It's relatively difficult to find just exactly the point where this story begins. I'm, admittedly, having trouble contextualizing this season among the catalogue of Mariners Baseball that I have kept running since I was cognizant of the ball team down in SoDo. That collection of memories, of times both at Safeco and afar, contains some amazing moments. There's the Mike Zunino walk-off against the Cubs, listening to The Bunt with my Pops in the car on a sunny afternoon, the Guti Walkoff, the Perfecto, Kuma's No-No, hell, Luis Rodriguez Beats the Yankees. Even Ichiro Takes Rivera Deep is a worthwhile read, if you have time in the dusty space I keep these memories logged. I remember the Logan Morrison Double against the Angels like it was yesterday. Yet, you'll realize something about all of those memories, barring one. They're all scattered throughout meaningless baseball.
For fifteen years we've all collected these moments, all of us will have different ones that we keep closer. I was there for the Zunino single up the gap against the Cubs, for Guti taking flight. I witnessed those crowds in those moments. There was pure joy, absolute elation. But there was something held back, too. It was more ritual than unencumbered emotion. It was still Mariners Baseball. Last night, I was there, but something was different.
To begin, things weren't really that different, being fair. It was a Tuesday night game against the A's in late-May and you could already imagine the crowd size. It wasn't the smallest attendance I've ever seen, and I distinctly remember by the 6th inning looking around me and thinking that the crowd was relatively sizable. It was Bark at the Park Night. I happened to be sitting in a section on the Main Level where the dogs were directly above me in the third deck. When something particularly exciting occurred, a literal pack of dogs howled and barked through the stadium. It was incredibly organic.
Quick aside, I learned something last night at the ballpark. Those flags for every AL team out above left field? Check them next time you're at a game. Someone's job is to keep them in order of standing for the three divisions. Sure enough, on the far-left side of the five flags representing the AL West, lies the Mariners. First place in the AL West. That's where that flag belongs. Think of how long it's been since that flag raiser, that particular job, has had the chance to fly the M's in the pole position?
Back to the plot, the early goings were pretty standard for a Tuesday night against the A's. Khris Davis eventually tied the game at 2-2 and then Coco Crisp did what he does. Things really fell apart there. Seventeen thousand people watched, maybe a couple hundred dogs, and all knew how this thing ended. Maybe the M's would grind out another run to make it interesting, but this was a Tuesday night and that was the A's in the visitor dugout. It was a loss. Simple as that, really.
Yet, once again, I'm sitting towards left field, contextualizing all this in the bottom of the eighth. Sure, the Rangers won, but the M's will still hold first place when we all take a slightly-solemn walk back to our cars. When was the last time that silver lining was included in an M's loss? I feel almost grateful, despite being down three in the eighth and Bob Melvin deciding to play Whack-A-Mole with his bullpen. At this, sure, maybe a few people had gone for the exits, but in all honesty, I was impressed with the fortitude of the crowd.
Behind me is a couple with a small child, the mother clearly steeped in M's tradition. She goes a on lengthy tirade, wondering aloud how the Mariners, who always seem to have plenty of good players, are never a good team. Why do they always fall short of their talent level? She mentions having had no time to follow the squad this year, children, but her belief is not exclusive to her. For years this team has done an excellent job of repelling interest. Of trotting out lineups that you wouldn't have spent a Thursday afternoon in undergrad to go watch, even if your roommate was batting third. She wonders why the Mariners do this to us? I'm smiling, really, when Robinson Cano decides to make things more interesting.
I have an annual bet with one of my best friends from grad school. He, a die-hard A's fan, and I, bet each other a bottle of wine for whose team will end the season with a better record. We have an unfortunately expensive taste in wine, the two of us. It's not a cheap bet. When Robbie leaves the yard, I remember the bottle of Littorai sitting in my wine rack from last year's win. I think I find a purpose for it. Either way, I'm still in the aisle-way, dancing, doing finger guns, high-fiving strangers, and yelling this line from Dark Knight while the canines above sing Cano's glory.
There's a little beer left in my cup, heading to the bottom of the ninth. I look up at that monster of a center field scoreboard and see who's coming up to try to steal just one, stupid run so we can take this to extra frames and battle a mostly-used A's bullpen. Iannetta-O'Malley-Aoki. Not exactly murderers row, but Chris has walked us off before this year. I finish the beer. This is serious. Chris pops out. Shawn grounds out. The game is down to maybe the batter I currently have the very least confidence in on the entire team. From the second deck, from the main level, even from the nosebleeds we can here the visiting fans. LET'S GO OAK-LAND.
Aoki squibs a bloop out to left. Off the bat, I stand up, yelling that it's dropping in. Sure enough, it evades Crisp's glove. Norichicka scoots to second base. The entire stadium is on its feet. Yet, we still just have one out before this is done and dusted. Leonys Martin, center fielder, anti-gravity machine, steps into the box. Alarmingly quickly the count falls to 1-2. LET'S GO OAK-LAND.
I'd like to pause the narrative so that you can get a glimpse into the mind of Leonys Martin. He made it to America by being essentially human-trafficked through Mexico. His escape from Cuba was life-threatening, harrowing, and successful in some miraculous way. It could have gone so much worse. He is a Major League Baseball Player, one of the very best at his position, yet in the offseason, the Texas Rangers traded him to the forgotten team near Alaska for table scraps. Here, he was able to play full-time, to rebound, to have fun with some of his best friends. He was told he was valued again. Edgar Martinez works with him everyday.
What happened next, I don't really remember. I just remember the sound off the bat, turning away from the field, looking where fans were gathering in the right-center field seats, and absolutely losing my shit. It was gone before it ever left the bat.
Absolute pandemonium ensued. I've never seen anything like it before at Safeco. I've seen walk-offs of all sorts there, but I'm telling you, the sixteen-thousand still there, minus whoever made the trip from Oakland, nobody wanted to leave. We all just sort of stood there, hugging, wishing peace to one another. I think I stayed an extra half-hour. Sort of speechless, full of perfume and cologne from others I didn't know. Full of winning. Of belief and of knowing. There was no ritual, there was cacophony. Unbridled joy. The sort of stuff that if you could harness it, put it in a bottle, and share with the entire world, there would be peace on Earth and good will to all. I've never seen what happened in that split second and ensuing half-hour before in my life. It was something new, from a long time ago, for Mariners Baseball.
That bottle of Littorai, it has a purpose. It was won last season when I endured the hardest six months of my life. I feel sort of guilty, reveling in the first place team, when I think back on that past self. Yet, then I look at Leonys, at Robbie, Shawn, Cruz, Felix, and I remember that there is no time for sorrow in this. There is no time for looking back. There is simply a hammer and a nail and a choice you have to make every damn day of your life. And when the Seattle Mariners clinch the AL West in 2016, I'll be drinking that bottle to each and everyone of their health. To yours, too.
And until then, I'll have this to quench my thirst.