Note - what's posted below isn't all that baseball-related. Feel free to disregard.
I always look forward to these things. I always look forward to these things and want them to last as long as possible, which is why I'm glad I have a job that pretty much lets me go whenever I want. I scheduled my flight up for early Friday afternoon, said bye to my boss, and went on my merry way to the airport to kick off a three-day recess. I didn't even have to deal with the pre-trip stress that people normally associate with the airport, because San Diego's Lindbergh Field may be the most low-key main airport in any major city. When people think about San Diego, they picture this city that's really chill and laid back and easygoing and lots of other synonyms, and while I don't necessarily agree with that depiction, our airport definitely fits the bill. I got from the curb to the gate in six minutes, and before long I was sitting comfortably on the plane, enjoying the quality JetBlue programming on the seatback in front of me while I waited for everyone else to sit down. JetBlue: where even delays on the tarmac feel like vacation.
It's an easy flight from San Diego to Seattle. Some people get sore or antsy having to sit that long, but after having flown so many times from the West Coast to and beyond the Atlantic, I barely even notice stuff like this anymore. I scurried off the plane, walked the seventeen miles between SeaTac's A gates and baggage claim, and stood patiently in front of the luggage ramp. And I mean directly in front of the luggage ramp. You can swear to have faith and trust in other people until you're blue in the face, but the most telling indication thereof is where you position yourself when you're getting your bags, and as it turns out, deep down I seem to think that all other people are mischievous thieves. I stood there casting knowing glances at everyone around me until the bags started rolling down, at which point I lunged forward, grabbed mine, narrowly missed a small child's head as I awkwardly pulled it off the conveyer, and set off for the sidewalk. Vacations don't begin until you pick up your luggage. Everything up until that point is just crossing your fingers that you don't have to last the next several days wearing the same contacts and underwear.
I got to my destination just about in time to get ready to leave my destination in favor of Collins Pub. We watched Felix struggle a little bit against the Rays from Matthew and Graham's apartment and left when it was 4-1, and the Rays would tack on another, but during the course of the walk Griffey went "deep" - I use quotation marks because that was just the Jeffrey Maier play in a different ballpark - and that seemed to jumpstart a Mariner offense that for six innings was waiting for a spark. The singles started to pour in, and as I ordered my first beer we watched Ichiro send one to center to tie things up at five. The subsequent line out and strikeout were annoying, but just the fact that we had a game again was reason enough to be thrilled. As we left the apartment earlier we had all but written it off. This was unexpected.
Also unexpected was the Jason Bartlett home run in the eleventh. I'll never make sense of Jason Bartlett slugging .550. But Shawn Kelley just continued to throw like some substandard version of Shawn Kelley, and in a flash all hope from earlier was gone out the window. Evan Longoria hit a ball really hard, Carl Crawford got into scoring position, Rob Johnson popped out with one down and a man on second...I don't remember many details between Bartlett's home run and Langerhans' at bat, but I do remember feeling pretty low, and when Langerhans whiffed on that breaking ball to get to 1-2, we all thought it was over. Not a single one of us gave Langerhans any chance to keep things going, not against J.P. Howell.
Our last round was on the house. When I inquired, Bartender Amy (who's awesome) said we all got free 'rally beers'. I guess she appreciated having a raucous crowd on hand that flipped out as soon as Langerhans made contact. That ball was gone the instant it hit the bat, and though I've seen the Mariners win on walk-off hits before, I've never experienced one quite like this, where I got to stand around a bunch of other Mariner fans and watch one of my favorite players turn a loss into a win with one swing. Welcome to the domain of public consciousness, Ryan Langerhans. I liked you before, but I love you now, and thanks to your heroics, so does the rest of the city. It seems like every single one of Z's acquisitions this year has had a shining moment soon after joining the team, and I can't think of anything more appropriate.
Soon thereafter we took off, hung out for a few hours, and called it a night. This was a weekend scheduled specifically around the events on Saturday and Sunday, but Friday had already made everything worthwhile. Ryan Langerhans set the tone by putting each of us in a phenomenal mood, and the weekend hadn't even begun.
I always have a difficult time waking up when I'm not at home. I don't mean "waking up" like opening my eyes; I mean "waking up" like becoming aware of my surroundings and functioning as a normal human. Graham threw a ball at me around 10 in the morning and to be honest I don't really remember what happened between then and 2. I think I sat hunched over a lot. But eventually I forced myself to get dressed, because Matthew had arranged for us to go down to the stadium to meet Dave Sims and this was an encounter I wouldn't miss for the world. It's not every day that you get to meet the man with the hats.
Jerseys on, we walked down to Safeco, sat in the lobby by the Ellis Pavilion, and waited for Dave while some lady treated us like kindergarteners. "If you're just here waiting, why not go to the team store!" Before long Dave saved us by appearing in the hallway and coming over to say hi and talk for a few minutes. White hat, impressive handshake. He couldn't stay very long, which is too bad considering he's probably the one guy I'd like to bullshit with for hours and hours, but he was clearly busy and I very much appreciated him taking time out of his schedule to come greet a few nobodies. When you spend your time before the game around people like Dave Niehaus and Ken Griffey Jr., it would be easy to become pretty jaded, so it's a credit to who Sims is that he was more than willing to drop by. I didn't get a chance to tell him I love him, but Dave, if you're reading this - I love you. We love you.
At that point we had a little over an hour until the event, so we decided to head on over to Fuel to see if there was any pregame atmosphere for the Sounders. Along the way we crossed paths with Derek and Dave and made uncomfortable smalltalk. As event organizers, though, they had to be at the stadium a little earlier than everyone else, so they couldn't join us and we continued on our way. To answer your question, no, there wasn't any atmosphere. There were good burgers and some decent beer. We ate, drank, and counted down the minutes.
We made it back to Safeco a little after 5 and saw a line out the door for the event, and being able to skip that line always makes me feel like such a badass. I walked in and observed the following layout of the room:
Immediately I began to wonder if the shallow and broad auditorium would be able to suit our needs, since every single seat was taken and many of them were quite a distance away from the podium, but two things alleviated my concern:
(1) The people in the back corners had no trouble seeing or hearing clearly
(2) I don't say anything at these events anyway
Once everyone found their seats, Dave took the mic and introduced Matthew, Graham, and myself as authors of "that blog that drinks a lot", which rubbed me the wrong way until I remembered what we'd been doing like twenty minutes earlier. From that point on Dave continued to hold the mic and fielded questions from readers while Derek and the three of us hung out next to Dave standing awkwardly tangled in the back drapes. If that sounds like complaining, it's not. Dave's not a perfect public speaker by any means, but he's way better than any of the rest of us, so we were content to let him do 98% of the answering. It's not like I have any original thoughts anyway.
A half hour later or so, Jack and Tony walked in to kick off the main event (Did I mention that Z was going to be there? Z was there). I don't need to say much about this part, because Dave's already written it up in good detail. All that really needs to be said is that they are impressive speakers who really really like Jack Wilson and really really don't like Yuniesky Betancourt. Some of the things they said about Wilson were questionable and would've drawn criticism had they come from Bavasi, but because it was these two guys (and mainly Jack), you have to think that they've earned the benefit of the doubt.
It's funny - having this front office in charge has just completely changed what it means to me to be a blogger. When Bavasi was at the helm, I was pretty sure I knew more about running a baseball team. Like, I legitimately thought I knew more about what's important than he did. So I spent my years dealing harsh, biting criticism and ripping him to pieces for moves that didn't make sense. Under Z and Blengino and everyone else, though, they really have earned the benefit of the doubt, so even when they do things I'm not thrilled about, I don't feel right sitting here and poking holes in their plan; I just feel like there must be something I'm missing. Like they have a perfectly reasonable explanation to which I'm just sometimes not privy. For example, I wasn't fond of the Aumont/bullpen transition, but after hearing what they had to say on the matter on Saturday, I feel like I'm the one in the wrong. They're just that convincing, and it'll make me think twice the next time they do something I don't understand. Should I be critical, or should I assume they know what they're doing? I'm leaning towards the latter, and though the last thing I want to do is be seen as a yes man, it's hard to avoid that sort of behavior when you have a front office this awesome.
Jack and Tony stayed 15 minutes longer than expected, received several standing ovations, and before leaving thanked us for being their motivation. Tony then approached both Dave and I individually to deliver personal thank yous and compliments. The whole thing was just incredible. After a few minutes of mingling and saying hey to Mike Salk, though, we all decided it was high time to find our seats. After all, the Q&A was only half of the event. So out and in we went in search of section 321.
Once we entered the actual stadium, we came across the silent auction table. I don't normally pay attention to stuff like that, because the prices always go way higher than what I'd like to spend on whatever they have laid out, but this particular silent auction table had a Buy Now! box of autographed baseballs that I felt compelled to investigate. And it was at that point that I looked at the printed list above the box and something jumped out at me:
Yuniesky Betancourt - $35
I had to have it. I asked for confirmation from the lady working the desk that Yuni had actually signed one of these baseballs, and when she nodded, I kind of hiccupped with glee and fumbled for my wallet. Within seconds of handing her my card, I found myself in possession of a Yuniesky Betancourt autographed baseball. I was so happy.
It wasn't until I walked away giddily holding the bag that I started to wonder why I'd just spent $35 on a Yuniesky Betancourt autographed baseball. I think I did it to be funny, but I wasn't yet sure how it was funny. It's like the part of my brain that writes punchlines works faster than the part of my brain that writes the buildup. Basically I made a $35 commitment to a joke I hadn't developed. All anyone's been able to come up with so far is that I should paste googly eyes on to it. Which is okay, but not funny enough to justify the purchase. There's no going back now, though. I need to come up with some material. The good news is that the signature kind of looks like "Jimmy Buffet", so if I can't come up with a good enough Yuni joke, I can always try going down a different avenue.
A few minutes later we got to our seats, saw Red at the top of the section, and went up to sit by him and his giant Beltre head on a meterstick. I don't remember what we were talking about but I guess it was offensive enough to make the family of four in front of us move to the other end of the row before we even got to the middle of the first. Speaking of things that happened before the middle of the first, 40-odd pitches by Ian Snell. My understanding is that he was getting a little squeezed, but you can't really see that from the top of the upper deck, so Snell just looked all out of sorts. When he walked Ben Zobrist in the top of the second and got yanked from the game, half the crowd applauded sarcastically and half the crowd booed, and thought I'm normally all about expressing discontent, I feel like maybe Snell's the one guy we should've treated a little better. You know, just in case.
In came Chris Jakubauskas, who lately has been quite the harbinger of bad news. You never want to pay for a ticket to a game with Chris Jakubauskas in it, because Chris Jakubauskas' last nine appearances have come in losses in which we were outscored 75-26. He did manage to induce a miraculous double play to end the inning, though, so that's something, and when the M's rallied to knot it up in the bottom half I actually started to feel like we might have a chance. A chance to beat the Rays in a game that our starter left in the second. And I kept on feeling good until Jakubauskas flipped the shit switch and fell apart in the fifth. The Rays reclaimed the lead and, after Ichiro and Branyan farted on a rally in the sixth, Tampa Bay went and blew it open, putting up a ten-spot and all but eliminating any remaining good vibes. At that point the only thing left to feel good about was Doug Fister's Major League debut, which he kicked off by throwing an 86mph something that I only hoped was his changeup. It wasn't. Still, while Fister isn't any good, he does make me feel 13 again, and it's good to feel young. I wonder if the MLB.com jersey shop is prepared for the oncoming deluge of vulgar but legitimate custom orders.
The game shortly ended and at that point we split apart and went home to drink a little and get ready for softball.
I woke up at noon to Graham sharing some delightful news about Jarrod Washburn. I know it's silly and immature to derive so much satisfaction from Washburn struggling in Detroit, but at the same time, I know I'm not the only one who feels that way. We all want to be right. Everybody wants to be right. And while he was a Mariner, we went to great effort to tell people that Jarrod hadn't turned into some awesome new starter overnight. So to see him having a rough go of it while supporters look around and try to make excuses - why should I deny it? It feels good. Jarrod Washburn is a mediocre starting pitcher, a mediocre starting pitcher overdue for some rockings. With every one of his poor starts, more people reconsider their stances on ERA, and that's terrific.
Being that it was already 12 and softball was slated to begin at 1, I found myself in a rush to get ready so we could head out the door. We made it to Judkins in time to see a dozen people or so already practicing. I was disappointed that the field was set up for football - I really enjoy the feeling of hitting a fly ball over a fence - but I couldn't bring myself to feel down, and as more and more people trickled in, I got more and more excited to play. Softball's already fun on its own, but softball in good weather with 30 other people you at least kind of know is as good a way as any to spend a Sunday afternoon.
I won't bother going into great detail explaining the games - the first one was bad, the second one was worse, and the third one was an excellent contest that ended with a walk-off hit off the glove of Two Rs and Two Ls. Softball's way more fun with even teams. It's also way more fun with (A) fresh watermelon and baked goods and (B) a radio tuned to the Mariners game. The two dugouts broke into spontaneous applause when Russell Branyan hit his grand slam, and when the postgame show mentioned that a Red Sox loss would bring us within 4.5 of the Wild Card, it kind of struck me that, holy crap, we're sort of back in this. The Mariners have never been in the driver's seat, but as much as we've reminded everyone that this team is as long a shot as pretty much anyone in baseball, they just refuse to fall completely out of the race. 4.5 games and chasing a few better teams? It's not close enough to start printing playoff tickets, but it's not so far that we should quit paying attention.
Anyway, many thanks to everyone who came out to watch, play, and hit baseballs later on. It was great to put some new faces to names and especially to meet that triumvirate of defensive wizards (Cameron, Max, and I didn't catch the third name) who I swear must've been ringers. In softball, as in baseball, defense is an undervalued asset. It's also worth pointing out that, relative to last year, the quality of the softball this time around was much much better. No one's a superstar, but everyone was able to contribute, and even Robert was able to reach base a few times and hit the ball to the outfield. I was impressed. I bet we could kick the crap out of USSM.
After softball ended and we tired of hitting baseballs, the last people left the field and we headed back to the apartment for a bit of a break before going out to Brouwer's and the Stumbling Monk for dinner and drinks. Despite only having a few beers over the span of several hours I became perplexingly drunk, and in case you ever wondered what a grapefruit looks like when it's dropped from the 23rd story, I can give you an answer.
After curing a wicked hangover by means I'm not proud of, I got Matthew and we headed over to meet Larry Stone for lunch. I've met Larry a few times, and though we don't know each other on any real personal level, he's easily one of my favorite people I've ever met. Graham came from work to meet up with us and we talked for an hour and a half about all kinds of things from the future of blogging to Sean Casey, and I don't know how much fun Larry had, but I only hope he enjoyed our company half as much as we enjoyed his. Larry is a wonderful person and a wonderful writer, and I don't know if Seattle knows how lucky it is to have him.
Lunch was followed by walking over to Pioneer Square to hang out with Dave and his lovely and clearly very understanding wife. Dave had just come from lunch in the same restaurant as Jack and Chuck Armstrong, which is a situation I both wished I had been in and thanked God I hadn't. It's weird, but even though I think I can count the number of times I've met Dave on one of Antonio Alfonseca's hands, every time we talk it's like chatting with an old friend. An old friend with the speech pattern of a jackhammer. I suppose blogging breeds familiarity. And so we sat and talked for a while about trips and credentials and how funny it is that Mat Olkin went from the team with Yuni to the team that traded for Yuni until I decided it was probably time to head back and get ready to go to the airport.
The light rail is awesome.
On the way from the apartment to my gate, I sent out my thank yous and received back several text messages wishing me a safe flight. That's a weird thing to wish. We all do it. I do it. I do it without thinking. But it's really just another way of saying "I hope you don't die." It's in the same vein as asking that someone let you know when they've touched down after a flight. Just assume that I touched down. If I didn't, I'll be on the news.
After getting all my texting out of the way, I checked in, turned off my phone, and sat down in my seat to watch the Tigers and Red Sox on ESPN. Pitching for Boston was someone I didn't recognize, and my brain immediately asked itself "is that Robert Person?" which is the first time I've thought about Robert Person in damn near six years. A few weeks ago I shot up in bed and asked my girlfriend "Who's Perry Como?" It's weird how our brains can pull the most distant references out of thin air, and I swear it keeps me up at night sometimes trying to trace how they happen.
As the plane took off, I settled back half paying attention to the game and half falling asleep. I saw that the White Sox claimed Alex Rios on the bottom line, and that was interesting, since I've called Rios Toronto's version of Adrian Beltre. He's an underrated player having a rough season, and though I'm not wild about his contract I like him as a player. I also kept an eye on the Mariners/White Sox score, which went from 2-0 to 2-2 to 3-2 over the course of a few ticker loops. It's weird having to pay attention again. I don't know how well the Yankees are going to treat us, but this team's still not totally dead.
When the game ended, I decided to shut off the TV and just reflect on everything. It was a good trip. Maybe the best one yet. I don't know how to quantify quality of vacation, but it says something when no matter how exhausted you are, you can go three straight days with a smile on your face. But more than the trip - somehow, some way, I've ended up in a position where I can hang out or drink beers with some of the sharpest baseball minds around. A position where I can shake the hands of my favorite announcer. A position where I can have lunch with my favorite writer. A position where I can stand at the front of a room beside my favorite front office and have them acknowledge *me*. A position where I can put up a post online expressing interest in playing softball and have 30-odd people show up to play or even just to watch from the sidelines. A position where I can do all that, fly home, and get picked up by someone I love who actually understands it all, maybe even more than I do. I don't know how I got to this point, but I am so, so thankful for everything, for every opportunity, and no matter what happens on a day-to-day basis, I know that I'm lucky, and probably luckier than I deserve.
I love my life.