I meet Charlie and Jack at the bar south of the stadium on Thursday; the Mariners have lost to the Twins 11-6, the first of three such defeats they will suffer over this series (and if I’m using my crystal ball and looking into the future, the fourth; you’re reading this on Sunday, and if we’re being real, if you’re reading it at all, and the Mariners are either losing or about to lose to a significantly better Twins team, probably by five runs or more. This is a recap of the Mariners 18-4 Saturday night loss to the Twins, kind of but not really).
It’s Thursday, and it’s cold for mid-May and raining, and I stopped in here because as I was walking to my car—alone, my heels thunking on the bare patches of the streets where the cobblestones show through like sinew, the connective tissue running under this part of the city, the old bones of Seattle asserting their presence—it started raining harder, and I thought, fuck it, took a hard left, and walked into the bar.
I have my headphones in and don’t hear Charlie at first; I’m listening to an episode of a podcast that has nothing to do with baseball, because even though I am mostly in homework-doing mode with baseball (a sport that demands more homework than most, especially for those of us who did not play), tonight I’m giving myself the night off: the Mariners have been blown out by the Twins, it’s clear it is a rebuilding year, there is much to do in looking to the minors and the draft and the team as it might be in the future, but not as much with the product that’s on the field right now, which is freeing in a way. Things don’t have to be done immediately. There is time to take a breath and listen to a podcast about silly pop songs.
So it takes me a while to notice Charlie gesturing at the corner of my peripheral vision; he probably didn’t notice my earbuds tucked under my hair, either. I pop one out in time to hear him asking, in a slightly panicked voice, if I know about the buses here? And how often they run? Charlie is wearing a Byron Buxton jersey; his father, who introduces himself as Jack, has a Joe Mauer one. Jack looks a little like Jack Palance in City Slickers and I like him immediately. They’re visiting from Montana, they explain. Jack lives in Kalispell; Charlie, Missoula. “Where the young people are,” says Jack, waving a wrinkled hand dismissively. They have next on the pool table, although the balls are stuck and they need a bartender’s key to free them; they look pleadingly towards the bar, but the bartender is busy and the people who had the table before are all studiously avoiding eye contact, like if they just ignore them hard enough the two slightly drunk men in Twins jerseys will poof into the ether. I roll my eyes and flag down a bartender.
Jack and Charlie are Twins fans because for a time, Jack lived in Orlando with a young Charlie and the Twins did their spring training “in their backyard.” Since Montana doesn’t have a professional affiliation, they’ve carried on with the Twins all these years. They’re visiting a friend of Charlie’s who, it turns out, lives about five minutes away from me. After the bartender frees the balls and they play a spectacularly bad game of pool, I find myself offering them a ride, because Charlie is earnest, and Jack looks like Curly, and even though I would prefer to sulk in silence over my bad baseball team, I feel like that’s what a decent person should do, rather than consign them to the whims of the bus service in SoDo late on a Thursday night.
On the drive back over the bridge, the two chat happily about the Twins’ chances this year: they feel good about the team contending in the AL Central. Sure, there was the Wild Card Game in 2017, but before that, the team hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2010—almost a whole decade!—and not to the ALCS since 2002. Four of the last five times they’d been to the ALDS, they’d lost to the Yankees, but maybe not this year, eh? Charlie wants me to know he’s had this Buxton jersey for years; he’s so happy to see him finally flourishing. I say that I am, too, and I mean it. We all opt not to say anything about the Mariners’ relationship with the playoffs, the lights of T-Mobile receding in the rearview window as we cross the bridge. Jack says “she can drive!” as we zoom up the hill, although I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or not.
When we arrive, both Jack and Charlie each try to give me money, which I refuse; they settle for awkward, seatbelt-bound hugs and shoulder pats. They hope to see me at another game over this series; they have tickets for the whole weekend. “Very nice city you have here,” says Jack as he climbs out of the car, and Charlie agrees. They wobble up the stairs to the door, the son supporting the father, the father supporting the son, and I think about how if the Twins do make the playoffs, this will be a story between them: the weekend trip they took to Seattle to see their baseball club play, the nice time they had. Maybe they will remember the stranger who gave them a ride home and interceded with the bartender on their behalf to get the pool table to work. Probably they won’t. But I hope somewhere in the Twin Cities, many years from now, a mother and her daughter go to see the first-place Mariners take on a rebuilding Minnesota team. I hope they find a local who will listen to them tell a story of following the team through lean times, across time and distance; I hope that person will be as happy for them as I was for Jack and Charlie this night. I hope it’s a story they tell over and over again.