"Those are some big ass ships."
When you bring someone to Port Orchard for the first time you take them to the water. The water is the whole reason the small town of 12,000 people exists. The water is where you find the beaches and quaint downtown with local shops and restaurants. That water, Sinclair Inlet, is a stunning foreground to the Olympic Mountain Range. If you find a quiet spot and look just so you can hear Bob Ross happily whispering as he paints what your eyes see. Almost.
But the ships. There's those big ass ships. Everything else tends to lose focus when there are multiple 700-900 foot aircraft carriers, destroyers and, oh yes, somewhere, nuclear powered submarines floating right in front of you. You see the water isn't why the town exists after all. It's the ships. In the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard there are always the ships with enough firepower to start and sustain wars all across the world.
If you're lucky and you catch a ferry that does not stop at Vashon Island you can get to Safeco Field in less than an hour from Port Orchard. But while Seattle continues its rise among great American cities and serves as a beacon of social, technological and environmental progress the South Kitsap region remains largely stuck in a bygone era. The generations of blue collar, unionized labor is the area's first and foremost cultural inheritance and it influences everything. For most of the lucky ones life after high school is a steady paycheck with benefits, holidays and the promise of retirement.
You don't leave Port Orchard. Not for the big city. If you do you damn well remember where you came from. You do NOT under any circumstances cause problems for the fancy urbanites, who are assuredly your betters in almost any way. All you have is your ability to endure and to labor.
You will be polite. You will be grateful. You will not be a problem and you will work your ass off. That is the way to get out. It is the only way to get out.
This is all to explain, if it can be explained, the Ideal that is Willie Bloomquist. You see Willie and I come from the same town. Long before he was 1999's Pac-10 Player of the Year at ASU, even before he led South Kitsap High School to the school's only state championship (he was QB. Of course he was) he was known around town as the kid who's dad built him a baseball field on his property. I remember playing on that field in junior high, awed at the dedication and commitment it took to create. Of course we weren't allowed on that field until after Willie was out of high school. Because Willie was always on it.
Willie was called up my Junior year of college. After his 4-4 game in September of 2002 my parents sent me the front page of the Seattle Times. I put it on the wall of my apartment for a few years. I can still remember that being one of the first times I felt as though someone like me could do something bigger; something beyond our small little town.
Everything about his game represents the values we prize around here. Even that swing; the comically weak, no hip-turn don't-you-dare-let-your-top-hand-off-the-bat follow through swing. That's South Kitsap's former longtime and now deceased baseball coach Elton Goodwin in that swing. That's how we swing. It's how we were all taught. Hit the ball the other way. Run. Work! Work hard or you will fail. And above all don't you dare talk back or cause a problem in the clubhouse. You are nothing. The team is everything.
Of course the good times didn't last for Willie. He was just never all that good of a baseball player. On the internet he is best known as WFB, or "Willie Fucking Bloomquist", a title born out of fan's frustration with his incredible, unending mediocrity. Over time he came to embody almost everything fans disliked about the way the Mariners front office viewed players. While the team easily and eagerly parted ways with talented prospects like Shin-Soo Choo, Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera and on they clung to Bloomquist the way a Baptist clutches a Bible; hoping to be saved by the simple act of contact.
As the franchise's struggles grew more and more vast he became more and more a totem. Here was a white, conservative local boy spending year after year contributing almost nothing on the field, seemingly holding a roster spot to serve as a marketing ploy for your Aunt and Uncle, who also thought that boy Eckstein played the game the right way. By the time he signed with Kansas City in the winter of 2009 even I was relieved.
He came back of course. They always come back. The Mariners needed a utility man coming into last year and they signed Willie. I was a writer at Lookout Landing by then. Lookout Landing! The very place that created "Willie Fucking Bloomquist". I hid my fandom because what was I going to say? Willie Bloomquist was a good baseball player and giving him 2 guaranteed years was a great idea? No. The mob was right. I meekly kept quiet. The arguments of the brain and the heart whizz past each other at very different altitudes. There is no way one will ever notice the other.
I still see those big ass ships every day on my drive to work. Soon the USS Enterprise will join them. She's getting scrapped and it's going to take awhile. The 1200+ foot, 57 year old behemoth was nicknamed the "Mobile Chernobyl" due to originally being built with eight, yes eight, nuclear reactors. The scrapping is scheduled to be complete by 2025. You don't mess around with nuclear reactors you see. My friends, my peers, my little town will work around the clock, ripping away on that connection to the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, Operation Iraqi Freedom and other notable military events of the past century.
Just a small little place, surrounded by unfathomable beauty, ripping apart the relics of the the last century piece by piece and day by day. It's not easy work and it's not particularly fun. All you can do is show up, shut up, get to work, and hope at the end of it all you did something worth a damn.