FPF: Sixteen innings of big-city independence

In the spring of 1991, the choir from my rural Eastern Washington high school was scheduled to tour the west side of the state. As our trip was due to intersect with a Mariners home stand against the Yankees, some of us asked the authorities if we might be able to attend a game in the Kingdome. The authorities assented, and a busload of choir members signed up to purchase tickets for seats above the left-field wall.

Five of us freshmen, however, felt the outfield vantage point a bit farther out than our gourmand M's fandom could handle. We asked whether closer seats might be available, and, for an extra $10 each, were given an opportunity to obtain seats nine or 10 rows up from third base.

After we gave a concert that Sunday, our touring bus delivered us at the 'Dome. Proving to be propitious, there was an oversight: None of the trip chaperones had sprung for the seat upgrade. Meaning the Third Base Five would essentially be on our own, in the big city, without direct adult supervision. For the first time in our lives, we'd be free to do whatever — eat whatever, buy whatever, say whatever — we wanted, in a public place, almost entirely free of oversight by authority figures.

As teens often are, we choristers — those in the outfield and those of us by third — were very vocal throughout the game. We whooped when favorite players came up, yelled and booed at the umps' ridiculous calls, and screamed whenever the Mariners scored and made big plays in the field.

The game was tight, with runs at a premium; at the end of nine innings, it was tied at 2. Some ticket-holders a few rows ahead of us packed up their gear and exited the premises for the night. Our eyes lit up at the sight of the empty seats closer to the action. As there was nobody to tell us "no," we moved up.

Amazing! We were now close enough to see the expressions on the players' faces: the elation by Steve Sax as he crossed the plate in the top of the 12th with the Yankees' go-ahead third run; the similar emotion by Harold Reyonds in the bottom of the frame, as the future boring color commentator — whose own errors had contributed to Sax's score — delivered Matty Sinatro home from second on a clutch single.

The game stretched on and it was getting pretty late. We had a concert scheduled for the next morning, so we figured the chaperones were wanting to round up the group and head for the bus. However, we also knew — in these pre-cellphone days — it would be extremely difficult for any authority figures to get in touch with us. Presuming the bus would not leave without the full group, we five vowed to stick it out until the game's end.

Each half-inning saw us more punch-drunk with the elation of our newfound independence and a solid performance by the home pitching staff. Young, dumb and full of … whatever … we gyrated, sang along and hammed it up to the stadium music between innings; when we returned home, someone told me they'd seen video of us during ESPN's recap of the game.

And as the night wore on — 13, 14, 15 innings — so did the patience of the fans in front of us. As seats were vacated, we continued to inch toward the field. By the top of the 16th, the five of us were in the front row, enjoying the unanticipated best view of our lives.

In that inning, the Yankees plated their fourth run when Kevin Maas homered off future Mariner broadcaster and emotionless robot Bill Krueger. Nonplussed, the home team mounted a comeback in the bottom of the frame.

Two of the smallest Mariners came up huge: "Little O" Vizquel doubled to right, then "Pee-Wee" Briley hit a miraculous walk-off, two-run homer to right field. I can still close my eyes and see it sailing out, one of the two long balls he would hit that year. The game was over. At five hours, 31 minutes, it was the new longest contest in Kingdome history.

Afterward, as we sat in the bus in the stadium parking lot, waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, we saw a crowd gather around a nearby car. With nothing else to do, we went out to see what was going on. It turned out Mariners outfielder (and former Yankee) Henry Cotto was in the driver's seat, with a fine-looking shorty next to him. We asked him for an autograph, but since none of us could produce a writing utensil, we settled for a round of gentlemanly handshakes.

We somehow made it to our bunk for the night — the floor of a high-school gym — and crashed in our sleeping bags somewhere between 1 and 2 a.m.

A few hours later, in exchange for our room and board, we were expected to provide a choral concert at a school assembly. But with so many of the singers having screamed their heads off at the game, we were unable to even make a croak. The resulting shitshow was probably the worst group performance I've ever been a part of.

The "concert" over, we retreated to our bus and headed back across the state to the Walla Walla Valley. Our tour had ended with a whimper, but we didn't much care: Despite ruining our voices for a week to come, we had gotten to explore our independence, been witness to a Kingdome milestone, and literally got our hands on a Major League Baseball player. Life — at that point — could not possibly get any better.