I’m at my first Mariners game with my parents on my first birthday. The box score tells me it was a resounding win, but being a toddler, I do not remember anything from the game. The city of Seattle is alight, all eyes glued to a playoff chase for the ages, one that will eventually be told and retold as cold comfort for decades to come. The seed, however unaware of it I am, is planted.
I’m halfway through first grade and at FanFest. Not at Safeco, mind you, in some nondescript convention center. The M’s didn’t win a title - or even a pennant - in 2001, but that was okay with me. Bret Boone is my favorite player, my first favorite player. He’s scheduled to make an appearance and answer questions. Even after playing T-ball and coach pitch for three years, I still don’t love baseball, but I do love Bret Boone. He takes the stage. I’m awestruck. Eventually, he and the other Mariner they have with him open the field to questions. My hand shoots up, just one in a sea.
Miraculously, I’m called on. I squeak out into the mic, “How did it feel hitting 37 home runs?” Boone responds, “Well, I wanted 38.” The crowd laughs in that laugh one does when humoring a child. I don’t care, though: I asked Bret Boone a question and he responded. My attention towards the team begins to wane as the year goes on, but still that seed ever-so-slightly grows.
Both fourth grade and my Pee-Wee baseball season are coming to a close. There’s no longer any joy (if there ever was, frankly) in playing ball for me: I would much rather focus on the important things in life, like Pokémon, Neopets and RuneScape. I tell my parents I don’t want to play baseball anymore. They understand. A weight I didn’t quite know was there lifts off my shoulders.
I still attend the occasional Mariners game, and look back fondly on when Ichiro broke the single-season hits record at the end of last year, but I’m far more concerned about getting a ball or some cotton candy than the product on the field at this point. The seed hasn’t quite been killed, but rather stuck in neutral. It stays like that for a while.
I’m fourteen, a few weeks out from starting high school, and wishing more and more every day I could go back and tell my ten-year-old self to stick with baseball. I’m not exactly sure why the Mariners as a whole - not just Bret Boone, not just the cotton candy - piqued my interest for the first time in my life. Maybe it was the return of Ken Griffey, Jr. Maybe it was the 7-2 start they got off to in April. Maybe it was the first year of Félix Hernández being Félix Hernández start-to-finish. All questions I cannot answer, but that seed has fully sprouted and is growing every day.
Today I head home from a sleepover, and my dad has tickets to tonight’s game against the White Sox. It’s a real whale of a pitching matchup in Félix against Mark Buehrle, and it lives up to every bit of hype - Félix goes seven with ten strikeouts, while Buehrle goes eight with three. Neither allow a run, but that might not have been the case if not for Ichiro gunning down Jayson Nix at the plate to end the fifth inning. Each bullpen was emptied out, as the zeroes extended further and further into extras. The me of even one year ago would have been bored to tears at this point. Now, however, I’m hooked.
The tension builds, and builds, and builds. Who’s going to blink first? The bottom of the fourteenth rolls around. Tony Peña is summoned from Chicago’s bullpen. He sandwiches an Adrián Beltré single between two quick outs, and walks Jack Hannahan to move Beltré into scoring position. Griffey is on to pinch-hit, and I feel it in my bones that he’ll come through. He sends a 1-2 pitch into the right-field corner, more than deep enough to easily score Adrián. I leap into my dad’s arms. I fall in love with baseball, and I know in my heart of hearts it’s for life. The seed has fully blossomed.
I’m sitting in the garage with my dad, listening to the bottom of the ninth inning in the car. I’m fifteen now, and this season came with the weight of ~expectations~. I mean, you don’t trade for Cliff Lee and not expect to make a run at the playoffs. Lee, sadly, is on the injured list thanks to a strained abdomen suffered in spring training, but the hope is he’ll be back soon.
It’s been a bit of a slow start to the year for the M’s, sitting at 9-8 in the second game of a three-game set with the White Sox - this time in the South Side. They took a two-run lead in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for Doug Fister to earn a much-deserved win after tossing eight innings of two-run ball. David Aardsma is shaky, allowing a one-out solo shot to Paul Konerko, but I keep the faith. He gets A.J. Pierzynski on a flyball to center, and walks Carlos Quentin. Still in reach. Alex Ríos, though, has other plans.
He mashes a 1-1 pitch over the left-field wall to seal the Mariners’ fate, and I’m inconsolable. The tears flowing, I curse Aardsma, the home plate umpire (despite never actually seeing the strike zone), and Fister’s tough-luck fate. An outsized reaction, for sure, but I’ve always been a bit sensitive, and any heartbreak is always the worst the first time you experience it.
I eventually calm down, and make an account for this really neat Mariners site I found thanks to it being linked on Yahoo Sports. Lookout Landing is a bit of an odd name, though.
I’m soaking up the last few weeks of summer before my senior year of high school, walking around downtown Seattle and the waterfront with my friend Asher, who is himself headed to college in the next month or so. Asher isn’t a baseball fan, but that’s more than okay with me. We’d long been bonded over similar senses of humor and a shared love of music, and knowing that it would soon be a lot tougher to spend time with him, it’s an easy call to put the M’s on hold, even with Félix on the mound.
During our hang, my phone periodically buzzes. It’s my dad. “Perfect through 5”. “Perfect through 6”. I’m in disbelief, trying to keep my cool as we kill time in Target. Then, the big one. “Perfect through 8. Find a TV”. I all but drag Asher along with me, in desperate search of any screen to watch the bottom of the ninth.
We finally find a bar that has the game on, but we’re legally not allowed in. We sit on a bench, my eyes glued on the TV through a window. Félix does it.
I whoop and holler, and Asher, being the kind, patient soul he is, humors me. I’m thankful that I got to see the King perform his best feat yet, with a good friend by my side.
Newly twenty, I’m just starting my sophomore year of college at Evergreen, still absolutely reeling from an ugly breakup a few weeks ago. Simply put, I’m not in a very good place. Thankfully, the Mariners have actually been pretty good this season: in fact, some days over the summer they were all I had to hang onto. Robinson Canó being here certainly helps, too. There’s even a chance of... playoffs? For real? The chance is slim, to be clear. For even a shot at Game 163, they have to win their last four games while the A’s lose their last four. Oh, and Oakland is finishing the year against the lowly Texas Rangers. Yeah, good luck with that.
But then a strange thing happened. Somehow, the last three games have all broken our way - a more than welcome distraction. I didn’t watch Friday’s game, instead opting for a house party that coincidentally fell on my birthday, but last night’s game? Oh, that is my new all-time favorite. The LoMo double, Austin Jackson barely beating out a double play to seal the win... I’m smiling as my new friend Ethan and I are on the first of three buses from Olympia up to Safeco Field to perhaps see the impossible. Ethan is just as big of a baseball nerd as I am - a godsend at TESC - and I’m happy both that he’s here with me and that a mutual friend introduced us to each other via social media over the summer.
We get to the ballpark not long before first pitch, and Félix is as dynamite as I’ve ever seen him. He wants this, and by God is he doing everything in his power to drag the M’s into October. After two innings, he’s already racked up four Ks, and Michael Saunders gives him the lead with an RBI double in the bottom of the second. It’s all Félix will need, of course, but this time the bats decide to be generous and tack on three more in the fourth on the backs of another Condor double and a two-run knock from Mike Zunino. This time, Félix is Félixing, and the Mariners are not Marinering.
Still, there’s a sense of unease. I can’t help myself from stealing glances at the out-of-town scoreboard, and the Rangers finally seem to run out of gas. By the fifth inning, the A’s have won, ending any hopes of a storybook ending. Still, the crowd applauds. Lloyd comes out to take the ball from Félix in the sixth, wiping a tear from his eye. I do, as well.
It’s been an eventful past couple of years for me. I left Evergreen in 2015 after my mental health cratered, moving out to North Bend with my then-girlfriend and three adopted cats. Well, I’ve been back in Seattle since April, that relationship is no more, and I now have two cats. Things are looking up, though. I’ve been seeing someone new for a few months, I’ve become a seasoned commenter on LL (albeit with some, uh, mixed results), and I’m finally, actually writing about baseball. Just FanPosts, mind you, but it’s fun to notice a pattern, wait for a suitable sample size, and dive into the meaning, if any, behind it. Getting front-paged on LL is definitely an ego boost, too. I might have cursed Chris Iannetta, but I guess they can’t all be winners.
And hey, once again the Mariners are good after a forgettable season the year before! It’s once again a Game 161, win-or-die situation for playoff hopes. I snag tickets, only sitting in my assigned seat for a few innings before making my way to the Pen, in search of LLers and my new Mariners Twitter friends.
What follows is the wildest game I’ve seen in my life. Towering, clutch home runs from both Canó and Nelson Cruz? Check. A tense back-and-forth between the M’s and the hated Oakland A’s? You got it. Late-inning heroics thanks to newbies Mike Freeman (man can I still picture that double down the line that juuuuust stayed fair) and Ben Gamel? Honestly, that may have been my favorite part.
It’s not meant to be, though. The game heads to extras with both teams at eight runs, and Joey Wendle strikes the killing blow with an RBI double in the tenth. Gamel does lead off the bottom of the frame with a base hit and takes second on a wild pitch, but the triumvirate of Canó, Cruz, and Kyle Seager can’t get it done. The A’s ruin our playoff hopes once again. I start tearing up in the Jack in the Box drive thru after the game.
I hug my dad and leave the Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles with a heavy heart, knowing that I’ve almost certainly seen my grandmother for the last time. It’s been a difficult time lately: we said goodbye to our beloved family dog way too soon thanks to rapid kidney failure just three days into the new year, and now this just a few months later? I worry about Dad as I get into my car and start the long drive home, the first leg being east on the 101. My phone’s dead. Shit.
I flip to 710 on the radio, desperately hoping for a distraction. Last I had seen, the Angels had scored six runs in the top of the sixth inning to make it 6-4 - although Guillermo Heredia made a truly spectacular catch in the midst of it. Sure, I guess this is the game today deserves. I make it past Sequim and start heading south, half-paying attention to the action on the field, half-feeling bad for Emilio Pagán that his big league debut went so poorly. Anything to distract myself from reality.
As the road gets darker and windier, Nellie leads off the bottom of the eighth with a strikeout. Rick mentions Blake Parker has taken over for Anaheim, and I chuckle as I remember his one appearance with the M’s last year. Kyle and Danny Valencia knock back-to-back singles, and a Guillermo groundout moves them both up. My interest level perks up. Taylor Motter - whose torrid April brought me some pretty sweet vindication - comes in to pinch hit for Mike Z, and he battles Parker for seven pitches before working a walk (more vindication!) to load the bases for Jarrod Dyson. I love Dyson. His elite center field defense, blazing speed on the basepaths, and smooth confidence (“Wherever I go, the champagne flow”) won me over in a heartbeat, even though I had been sad to see Nate Karns go. He could be hitting a little better, but hey, that’s not really what he was brought in for.
Dyson falls behind 0-2 before blooping a fly ball into right field to bring both Seager and Valencia home, and because that’s what speed does, he makes a double out of it. It proves crucial, too, as Jean Segura sneaks a base hit through the hole to bring him and Motter home. Two outs. Four runs. Mariners lead 8-6. I’m hooting, hollering, and honking alone on the highway. Edwin Díaz has been a bit more mortal this year, and he does allow a home run to Kole Calhoun in the top of the ninth, but he holds on and puts the finishing touches on the best win of the season so far. Thanks, baseball gods. I really needed that today.
December 4th, 2017
2017 is nearly over, and I’m ready to see the end of it. Two close family members passing away was pretty brutal, breaking up is never fun (though this time I handle it in a much healthier way), and another mediocre Mariners season? Blech.
It hasn’t been a total loss, though. I started a new job at this cool cupcake and coffee shop, and moved out of my folks’ house for good and into an apartment with two close friends. I’m on my computer in my room, getting ready for bed, and I get a text that changes my life.
I do a double-take. I can’t believe what I’m reading. ME? Writing for LOOKOUT LANDING? ACTUALLY? I’m doing backflips! I think back to my worst posting days: the rose saga and the whiskey in Mountain Dew night come to mind first. I imagine what the general reaction would be if I proclaimed I’d be a writer here back in 2013, and conjure up hysterical laughter. I can’t blame anyone. Hell, I don’t quite believe it either.
I’m in what will probably be the final King’s Court with Maple Grove, LL, and M’s Twitter friends, as well as my girlfriend. We’ve been dating for nearly a year now, and are starting to talk about logistics of moving in together. I’m also still with the cupcake and coffee company, but now in a different location as the assistant manager. Every so often, I stop and am thankful for this newfound feeling of stability I’ve had lately - I guess it’s true after all that you don’t really stop maturing until you’re 25.
It’s not going great for Félix tonight - it frankly hasn’t gone great for him most nights the past two years. He wiggles out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning allowing just one run, and treats us to his first strikeout of the evening in the second, following it up with a point over to the Court. We roar in approval. Alas, that high was short-lived. Marcus Semien immediately gets aboard via a walk, and Matt Chapman continues his reign of terror against the M’s with a big home run to left to make it 3-0. Félix walks the tightrope over three more innings, and very nearly falls off in the fifth. An error, single, and walk load the bases with two outs, and Chad Pinder rockets a line drive to left-center field. Dylan Moore makes a blind leap of faith, and... and...
Scott comes to get Félix with one out in the sixth, and I feel that lump in my throat. All of those years where he was the only thing worth watching on the team, me dragging Asher around the waterfront to catch the end of his perfecto, him putting the team on his back in the 2014 and 2016 runs... then I see he’s crying, and the floodgates open. I’m ugly sobbing in the Court, hugging friends, my girlfriend, and strangers. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and I don’t want to be anywhere else in this moment. Félix, you’re ours. You’re always ours.
I awake feeling straight up giddy. Like, kid on Christmas morning giddy. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. Even though I’ve been the manager for nearly three years now, I’m unfocused all through my work day. Several customers excitedly talk to me about the M’s, and my favorite regular tells me to have fun at the game. Yeah, it’s really happening. The magic number is one! It could very well happen tonight!
After a quick stop at home to freshen up and spend some time with my fiancée, I’m off to my parents’ house to pick up my dad. I’m glad I had the foresight to buy these tickets on Tuesday night before the scalpers got to them. We drive from West Seattle to Beacon Hill, and I show him my preferred method of getting to and from the games - parking near the light rail station and taking the train just two stops over to the stadiums. We stop at Al’s for Seattle dogs before heading into T-Mobile, doing a lap around the concourse before heading up our seats in 308. Dad remarks that he can’t remember the last time he got to the park this early. We laugh. The sun is in our eyes right up until about first pitch.
Dylan and Ty instantly combine to take the lead in the bottom of the first, but Shea Langeliers strikes right back with a mammoth home run to tie. Thank goodness Luis Torrens threw out Conner Capel trying to steal about a minute earlier. Logan and Ken Waldichuk trade zeros - Waldichuk’s pitch mixing and velocity separation impresses us both, but we’re antsy for more runs.
Baltimore wins. The unclenching isn’t upon us just yet.
The M’s get into Oakland’s bullpen after Waldichuk makes it through five, but can’t do any damage through eight. LoGi, on the other hand, joins Luis Castillo as the only Mariners to throw eight innings in a start this season. Matt Brash destroys worlds in the ninth, and Cal sends us all to the promised land.
It’s storybook shit. I’m screaming, hugging strangers before grabbing Dad in a bear hug to end all bear hugs. I don’t want to let go. There’s no one I wanted to be with in this moment more. The tears are delayed, to my surprise: they don’t fall until we’re driving home. I think back over the past thirteen years - discovering this beautiful community, writing for this beautiful community, how far I’ve come as a writer and human since diving headfirst into this silly baseball team as an eighth-grader, and the tears start again. I imagine they’ll be coming back for quite a while this October.
Thanks, everyone. Please, feel free to contribute some of your own journey through fandom in the comments. Much love to you all, now and forever.