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On baseball and belonging

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Or, how I learned to love the M's

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

(Ed's note: We are incredibly proud and excited to introduce Olivia Hummer as a member of our staff. Olivia follows the Mariners while living in California, and despite that sounding insane, we've found her to be a very reasonable human. We are so happy she has joined us as a contributor. Welcome, Olivia!)

I have a lifelong penchant for rooting on out-of-state teams. That's how I came to love the Mariners.

Maybe it's because, when it comes to sports, my hometown of Los Angeles seems to have too many options or none at all. Over time, I've latched on to distant clubs, spending most of my time looking like the odd man out. It's hard missing nearly every home game, but it's even harder to be completely detached from any sense of a hometown fanbase. I'm always in the minority, cheering on the visitors when my team comes to town. There's no one to talk to about the game the next morning.

This past summer, I saw my first game at Safeco.

I was staying with my boyfriend (hi Sam!) for the weekend, and while he patiently guided me to all of the tourist traps - Space Needle, Aquarium, Pike Place - we both knew that the crown jewel of the weekend would be Nelson Cruz Bobblehead Night in Safeco Field. The M's had been all over the place, alternating wins and losses for what felt like months, but it didn't matter, because I was finally going to see them in flesh and blood and a home uniform.

In California, I was always self-conscious about my Mariners fandom because people treated me like an outsider, or worse, a traitor. When I first arrived in Seattle, I felt the same nervousness but for a different reason. Would I be seen as a fake fan for not having grown up in the PNW? Would my dedication be questioned? Suddenly I felt like an impostor, and I didn't know how to fix it.

I kept these concerns to myself as I got dressed that morning, pulling on my Kyle Seager shirsey and M's cap while debating whether wearing my Mariners earrings would officially cross the line into Too Much. When I got off the bus in Seattle, I quickly learned there was no such thing.

As I spent the day wandering through the city, fans were everywhere. Nearly everyone I passed was wearing a shirt and cap that looked just like mine: navy and northwest green. Strangers smiled at me, and as cliché as it sounds, there was a special energy in the air. It was warm but cloudy and a light rain was starting to fall. People milled about, grabbing hot coffee and ice cream on the way to the game. We were all just killing time before the main event.

I made my way into the stadium, getting my first look at the perfectly manicured field. I was caught off guard by a sudden feeling of community. Under the lights, we were all cheering for the same ragtag group of guys, reveling in the scent of garlic fries as the retractable roof rolled closed and singing along to ‘Louie Louie.'

And of course, the game itself was beautiful.

It was Iwakuma's second start since returning from the DL, and while his first had been worrying at best, this one was a sight to see. Looking back, maybe Kuma's eight shut-out innings were a premonition of the no hitter he would toss exactly one month and one day later, but it sort of felt like the Mariners were showing off just for me.

The first inning was rough, but Kuma made it out. Nelson Cruz made one of the best catches of his career, Trumbo batted in two runs...it was a night of improbabilities and the Mariners won 5-0. The fans were there through it all, cheering whenever that certain CRACK echoed off of a Mariner bat.

By the time the game ended, I had no doubt I belonged.

It wasn't about geography; it was about shared experiences. These people around me had gone through the same ups and downs. They'd felt the pain of the late-June slump, the highs of recent wins, the hope that the All Star break could breathe some life back into this wonderful, frustrating, inconsistent team. I no longer felt uncomfortable in my support; we were all shameless together.

Now I'm here, writing about baseball on the internet -- talk about shameless. The Mariners are playing their home opener tomorrow, and when Robinson Cano hits his fifth home run over the wall at Safeco, it's going to take me back to my first (and only) time there. I'll remember the crowds and the smiles and the misty rain and the roof but, above all, the sense of community. I'll remember where everyone is gathering. Where Dave meets Edgar.

Where, this year, dreams might finally meet reality.

Go M's