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About Last Night: Love in the Time of COVID

An electric connection after a year in the dark

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

As metaphors go, this one was particularly heavy-handed.

In April of 2020, I blew the dust off my car and ventured out for the longest trip I’d taken since my trip to Spring Training the month before had come to an abrupt, unceremonious end. There was no yeast to be found anywhere in my part of the city, so I was driving over to Queen Anne to pick some up from a friend who had smartly ordered an economy pack online when the stay-at-home orders were first issued. On the way there, following GPS directions for a drive I’ve made dozens of times, I passed the shuttered West Seattle Bridge, still and silent as it hulked over the Duwamish, an enormous concrete barrier between what we’d jokingly started calling “the island of West Seattle” and the rest of the city. Zipping along on the empty highway, I passed T-Mobile Park, similarly eerily quiet, the baseball season on indefinite hold. I wondered if there would be a baseball season at all that year, what I’d do with the site if there wasn’t. I wondered how much longer I’d be driving on these empty roads and seeing people for more than a few minutes at a time, masked and distanced, shouting at each other from either side of our cars in an empty parking lot. It felt incomprehensibly lonely.

A year and a half later, still masked and now vaccinated, I stood with 17 thousand other people in T-Mobile and felt the 200 level literally vibrating with excitement as chants filled the stadium, everyone’s voices lifted as one. If the sound had a color it was golden, shimmering, the same color as the BELIEVE signs frantically waving from left field; it hovered over the stadium. It drove back the early darkness of a late September night, pressing against the concrete roof of the stadium and threatening to blow it right off, huff and puff, there is no house that can be built that can withstand this outpouring of joy.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember feeling like anything could happen? Do you remember hope? Do you remember joy? Everything has been sunk in cold concrete for over a year. We’ve read death tolls that mount along with our fears, we’ve watched the world burning, figuratively and literally. We’ve felt scared, and we’ve felt small, and we’ve felt so, so lonely. We’ve wondered if or when this will stop. If or when it will get better. We’ve celebrated small wins with a desperate, determined joy and mourned bigger, innumerable losses.

Last night though, last night it didn’t just feel like anything could happen, it felt like it would. Like stealing a moment alone with someone after your eyes meet across a crowded room. Like a stranger asking you to dance. Like striking up a conversation with someone at the grocery store as you both study the tomatoes. All these moments of human connection that we’ve missed over the past year and a half, all these little sparks that could grow into new opportunities, or just the warming glow of being seen by someone, of feeling connected to another marble rolling around on this vast, unknowable planet. The feeling of being bigger than just your lonely, scared little self. The joy of possibility. The belief that a good thing could happen, and would.

And did.

I don’t record every at-bat, or even every pitch; unless it’s a minors game and there’s no other video available, the professionally produced stuff will give you the full experience better than some crummy video shot on a phone. But it felt like something good was about to happen, something big, and so I pulled out my phone, intending to record the crowd reaction, and instead became immersed in the moment itself, in the reaction of the crowd, the wave of emotion rolling across the field, washing from baseline to baseline like Oz turning from black and white to full Technicolor.

The energy spilled over after the game, as “Let’s go Mariners” chants erupted over the crowded concourse, trickled out into the rainy night. A guy ran down the middle of First Avenue, hands outstretched, high-fiving anyone with an open window and willing heart. “My Oh My” blasted from every fifth car, a Wall of Sound competing with the game clips people, already nostalgic for the game they’d just left, played on their phones. “What’s our closer’s name?” the people parked next to me asked. (I went with “Steckenrider” and spared them a lecture on how the 2021 Mariners use bullpen roles.) “STECKENRIDER!” they bellowed into the night, like they were trying to summon him right then and there, Candyman-style, for hugs and high-fives.

The Mariners haven’t often given us the sense that something good was about to happen, and the same can be said of the world outside of T-Mobile Park over the past year-plus. But last night, the belief was palpable, as was the joyful connection of 17 thousand people coming out of a dark year, a dark time, and meeting together under the warm light of these electric Mariners.

According to the team, ticket sales at this weekend are already at around 30,000 per game. I don’t care how you get there; get there if you can.