Mark Holtzen’s book, A Ticket to the Pennant (Sasquatch), illustrated by John Skewes, is a sweet remembrance of Seattle’s days gone by. Here, the local author shares what baseball has to do with community and how a city that has undergone so much change can maintain its soul.
What inspired you to write this book?
I drive, walk or bike past the two old dilapidated signs that read “Former site of Sicks Stadium” every day. The idea of attending a baseball game in my own neighborhood has intrigued me since we moved into our home over a decade ago. Writing a children’s book about the historic stadium was just as intriguing.
Where you a childhood fan of baseball?
I came late to baseball. I played Little League, but remember a healthy fear of ground balls. Portland, where I grew up, didn’t have a major league team, but Dad bought me a few hot dogs at some Portland Beavers games. As an adult, I walked into the then-new ballpark in San Francisco and saw the closing pitcher, Robb Nen, pop the catcher’s mitt at near 100 mph. I had never been to a major league park before — all that green, beautiful grass, the hum of the crowd, right on the water. I was hooked. I love the spirit of baseball.
Do you think that kids need to be fans of baseball to relate to Huey?
I hope not. A few themes of childhood came to mind when writing Huey — the frustration of losing something important, the thrill of roaming the neighborhood unaccompanied. But mostly he’s a kid with a passion. We can all relate to that feeling when responsibilities tug at us, when we’d rather be doing what we love. We’ll help whoever is interrupting us — reluctantly. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Huey helps Mrs. Borracchini, the baker’s wife. You can tell he’s a good kid trying to do right, but he really wants to get to that game. I love him for helping her anyway.
Seattle has a reputation lately of having lost some of its soul. Your book takes us through a present-day neighborhood where many of these 1955 business still stand, but the historic stadium is gone. How do you think the loss of Sicks’ Stadium reflects the changes Seattle has undergone, and how it can help us talk to kids about the
evolution of community?
I asked my neighbors’ opinions on what “soul” required and heard answers like: the people, the sense of culture, the vibe, history, the art and music. My favorites were a “shared living history” and “thoughtful people.” When a “soulful” landmark so woven into the community is destroyed, it can hurt. I’ve heard people say, “A little part of me died when they tore down [fill in the blank],” and that makes sense to me. Losing the places we love, or places we’ve loved with those we loved, is hard.
With the release of A Ticket to the Pennant, I’ve been fortunate to hand the book to those who experienced days at Sicks’ Stadium with the Rainiers. Their eyes go soft as they mention their sibling, mom, uncle or dad — the smell of cigars in the stands; Leo Lassen, the radio announcer’s voice; or Bobby Balcena’s baseball card found in a bag of popcorn. It’s deepened my relationship with my neighborhood. Instead of walking by what is now a dilapidated, graffiti-ridden building, I can reflect on Mike the barber, who cut hair there for 50 years, and what he might have talked about with whomever was in his chair https://propfinast.com. I can reflect on my neighbor, who said he used to collect trash to get a free ticket to a ballgame. I get to picture those stories. Gives the neighborhood more soul. Then I can share those stories with my kids. And so it goes.