A Mariners Fan is Born
Leah was destined to be a Mariners fan, just like generations before her. By day two, she was listening to her first game on the radio.
Baby Leah is already learning the intricacies of the game from her dad Sam.
My daughter was born on a Tuesday. By Wednesday she was listening to her first Mariners game on the radio. By Thursday she was scoring all nine innings on her own, and by Friday she was arguing with the manager over a young starter left in too long, her tiny fists balled in frustration. Okay, so maybe not the last two, but you get the picture.
We’d been in the hospital for a full forty-eight hours by Wednesday, and tensions were running high. As a family, we’d just suffered through a bruising Seattle homestand and nearly twenty-four hours of labor. Friends had stopped by and family had sent flowers, but we were in desperate need of some rest and relaxation. And more than anything else, we needed a little quiet. We had to find a way to drown out the cacophony of clanging bedpans and brusque nurses, and nothing but the dulcet tones of sportscaster Rick Rizz would do the trick. My wife slept contentedly in her hospital bed while my daughter, Leah, gazed up at me with curious blue eyes. It was more than a hint. It was an unspoken but emphatic communication between father and child, and right then we reached an understanding that will undoubtedly carry us forward for years to come: moments of quiet, from April to October, were to be filled with baseball on the radio whenever it was humanly possible.
With nearly three full weeks of perspective, it’s now obvious to me that she began life just like most Mariners fans have lived theirs. Initially hopeful beyond reason, strung along by solid pitching and an early lead. Discouraged but still inexplicably trusting as promising opportunities slip away. And, ultimately, shaking her head in disbelief as the unthinkable happens, with the boys in grey, Seattle proudly splashed across their chests, walking off the field in defeat.
You remember this game. On the road against the Rays. An early Nelson Cruz homerun opening a 2-0 lead, driving in a resurgent Robinson Cano from first. Eight neatly-packaged strikeouts from offseason acquisition Nathan Karns, followed by a steady march of relievers from bullpen to mound to dugout. And man, Leah and I believed so hard that night. We believed in the 10th when Robbie snagged that sharply hit grounder to his left and made the toss to first look easy. We even believed after Mariners combined for an abysmal 16 strikeouts at the plate, at the hands of a decent Tampa starter and an ever-expanding strike zone. We believed all the way through the bottom of the 13th inning, when the Rays’ Logan Morrison, once the proud owner of a .225 battering average as the M’s first baseman, watched four balls go by with the bases loaded to push in the winning run from third. Leah will soon learn that this kind of heartbreak becomes all too familiar for the Seattle faithful.
She was destined to be a Mariners fan. Just like generations before her, she was born to chew off her fingernails when Felix Hernandez gives up an early dinger and when Kyle Seager dives to his right, just like she was born to feel her heart race when she hears that timeless refrain - and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martínez swung on and LINED DOWN THE LEFT FIELD LINE FOR A BASE HIT! HERE COMES JOEY, HERE IS JUNIOR TO THIRD BASE, THEY’RE GOING TO WAVE HIM IN!
I was five when I heard that ’95 ALDS Niehaus call come through the radio, just beginning to pay my dues as a lifelong M’s fan. I was lucky to share it with my grandparents, rabid Mariners believers since long before Griffey’s famed slide. I was eleven when Carlos Guillen laid down that epic safety-squeeze bunt against the White Sox, listening alongside my mother, who had changed my diapers in the Kingdome bathrooms a decade earlier. As a family, we’ve suffered together in silence through the longest current postseason drought in major league baseball.
And here I am now, a father myself. A caretaker for what will soon be a complex and colorful life, no doubt, but also of the sacred tradition of passing the love of baseball along to the next generation. Leah may have thought that that first game was a fluke, a bit of bad luck in an otherwise inevitable path back to greatness for a storied franchise. I know better. I know the road is littered with heartache. But it’s also buoyed by the joy of being a die-hard, hoping-beyond-hope, facts-and-statistics-be-damned Seattle Mariners fan. Standing there holding a tiny baseball believer in my arms, I could barely wait to tell her: there are few joys greater than that.