(Programming note: Posting may be light here for the next week or so, but I plan to write at least one post each day over at buzz.mn while the host of that site is on vacation (it’s not so much guestblogging as usurping, but that’s beside the point.) This particular article is a crosspost from there. The rest of my buzz.mn blog entries can be found here.)
Well, I’ve been trying to think Spring, but lately it just doesn’t seem to be working all that well. The picture above shows the scene this morning when I got to church. According to the news, some places in the Puget Sound area got as much as six inches of snow overnight, and there’s been scattered snow throughout the area since Wednesday. I suppose for those of you who live in some frozen wasteland snow in late March probably isn’t all that unusual, but considering the fact that over here getting snow more than two or three times over the course of the Winter is considered abnormally snowy, this seems to be just a tad excessive.
Nonetheless, the calendar says that it’s just about time for the Boys of Summer to take the field for another season of Baseball. Although in recent years I haven’t followed baseball as closely as I used to, in my family Opening Day is practically considered to be a holiday, celebrated with hot dogs and apple pie (NOTE: Due to ongoing criminal investigations, the Cream will not be provided with apple pie this year.) Although rooting for the home team (which around here happens to be the Mariners) seems to be the order of the day, living in the middle of nowhere meant that there really wasn’t a “home team” where I lived, which meant that I had to make do with whoever’s games we could get on cable TV. For many years, this meant the Chicago Cubs, whose games came to us via WGN out of Chicago via the not-so-silver tounged Harry Caray (who I got to meet once at a Spring Training game in Arizona, which the Cubs of course lost.)
Soon faced with the realization that backing the Cubs wasn’t exactly a winning proposition (the ’84 playoffs were probably a good sign of this,) my allegiances eventually shifted toward the Atlanta Braves, whose games played on TBS. Given their frequently dismal record during the late Eighties, expectations were set low, until they suddenly managed to get good in 1991, and pulled off the miraculous worst-to-first comeback and even more improbable playoff win against the Pittsburgh Pirates to reach the World Series in 1991. Although I would later learn to respect both of them as players and people, Kirby Puckett’s game 6 walk-off homer and Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout in game 7 of the 2001 World Series are both in the top ten of my most traumatic baseball experiences. Although a couple of years later the expansion Colorado Rockies would give us something that would reasonably call a home team, my loyalties remained with the Braves until my family moved up to Seattle, where the Mariners were a cellar-dwelling team at risk of being moved to some random city in Florida. We figured they could use all the help they could get, so we hopped on the bandwagon. And what a ride it would turn out to be.
Then came the 1995 season, when suddenly everything came together, and the Mariners managed to get into the playoffs by winning a one-game tiebreaker with the California Angels, then pulled off an even more improbable comeback from a 0-2 deficit in the Division Series to beat the Yankees before finally losing the ALCS in six games to the Cleveland Indians (who would then go on to lose to the Atlanta Braves in five games. All in all, not a bad year for baseball in our family.)
Although the Mariners didn’t make the World Series (and have not yet done so in their 30 year history) that 1995 run ensured that the Mariners would stay in Seattle, and set the table for the incredible 2001 season, in which the Ms would win 116 games and host the All-Star Game, but lose to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. Among the highlights of the season that I saw in person were the All-Star Game itself, with Cal Ripken’s home run in his final All-Star appearance (marked today by a plaque in the visitor’s bullpen at Safeco Field,) and the “victory lap” that the team took around the diamond carrying an American flag the day that baseball resumed following the September 11th attacks. Oddly enough, I was working in a concession stand at Safeco Field for that game (something that I would do for anywhere from 5-15 games a year for several years on a volunteer basis, to help raise money for various nonprofit organizations. It was hard work, but it provided plenty of opportunity to be at the ballpark. I can best describe the experience as similar to trying to watch the ballgame through a hole in the fence while serving beer and hotdogs to everyone else crowded around. I must have served thousands of the things, yet surprisingly enough, I still consider the hot dogs at the ballpark to be superior to those you can find just about anywhere else (just don’t ask me to actually pay for one.) This concession standexperience came in handy when I took a trip to Disneyland a couple of years ago, and found that the food prices inside the park almost seemed reasonable in comparison.
Since that 2001 season, the Mariners haven’t given us a whole lot of reasons to celebrate, but nonetheless, there’s nothing to compare to a beautiful summer evening as you watch from the cheap seats as the sun sets over the third base line as the National Pastime plays out on the field in front of you. Sure, my team ends up being down by six runs in the fourth inning more often than I would like, but still, a bad day at the ballpark beats a good day at work anyday. Feel free to share any baseball memories you have here. Even if the Twins did beat the Braves in the ’91 series, we can all agree that we don’t like the Yankees, right?
Oh, and Play Ball.