one of my prevailing life philosophies is that there's never a good reason to turn down a free beer. Ever. Even if someone's only joking, jump on the offer and guilt them into coming through. You'll save a lot of money and figure out who your real friends are in no time.

Friday was the Everett event with Bob Fontaine. While I'd seen Tacoma before, I'd never been to a game below AAA, so I was looking forward to witnessing the presumably vastly inferior play in person. Getting there made me question just how badly I really wanted to see it, since it must've been a three-hour trip from Devin's driveway to the stadium parking lot, but as soon as we arrived the irritation melted away pretty quickly. Once again, we stood in front handing out tickets to the gathering masses, although this time we had to wait until the middle school alpha male security guard opened the gates to let us in.

Like Tacoma, Everett doesn't have an auditorium, so Bob Fontaine spoke to us from the bottom of the section behind home plate. Fontaine was a bottomless well of anecdotes, information, and Wild West mustaches, and it was a shame that we were forced to stop after about half an hour, since he clearly had a lot of fun talking to the group. I imagine his is a face we'll be seeing again for the next event, provided Bavasi hasn't been canned by then. He has way more to say than you can condense into 30 minutes of questions and answers.

I was disappointed that Red never showed up, since he'd bought tickets to the event for himself and his girlfriend, but as we walked to our actual seats I saw the two of them already sitting there. Evidently they'd just arrived late and missed the talk. Adorned in his best home Carl Everett jersey, Red made quite the first impression, and if you think he couldn't possibly be more awesome than he seems in the screengrabs we get from, you're sorely mistaken. In person, he's everything you think he is, and ten times more.

I also had the pleasure of sitting near DMZ, who'd come up to Everett to hang out with the group. Since I'd never met him before in person I wasn't sure what to expect, but it didn't take long for him to grow on me. In the top of the third inning the PA guy announced Derek Kinzler as the Tri City batter, but after he grounded out the next batter was also introduced as Derek Kinzler. This led to a night full of:

PA Guy: Now batting for Tri City, Brian Rike.

PA Guy: Now batting for Tri City, Helder Velazquez.

PA Guy:

PA Guy: Now batting for Tri City, Derek Kinzler.

Funnier every single time. I hope Derek Kinzler didn't misinterpret the shouts as coming from a fan club, because Derek Kinzler sucks. And now there are at least a few dozen people who'll never forget who he is.

Anyway, aside from the game on the field, we were also entertained that night by the ZOOperstars, a collection of giant inflatable anthropomorphic balloons with clever names like Ken Giraffey Jr., Clammy Sosa, Nomar Garciaparrot, and Nolan Rhino. Not present: Halibut Pujols, Fel-Ox Hernandez, or Matt Walbacteria. They were fun enough, providing cute little mid-inning distractions on the field, but there was one of them in particular that got on my nerves.

It was bad enough when Harry Canary didn't finish the seventh inning stretch from the announcer's booth by saying "let's get some runs!", but then he went down to the seats behind first base and sprayed the crowd of children that'd gathered around him with synthetic ejaculate out of a hole in his chest. The only difference between one of these assclowns and a sexual predator is a nine-foot plastic costume.

To make matters worse, Harry Canary then dared venture over to our side of the stadium. That's when I decided to take things into my own hands. As Harry approached and stood a few feet away, threatening to silly string the shit out of us, I decided to lean forward and cover the holes in his costume, thus thwarting his attempts to cause laughter at our expense. As I sat there pondering my next move, though, I was taken by complete surprise when this spectacular douchebag reared back and head-butted me at full force. Harry Canary had fucked with the wrong guy. I immediately stood up and pushed him backwards to send a message. However, as a clear signal that it'd gone right over his head, Harry Canary thought it would be a great idea to shoot silly string at my face. He was almost out of ammo, but he'd fired enough avian sperm into my hair to set me off. I stepped down a row, got into his face, and pushed him again, but just as I was deciding whether to shove him down the stairs or punch him in the head, his fifteen year old weenie bodyguard told me to knock it off, and Harry took advantage of my momentary pause by sprinting to safety away from the section. Fuming, I sat there and watched as Harry strolled further down the line and gave sloppy seconds to a whole new crowd of prepubescents. Only then did Derek choose to inform me that he would've bailed me out from jail had I gotten arrested for beating this fucker up.

The game went on, and different members of our group frequently interjected with Mariner score updates. Red took particular pleasure in Beltre's RBI single, and there was a bit of a celebration after Yuni went deep. The Everett game, however, was knotted up in the later innings, and as it went to the bottom of the ninth deadlocked at five, we sent Red to the foot of the section to pump everyone up with a rally dance. Undeterred by the simultaneous blaring of YMCA, Red did his thing and even got the usher involved for a little bit, which was something I'm pretty sure you'd never see at Safeco Field. The Aquasox responded to his inspiration by winning it right there on a sac fly. It was a pretty cool finish, especially since the game had seemingly drawn a larger crowd than Tacoma the night before.

After exiting and accidentally getting onto the freeway since the directions out of the ballpark are horribly misleading, a few of us went to a bar down the street to watch JJ Putz slam the door on the Red Sox (apologies to Robert, who wasn't quite old enough to join). Devin, Gomez, Ryan Healy, etowncoug, Red, Lady Red, and myself took one table, while Dave, Derek, and Pat Dillon took another, and it wasn't until much later that I found out we were supposed to have gone over and sat at theirs. All I have to say about Turner's is that their Friday night waitress is a cold-hearted bitch who didn't deserve half the tip I gave her.

Saturday was our chance to actually go see the Mariners. Devin, Dave and I went to Pyramid before the game to indulge in Derek's disputable alcoholism, then walked over to Player Will Call to pick up four tickets left to us by a good friend of the blog. They were in the friend section down the first base line instead of the family section behind home plate, which I was later informed probably worked in everyone's best interests given that Mrs. Ibanez is a frequent visitor to the ballpark.

Not having been to a sold-out game at Safeco in years, I couldn't help but soak up the electric atmosphere. I hate that we were surrounded by 20,000 Red Sox fans, but for as much shit as I give them for being the most obnoxiously annoying fan base on the planet, they do manage to bring out the best in the rest of us, lest we be drowned out in giving the visitors a homefield advantage.

There was one specific Red Sox fan who I'm glad decided to show up, and that was a six-year-old-looking kid dressed up in a David Ortiz replica jersey on the other end of the row behind us. As Adrian Beltre was announced in the bottom of the second, this kid started chanting "Over-rated!", and no sooner did he begin than Beltre deposited a no-doubter over the right-center wall. He shut up in a flash, but as much as he probably wanted to put the whole thing behind him and move on, we weren't about to let him forget his offense, and for the rest of the game he was the sole target of several mocking glares. We also gave Julio Lugo an "Over-rated!" chant in response for good measure. That kid sucked, and I hope we made him cry.

Of course, he was a hell of a lot better than the two morons behind us. Since it's been a few days I can't really remember anything specific they said anymore, but I do know that they made me spend another $16 so I could drown them out with alcohol. Being old and wearing glasses does not automatically mean that you're qualified to carry an intelligent conversation. Attention, Red Sox fans: Safeco is already filled to capacity with idiots who don't know what they're talking about. We don't need your help.

The game itself was an unmitigated disaster. Or, as Dave put it as we left, "this was the loss we've been complaining about for four years." Adam Jones didn't start, Jarrod Washburn got slapped around in the middle innings, and the offense blew chance after chance to pile on the runs they knew they were going to need against a team that good. Bases loaded, one out, third inning: no runs. Corners, one out, fourth inning: no runs. First and second, none out, sixth inning: no runs. Second and third, two outs, eighth inning: no runs. And finally, first and second, two outs, ninth inning: no runs. The last out was the most infuriating, as Beltre hit a first-pitch pop-up after consecutive walks, but the previous wasted opportunities loomed every bit as large, as converting any one of them could have extended or won the game. While when you consider the matchups there's no such thing as "a game we should've won" against Boston, this one hurt a ton, as it displayed each and every one of the Mariners' flaws. For the only game I get to see in Safeco all year, it was sorely disappointing. Thank goodness for that sweep in San Diego. And at least I got to experience a pair of funk blasts. I can't tell you how pissed off I was several years ago when I went to a Giants game at Candlestick and never got to hear the fog horn.

Derek, again, was hilarious. Down here I usually end up watching baseball on my own since I only have one friend in the area who knows anything about the sport, but I can't wait for the next time I get to go to Seattle and hang out with the same guys. Even bad baseball can be fun when you're drinking and angry.

While Derek took off for home after the game, Devin, Dave, Red, Lady Red, and I went to a bar to meet up with Matthew and Ryan Healy. Unfortunately, seeing as fratboys and Red Sox Nation had invaded most of the area we had to stray from the beaten path, but it worked out pretty well. It's funny - even when you've never met someone before in your life, there's something about blogging and interacting in comments that makes it feel like you've known each other forever. There's a reason those LL nights at Safeco are so much fun; it's a community that extends well beyond the website. Never has that been more apparent to me than it was this weekend.

We held out hope that we could score some more tickets for Sunday, but it didn't happen, and as time wore on in the game we became more and more thankful that it didn't. Pretty soon Devin had to take off and make the long drive back for work on Monday, so we listened to the rest of the massacre on the radio as he drove me to my uncle's. And so it was that I relaxed and wrapped up a brief vacation that'd earlier been spent with a completely different kind of family.

Back to baseball. I see the Angels won today, which sucks. But if the whole trip made anything clear to me, it's this - the strength of the Mariner blogosphere doesn't rely on the success of the team. No, the strength of the Mariner blogosphere is that it's a pretty tight-knit community that's always eager to joke around and talk baseball, no matter how poorly the Mariners may be doing. The events would've been just as much fun were the Mariners in the midst of another last-place season, and I'm sure they'll be even bigger and better next summer when we have them again, regardless of whether or not the M's are competing. The winning's just a bonus. First and foremost, LL and USSM are just places to hang out and chat with people with similar interests.

Now beat the Orioles. Just because the winning's a bonus doesn't mean I want it to stop.