Many fans have chosen their fan persona and stick with it through thick and thin. There are unfailing optimists who always find the bright side of every loss and every terrible season. There are the unflinching cynics, who trade in sarcastic asides and view every roster move with the suspicion of a retired interrogator who has seen only the worst of humanity. There are fans who drive in a stake and set up shop at any point along the spectrum. While circumstances can alter the exact expression of feelings, for the most part I’ve found fans tend to fall where they fall.
I careen between the two extremes; sometimes I am a naïve, believing, and irrational optimist. I actively search for the positive. I want to be happy and sunny and believe that my team will win, or at least inch closer to winning. Sometimes I am the morose pessimist. I find joy in the darkness of a depressing team. I feed off the woes of terrible losses and come to life with every way I find to twist a good situation into a bad situation. For all my careening the one element that has remained consistent for most of my fandom is a steadfast belief in miracles.
I blame that belief on the events of this day, 23 years ago.
In the words of Dave Niehaus it was the “7th game of an 145 game series” (the season was shorter than normal due to the strike). The Seattle Mariners versus the California Angels. Randy Johnson against Mark Langston, the pitcher the Mariners traded to Montreal to acquire the young Unit.
The Mariners could have won just one more game in Texas the weekend before. A couple brutal losses had ensued, but I’d bought into the magic of that September and I didn’t believe for a minute that it was over. I remember telling my dad that they wouldn’t win until they had to.
On October 2nd, 1995 they had to.
It was an afternoon game because why have an important, exciting, division clinching, one team goes to the playoffs, one team goes home game at a time when people were home from work? Or, as in my case, home from school? My parents, dictators of the importance of education and not skipping school, did not allow me to stay home to watch. (I won’t say I’m still mad about it, but I also have not forgotten about it.)
The bus driver was playing the game over the radio as the bus ambled through the bus stops on an excruciating journey home. I raced from my bus stop, sprinting the four blocks (uphill, I should add) home to the tv where I could watch the game. I turned on ESPN to find a tight game. No runs and only a few Mariner hits. Randy Johnson was throwing a perfect game he would maintain until the sixth inning.
My brother came home from school about 30 minutes later and together we jeered the Angels and taunted them from our living room, calling Tim Salmon “Fishy Boy”, and speculating whether Chili Davis Chili and J.T. Snowcones were concession options at the Big A (and pondering the gastrointestinal effects of consuming said chili). The tv was muted and we listened to the broadcast on the radio, living and dying by every pitch narrated by Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs.
Vince Coleman, one of my most happily remembered Mariners to this day, drove in Dan Wilson for the first run in the fifth inning. It was all happening. Then Luis Sojo grounded in a double play to end the threat. We were pleased with the run, but worried at losing a scoring opportunity against a pitcher who was On. Two innings later with Mike Blowers on third, Tino Martinez on second, and Joey Cora on first Luis Sojo stepped to the plate with two outs and a chance at redemption.
All these years later, I can slow it down to that moment. The intense energy of the crowd; the silent expectancy and apprehension in our living room. Bases loaded, two outs, a game two-thirds of the way over. The first playoff game in franchise history hanging in the tense air in the most important baseball game we’d ever watched our team play. The culmination of the magical September run. We’d waited our entire lives for this; me, 13 years, my brother 10 years. We knew our lifelong suffering would either end or continue based on this at-bat.
It’s a feeling where your entire body is numb and you can’t tell your big toe from your elbow, and yet ever single cell is dancing anxiously. You have a tunnel vision, hearing only the sounds of the crowd and the voices of the broadcasters, and seeing only the tv in front of you. It is quiet. It is loud. You are nauseous with nervous energy. You are calm. You believe so hard. You are more scared than you ever imagined you could be.
Sojo’s bat broke and died after a little flip in front of home plate. The batted ball found its way fair down the line, getting momentarily stuck under the bullpen bench. Mariners raced across the plate; three runs had scored. The ball was dug out from under the bench and launched toward home. Sojo, maybe thinking he had nothing to lose, maybe overestimating his spryness in the heat of the moment and running on the purest adrenaline of his career, raced toward home when Langston’s wild relay throw allowed Joey Cora to score.
Sojo jumped into a victory crouch, letting out a primal scream in front of a supine Mark Langston as he was called safe.
It was officially scored a double and an error, but even in 1995 we knew that errors were dumb stats. My brother and I immediately called it an inside the park grand slam. Whatever it’s called, it was pure unadulterated magic. I can still hear the frantic screams erupting from us as the ball sped toward the bullpen and the joyous yelps as each Mariner crossed the plate. I remember seeing Langston fall back onto the ground next to the plate, a look of dazed devastation on his face. I remember us letting loose primal yells to match Sojo as we watched Langston sink into the home plate dirt. It was over. The Mariners could not be stopped.
We’ve seen that highlight and heard Rizz’s famous “Everybody scores!” call a thousand times. The 1995 season has been honored and remembered and revered for so long it sometimes feels a little eye-rolly to bring it up. However, it has sustained me in the 23 years since.
The other playoff appearances didn’t feel like that. They were expected and they were special. They were not magic. They were not miracles.
2018 started and the Mariners played like a team driven by magic. They felt like they could feel like a miracle. They felt like they might be the team, against all odds and weird offseason decisions, that would make us feel that feeling we felt when Luis Sojo stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
Whatever it was the 2018 version of our team had in the first half, they lost it in the second half. We were left with only an Edwin Diaz saves record and discontent. For all its highs, 2018 left us with devastating lows.
Yesterday morning I watched a bit of the Brewers-Cubs game. I felt acutely the atmosphere and the tension. I remember what that felt like 23 years ago today. For all the lows of the last 17 years, and there have been too many to remember, for all the disappointments, for all my careening between ridiculous optimism and petulant pessimism, I still remember that feeling. I still believe that I will feel that again. Maybe next year. Maybe the year after, when another broadcaster can proclaim that “19 long years of frustration is over!”
Maybe never. Maybe that was the best thing I’ll ever feel watching baseball. Maybe so. But I have this belief that we’ll see a miracle again someday. That will never waiver.
Maybe it’s why I still love the Mariners.
The My Oh My video of highlights from the 1995 season. It should start playing right around the Sojo double/inside the park grand slam.