1987 was the inaugural year for Ahsahta Press, an all-poetry publisher at Boise State University with the deft slogan, “Poetry Is Art.” Their focus was on highlighting and preserving works of poetry from the American West, and in that first year they published a slim volume by Michigan-born but Utah-enchanted Wyn Cooper, “The Country of Here Below.” 500 copies were printed; not all were sold.
Six years later, one of those copies had journeyed to Cliff’s used bookstore in Pasadena, California, where it was purchased by Bill Bottrell. Bottrell, a music producer, brought the collection with him to an informal weekly gathering that he and a group of musician friends had dubbed “Tuesday Music Club.” One of their members, a Missouri singer/songwriter on the heels of a disappointingly scrapped debut album, had a strong melody but disliked the working lyrics. They leafed through the poems, stumbled upon “Fun” and the iconic, Grammy Award-winning “All I Wanna Do” was born.
The feel-good anthem was released on April 4, 1994. I’m certain the folks at A&M Records didn’t plan for the song to first air on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, but it soon proved precipitous for the Seattle Mariners (though that game ended in a walk-off loss to close out the inaugural rubber match at Jacobs Field).
“All I wanna do is have a little fun before I die” / Says the man next to me out of nowhere
On the surface, the Mariners 1994 record looks unimpressive: 49-63 and third in the four-team AL West. But thanks to some divisional mediocrity, that put them just two games back from first place with - supposedly - a month and a half left to play. Two of their future Hall of Famers were having seasons that crystallized their Cooperstown trajectories, with Randy Johnson leading the league in strikeouts and complete games, and Ken Griffey Jr. was crushing a league-leading 40 dingers in his golden season (like a golden birthday, but for uni numbers). In the midst of all this, of course, were increasingly hostile negotiations between the owners and the Players’ Association.
As has been the case countless times since, the Mariners and the A’s were the final two teams on the field on August 12, 1994. Randy Johnson threw a complete game, allowing four hits and a single run while the M’s offense tacked on eight. The lights went out at the Coliseum, and neither team would take the field again until April 27, 1995.
And Billy likes to peel the labels from his bottles of Bud / He shreds them on the bar then he lights every match / In an oversized pack letting each one burn / Down to his thick fingers before blowing and cursing them out / And he’s watching the bottles of Bud / As they spin on the floor
Generally speaking, the Montreal Expos are regarded as the primary team victim of the 1994 strike - they led all of baseball with their 74-40 record and subsequently had to dismantle their stellar team before the (delayed) start of the 1995 season. The Mariners were lucky in many ways; they were able to build upon their simmering success in ‘94 with a powerhouse ‘95 season that became the stuff of city legend. But the what-ifs will always linger - louder still as each season has passed in World Series futility.
When the Mariners placed Julio Rodríguez on their 40-man roster this past November, it was cause for celebration. After four years of Julio powering through the minors and up the rankings, enduring injuries and flaunting the naysayers, this move had him teetering on the precipice of his dream - a dream inexorably entangled with the dreams of countless others in Seattle and beyond.
In 1994, another homegrown young phenom was on the rise. Alex Rodriguez (no relation), the M’s first overall pick in the 1993 draft, soared through his first few months as a pro and made his major league debut in July. 10 days before the strike, the Mariners sent him down to Triple A where he was able to finish his season, however Rodriguez was denied the opportunity for a September call-up and his chance at a ‘95 big league season was delayed.
Now, as negotiations (though one-sided conversations might be a better term) have stalled and the cancellation of games has moved from a possibility to a certainty, that November move Seattle made hangs heavy ‘round our necks. This franchise has an incredible amount of talent ready to cement themselves as household names like A-Rod, The Big Unit and The Kid were doing all those years ago. That players like Julio, Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert are so young only adds to the agony of the wait. This moment is what we rebuilt for.
Otherwise the bar is ours / The day and the night and the car wash, too / The matches, and the Buds, and the clean and dirty cars / The sun and the moon
Classic Mariners, right? Take something with the shiniest, most precious hope and just trample all over it. But this is not the Mariners collective we typically refer to. This is on ownership and the league. On those who have been tasked with stewarding this game we love and who, time and again, have approached baseball with a vile, apathetic greed.
This city came alive last September and October. Fans Believed with a fervor that shook the corner of Edgar and Dave, and after the team’s run came to an end, and all the tears were shed, the familiar “Wait ‘till next year” refrain rang out with a hopeful, genuine tone. All that fun momentum ground to a halt weeks if not months ago. Now we’re simply being ground down, our foundational love for the game crumbling while a growing vitriol for the business rises from that dust. It is a unique cruelty to willfully withhold fun; one that will not be easily forgotten by players or fans alike.
All I wanna do is have some fun / Until the sun comes up / Over Santa Monica Boulevard
Wyn Cooper has carved out a relatively successful career as a poet and academic, but he’s never recaptured the mainstream magic that Crow’s voice and melody brought to his debut collection. More than 20 years after Cooper first published “Fun,” he penned “Chaos is the New Calm,” which closes with the following lines:
Fetid harbor harbor me
until someone is free
to drive me away
from what happened today.
Don’t strand me standing here.
If you leave, leave beer.