Category Archives: washington

Ballparks in Washington State.

Paul and Michelle’s Love And Baseball Rehearsal Dinner Extravaganza

Paul and Michelle’s Love And Baseball Rehearsal Dinner Extravaganza

Everett Memorial Stadium, Everett, WASHINGTON
Number of states:  still 11
States to go:  39

July 29, 2005 (Tri-City Dust Devils 9, Everett AquaSox 3)

After proposing to my wife (just after visiting Vancouver’s Nat Bailey Stadium), we had 11 months to set up our wedding weekend.  Now, as I have told you, there was never any question:  the wedding was not going to take place at a ballpark, just as the proposal wasn’t.  But we wanted minor league baseball to be a part of our weekend. Baseball was central to our relationship.

How you ask?  Well, let me quote the minister at our wedding:  “Dear friends, we are gathered here today, in the company of friends and loved ones, ready to celebrate the marriage of Michelle and Paul…because of the infield fly rule.”  Who else can say their marriage is a direct result of the infield fly rule?  I bet none.


everettrehearsalal

Michelle and I wait on the field for our pre-game activities with Al, an AquaSox worker.

Michelle and I dated for a while back in 1997.  During that time, I took her to a Mariners game at the Kingdome.  I taught her the ins and outs of the infield fly rule.  She thought I was nuts.  We broke up (not because of that).  Four years later, Michelle had coincidentally gotten a job with the Tri-City Dust Devils.  She was a moderately big baseball fan, but not quite as intense as those who worked in baseball her whole life.  However, Michelle found that her knowledge of the infield fly rule gave her credibility in the wild world of sports.  She also found she was all alone in Kennewick, Washington, and thinking of me.  She wrote me a letter.

Meanwhile, I was writing these pages for the first time–on the major league side.  In the process, I was thinking of how cool Michelle was.  I was also worried–I had heard through very indirect channels that Michelle had gotten married and

no images were found

had become very sick, perhaps even died.  I remarked on that on the Kingdome page!  So when Michelle wrote me, I actually wrote back “Glad to hear you’re alive!”  Weird.  I took my sweet time popping the question…and three and a half years later, we were celebrating at Everett.

All Michelle and I wanted was to get a few seats and a chicken dinner.  But the group sales representative we worked with at the AquaSox must not get a tremendous amount of rehearsal dinners.  She went crazy-nuts and was thrilled to work with us!  Right off the bat, she said:  “Of course, someone from your party would need to throw out a first pitch that night, and we’d want to get your guests in the game for some of our onfield promotions!”

We were thrilled.  But then we were concerned.

If anything was going to break up our marriage before it got started, it would be an argument over which of us got to throw out the first pitch.  So Michelle emailed to ask if we could have two first pitches–one for each of us.  We got the following response:  “I will reserve TWO first pitches as well (unless one of you would rather sing the national anthem J)”  Weird emoticon–I think it means she was being sarcastic.  But singing the National Anthem at a ballgame is one of my lifelong dreams.  I called her from work the second I saw the email and asked if she was serious.  She asked this:  “Can you sing?”  Yes, I can.  Then, this:  “Are you going to go Roseanne or Janet Jackson on me?” I’m too patriotic to do the former and not chesty enough to do the latter.  “Okay.  You’re on.”

Thus it came to pass that Michelle walked the red carpet to deliver the first pitch of the game (well, one of about a half-dozen “first” pitches).  We practiced for months…Michelle wanted to throw from the rubber and didn’t want it to bounce.  When we started practicing in the spring, she could only get the ball about 45

feet.  But the practice paid off.  Michelle threw from the mound, just in front of the rubber.  The ball made it to catcher J.B. Tucker on the fly–and out of the six first pitches, hers was the only one not to bounce.  When she walked up to have her picture taken with Mr. Tucker, Michelle was going to say “This is my last night as a single gal!”  I had even authorized a quick tryst at home plate, but Michelle chickened out and said nothing.  Your loss, J.B. Tucker.

Next up: the National Anthem.  I had worked on it for several days.  The big question:  do I go up the fourth on the word “Free”?  If I start in the right key, I can pull that off.  I had made other decisions beyond any shadow of a doubt:  I would go with a fairly slow tempo (hey, this is my moment, I want it to last).  I would slow down just a hair at the end of every quatrain.  I would smile on “That our flag was still there,” thus giving the line the warmth it deserves.  And then, if it felt right, I’d go up the fourth.  It all worked out, except maybe going up the fourth.  I hit the note all right, but had trouble getting off it (there was a minor glitch at the end of the note–I noticed, but nobody else said they did).

In any event, the best part was the cheering from my friends and family.  My buddy J.J. snapped this picture, which happens to be one of my favorite pictures of all time.  It’s me singing, but more importantly, it’s nearly everyone I love in the world in the top four rows of the first full section from the left.  All of my buddies and family are looking off at the flag–except for my mom and dad, who are looking down at me.

Things went on from there.  Michelle was the “Sweetheart of the Game” for the second time (and at the second stadium) in a month. 

My Uncle Rick won a hundred bucks in a remote-control car race when he totally T-boned his opponent.  My nephew Henry tried to throw plastic fish into a net his dad was holding…but unfortunately, he threw the fishes over his shoulder–north–while his dad was standing east of him.  My new father-in-law had to decide whether to take an AquaSox cap or “what’s in the car” (which, the PA guy said, is a Mark Goodson/Bill Todman production distributed by KingWorld).  He took the car, and was rewarded with a $50 gift certificate.  Our friend Monika guessed the movie trivia question right (“Some Like It Hot”).  Some younger guests got to run around the bases, one of them in a race against Webbly.  And, to top it all off, the night ended with fireworks!

As those fireworks died off, we had all enjoyed the perfect rehearsal dinner.  It was a celebration of baseball, and of Michelle and I, to be sure.  But it turned out to be a huge party and celebration of all of our friends and family as well.  The fireworks were an absolutely perfect way to finish off the evening–it felt like they were for Michelle and me, and a thank you to everyone for heading out.  Our only big worry was that the game would be so fun that it would eclipse the ceremony and reception the next day.  It didn’t.  The game was exactly what we wanted to launch us into our wedding, and our marriage.


BASEBALL STUFF WE SAW THAT NIGHT:

The Dust Devils’ Jason van Kooten and James Sweeney were the batting stars.  van Kooten had a double and a triple, and both van Kooten and Sweeney had two RBI.

Yakima County Stadium, Yakima, Washington

yakimaexterior

Yakima County Stadium, Yakima, WASHINGTON

Number of states:  still 5
States to go:  45
Number of games: 3
First game:  July 8, 2004 (Yakima Bears 7, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 4)
Most recent game:  July 3, 2009 (Yakima Bears 9, Spokane Indians 4)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

In the competition for “Longest drive made to meet Paul at a baseball game,” the nominees 

are:  3.  My dad, who took an airport shuttle two hours to get from Columbia, Missouri to a fine game at Busch Stadium.  2.  Rob, who drove about two and a half hours from State College, Pennsylvania to meet me at Three Rivers.  And the #1 longest drive to meet me at a ballpark:  Brian and his wife Annie, who drove two and a half hours from Seattle to meet me in Yakima.  They win the tiebreaker over Rob because–let’s face it–they drove to Yakima and did so for a short season single-A game.  It’s nice to have friends like these.  The Yakimas of the world are nicer when you can share them with friends.

Brian, a fellow teacher, a guy I call “my hero and mentor” (and he thinks it’s tongue-in-cheek), has a daughter who is working on her medical residency in Yakima.  I had forgotten this when I jokingly invited him to join me in Yakima for a ballgame.  I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed, saying he’s always looking for an excuse to visit his daughter Rachael.  Given that we’re both teachers (yay, summers off!),  he did, in fact, meet me in Yakima for Northwest league baseball.  His daughter joined us, and somehow, I wasn’t bothered when she studied during the game for tests she’d be taking shortly.  My answer to the questions about people with difficult medical

challenges was always the same:  “He should be seeing a doctor.”  Strangely, it was never the right answer.  The Yakima crowd made it easy for her study–there were few of them and they were quiet, even on Thunder Stick night.  (By the way, there is precedent in my life for studying at sports venues.  My brother claims he studied in college at the bowling alley…the general cacophony there was easier on him than the complete silence of the library.  Me?  The library all the way.  I had a carrel way down in the dusty bowels of the place.  Perfect.)

The Bears’ people did well to keep things active during the game.  They featured loads of promotions, and wacky ones, such as attempting to throw toilet plungers into a toilet, a cream pie eating contest, and an attempt to catch high-slung T-shirts with butterfly nets.  There were probably other promotions as well, but I couldn’t hear them–the PA system was awful.  On the whole, the atmosphere wasn’t exactly electric…a routine seating bowl which, as

I said, is mostly empty.

The ballpark itself  has some nice quirks.  It’s incredibly short–293 feet–down the lines, and Yakima’s dry, relatively high air must make those foul poles inviting targets.  However, the short porches at the poles become longer in a big hurry, as the outfield wall juts more or less straight out from there…the dimensions go from 293 to 340 in a big hurry.  The views of nearby mountains are charming, and if you’re heading to Yakima, you might note that the first-base side is home to the hot, sunny, uncomfortable seats.  The sun can be such a problem for spectators and fielders that they have put up a big screen past the third-base seats to block it.

On the whole, I’ll remember a fun night with my buddies in the middle of nowhere–one old friend with whom I can talk baseball and shoot the shit, his kind wife, and a woman who’s working on bringing health care

to the Yakima Valley.  What more can you ask than that?

July 2005–I returned to Yakima with my fiancée during the month of our wedding for that year’s July 4th Minor League Baseball trip.  And in the process, I managed to make my baby feel wonderful–nearly crying–and make a silly rookie mistake at the same time.  A local florist had a promotion called Sweetheart of the Game…basically an essay contest.  Write a few sentences about why your date should be the Sweetheart of the Game, and the winning essay’s sweetheart gets flowers delivered to her at her seat.  I wrote that Michelle and I were getting married on the 29th of that month, that we were on our third annual 4th of July Minor League Road Trip, that said road trip was originally Michelle’s idea (this is especially impressive to those who believe I’m dragging along an unwilling partner to all these ballparks), and that I loved her very much.  Well, they picked Michelle as Sweetheart of the Game (of course they did…I’m a poet, dammit), and Michelle was surprised and touched…she confessed later she nearly cried.  So what, you ask, was the rookie mistake?  This was…I wrote the wrong damn date for our wedding.  We were getting married on the 30th, not the 29th.  The 29th was the rehearsal dinner…where Michelle threw out the first pitch at an Everett AquaSox Game and where I sang the National Anthem.  We’d been spending the whole weekend talking baseball and playing catch, so the baseball on my brain led me to write the wrong date down…so Michelle corrected the announcer, saying “Actually, it’s the 30th.”  What a doofus move.  But she pointed out that this was short-season A ball, and so it was fine that I made a rookie mistake.  I’m thankful for that, because I want to spend my whole career in her organization.

yakimasweetheart

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
The view of nearby mountains is nice.  The museum area with the exhibit about Yakima-connected “Hub” Kittle is better.


Charm:  2/5
Reasonable here, in a county-fair sort of way (the stadium  is located on fairgrounds), but I can’t look past the foul-ball screen obscuring the view of literally every seat, the way-too-quiet PA (couldn’t hear him from my seat by third base!), and the horribly-maintained infield.

Spectacle: 5/5
Wacky low-minors stuff that never interferes with the game.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


Boomer Bear is about what you’d expect–a bit conventional and not locally appropriate.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
The stands themselves are unattractive, but it’s quite a nice view.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Love the exhibit, though both it and the entire pavilion can be a bit larger for my tastes.

Scoreability:  2/5
I had to guess at some tough scoring decisions, and the lineups in the pavilion neglected to tell me first names and uniform numbers.  Plus, a scoreboard malfunction made one strike look like seven strikes.

Fans:  3/5
Gets a little better every time I go, although I’m still remembering how quiet the first game was.

Intangibles:  5/5
I wasn’t a fan after my first visit, but the last two have each brought tremendous memories…my baby crying at being named Sweetheart of the Game, just a few weeks before our wedding…and four years later, in 2009, both my wife and I tearing up as we watched our son totally transfixed over his first-ever fireworks.


TOTAL: 36/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two homers for Chris Carter set the table for the Bears’ win in my inaugural visit.

As of July 2004, Chase Smith had two losses in professional baseball, and I’ve been there for both of them:  the first in Eugene a week earlier, than this one.  Chase–send me a few bucks and I’ll not show up anymore.

For July 4th weekend of 2005, Michelle and I saw Yakima’s Angel Rocha give one of the poorest pitching performances imaginable.  He made it two-thirds of an inning…faced ten batters.  Two outs, six walks, and two hits–all of them scored for 8 earned runs, or an ERA for the outing of 108.00.  It didn’t get much better for Yakima thereafter.

Incredibly, in a 17-run, 17-hit onslaught, John Mayberry Jr. managed to go 0-for-6 for Spokane.

In 2009, Yakima comes back with an 8-run 8th-inning–aided by a pair of bases-loaded walks–to defeat Spokane.

(Written July 2004.  Updated July 2009.)

Tri-Cities Stadium/Dust Devils Stadium/Gesa Stadium, Pasco, Washington

Tri-Cities Stadium/Dust Devils Stadium/Gesa Stadium, Pasco, WASHINGTON

Number of states: still 5
States to go:  45
Number of games:  4
First game:  July 7, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 16, Tri-City Dust Devils 4)
Most recent game:  June 27, 2013 (Everett AquaSox 3, Tri-City Dust Devils 2, 11 innings)

Stadium was called Tri-Cities Stadium in 2004, Dust Devils Stadium for my second visit, and Gesa Stadium now.

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

What might have been…Michelle the Girlfriend worked for this franchise for a couple of years, overseeing its 2001 move from Portland.  And I was all set to head out there during the summer of 2002 to serve as a general dog’s-body for the organization. 

(Michelle said she was considering using me as official scorer until they found someone who could do it more regularly, then having me pinch-hit wherever I was needed for the rest of the summer.)  But, alas, Michelle left the Dust Devils before the season began and moved to Seattle with me.  Oh well…lose summer employment, but gain Michelle the Girlfriend’s constant presence.

If anyone ever asks you what public relations staff must do for a minor-league team, keep in mind (and this I never knew) that one of the duties is to dress as the mascot for winter appearances.  This makes The Dust Devil (who technically  does not have a name, although I was encouraged by Tri-City staffers to call him “Dusty”) was, when my girlfriend was in the costume, the sexiest mascot in the United States and Canada.  But take a look at that thing…what IS it?  A dust devil, I know, but does it look at all like one?  The nickname of Dust Devils is a fine nickname, and totally appropriate (I walked through

a few on the way to the ballpark, and a good number of them popped up on the field during the game).  But this thing doesn’t look like much of anything, and on top of that, it’s got to be difficult to walk around in that getup.

The ballpark itself is nice.  Not a standout. It’s a part of the local recreational complex, and is therefore surrounded by a billion soccer and  softball fields.  I took my customary walk around the ballpark before play began, and saw people taking softball batting practice on the soccer fields, which, come to think of it, would be a fine place to take a catch before the game.  Also, if you wanted to attend the game for free, please note that on this night, not one but two gates along the left field wall were open.  One led directly onto the field (kinda hard to get in that way) but the other actually led to the seats.  Not that I advocate this kind of thing, but it would have been

very, very easy to walk right in–nobody watching and a gate already open.

The Dust Devils might consider letting people in for free, actually, since their attendance has been quite low in their four years of existence.  I’m told it can be stiflingly hot even for evening games (please note that the third-base side is the sunny side).  But this July night was unseasonably cool, so the dust-devil winds not only kicked up dirt but made it  a chilly, unpleasant night.  Very few fans were there for the first inning, and after an awful night of baseball (7 errors, 3 by the Tri-Cities in the seventh inning, and a 14-0 Everett lead at one point), there was more or less nobody left but me.  The day started quiet like a bookstore, but ended quiet like a tomb.

The ballpark was huge–335 down the lines.  I’ve not seen a game with so many Texas League doubles and backpedaling middle infielders in my life.  I haven’t looked up the stadium’s history to see if it’s always been that large, but my guess is that they’ll

certainly keep it that way as long as the Dust Devils are a Rockies affiliate.  Coors Field is that large as well, and those young outfielders need to practice patrolling all that real estate.

The Tri-Cities workers did their best to keep everyone involved and active.  Erik the Peanut Guy had a microphone on him, and the PA announcer would kick it down to him for promotions and even a few random announcements.  It was a nice touch.  The affable Erik would do his schtick on the microphone, then resume hawking.  By the way, I absolutely loved the personalized T-shirts that the hawkers wore (the backs had their names and statements like “Cotton Candy Expert”).  Erik even did an interview with the mother of the Dust Devils’ third baseman who was seeing her son play professionally for the first time.  His first question to the mother was bizarre.  “So, is this your first time in the Tri-Cities?”  Gee, Erik, what do you think?  Why would this young woman have ever been to Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, or 

West Richland before?  (That’s right…there are FOUR cities in the “Tri-Cities.”)  The third baseman had two hits, as the mom said to anyone who would listen to her after the terrible loss–“My boy had two hits!” she said–but really needed to work on his arm.  Like clockwork, at least one of his warmup throws every inning would sail into the front row.  I was in the front row.  I’m fortunate I was not hurt.  It took me until later in the game to figure out what was going on…he was trying to throw to his mother!  What a sweet gesture.  UPDATE:  The kid, Matt Macri, eventually made the majors with the Twins.

One of the nicest

moments I’ve ever seen at a ballpark arose out of a scary one.  A foul ball looped over my head and hit the ankle of the adorable kid in this picture.  He screamed and cried while his mother held him.  The ball rolled down past my feet to a fourth- or fifth-grader in the front row.  He then walked up and handed it to the still-crying little guy.  Would I have had that kind of kindness and grace at that age?  I’m not sure.  In my mind, that gracious young fan is the MVP.  I tried hard to get a ball for the rest of the game–maybe one of the third baseman’s errant throws?–so that I could give it to the kind, charitable youngster, repaying his kindness.  But no such luck.

All in all, a decent night of bad baseball in shivery, windy cold.  Yup–to me, that’s not a bad night.

UPDATE 2009: I’ve been back twice since, both for July 4 family baseball jaunts, and have improved my view of the ballpark.  First, some significant changes:  Most importantly, blessedly, and thankfully, the Dust Devils have installed a sun screen behind the first-base stands.  I’ve heard

it called an eyesore, but I don’t care.  No more desert sun and desert heat for the third-base side…the screen blocks it beautifully, and it was worth every dime.

Second, the name has changed.  Gesa, a local credit union, has affixed its name to the ballpark.  Not a fan of corporate naming, but if that money helped build the sun screen, then I’m all for it–and might have to transfer all my money into a Gesa account.

Next, Tri-Cities sprawl threatens the character of the area just a little bit, but the view hasn’t much changed…the view beyond the outfield fence still features several rows of soccer fields.

The only negative to the visit were some jerks in the section next to us, who I heard were the Dust Devils grounds crew–let in free for the game.  If that’s the case, they need to tone down the heckling, especially since

they were in my original seat (no big deal, as I just sat in a better one).  Shouting “Ichiro!” at the Boise Hawks’ two Korean players, Hak-Ju Lee and Jae-Hoon Ha, is a rare combination of racially insensitive, geographically stupid, and boorish.  Tone it down, guys.

Finally, and for the first time ever, I was recognized for this website.  I was on my way to the head when Erik the Peanut Guy flagged me down, noticing my Tennessee Smokies hat.  “Is that the Tennessee Smokies?” he asked.  I replied in the affirmative, and Erik asked if I’d been there.  I talked about my effort to get to all the minor league parks, and recommended he visit my website–and I wrote down my name.  He said “Oh, I know you!  I LOVE your website!” and then said “We need to

get you a hat.”  He then had the team store give me my choice of hat.  I picked the $22 TC model to complement my wife’s Dust Devil model.  He took some time out from hawking to hang with us for a while.  He and Michelle remembered each other from his days hawking in high school when Michelle worked for the team.  We spent a pleasant inning hanging out.

I’ve got to say, wearing random other minor league hats to ballparks is a good move.   Wearing an Everett AquaSox hat in Princeton, West Virginia bought me a free sledge-hammering of a car.  And now wearing a Smokies hat…and having this website…got me a $22 hat. Thanks, Erik.  You just brought your score up significantly.  Remember–this is not Congress.  Bribery is acceptable.  Giving me presents can increase your ballpark’s score (although there’s no guarantee).

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
Lovely views of soccer fields and mountains.  Actual, literal dust devils on the field help out a lot, although those can hardly be planned.

Charm:  2.5/5
Not much going for the physical edifice here, but Erik and his fellow hawkers help out quite a bit.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A fair number of them, pulled off with nice energy.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


They call him Dusty.  He looks like–nothing.  And they have since put him in a Dust Devils uniform, which actually makes him more perplexing.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5

Pavilion area:  3.5/5
Could be larger.  It includes an “alumni report” featuring the stats of former Dust Devils, wherever they may be.  This is a fantastic idea that I”d like to see reproduced elsewhere.

Scoreability:  1.5/5
Not good here at all.  Many errors on the scoreboard.

Fans:  4/5
As much as I appreciate Erik, crowds here are pretty sparse.  And while I like the kid who gave up his foul ball, I don’t like the grounds crew acting like jerks to the opposition.  Just cheer and watch the game.  Don’t try to be Andrew Dice Clay.  (I upped this score in 2013 after a much better experience sitting next to Erik the Peanut Guy’s parents.)

Intangibles: 5/5
In spite of all of its flaws, this place leaves me with positive memories.  I’ve been there for a decade now, and thanks to Erik the Peanut Guy, I feel welcome there every time.

TOTAL:  33.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

My, what a terrible game I saw on my debut visit.  Three hits for the AquaSox’s Omar Falcon led their attack.

Two errors–on back to back plays–by Dust Devil shortstop Pedro Strop (each a throw through the first baseman’s legs), plus another by second baseman Jason van Kooten stretch the top of the seventh into six outs, eight runs, twelve batters, and about fifteen years.  Not that I’m complaining.

In July 2005, I saw what looked to be a stud-pitcher-in-the-making…Shane Lindsey, a free-agent pitcher, struck out 11, walked none, and gave up only 3 hits in 5 innings in a Dust Devils victory.

A crazy close to a game in July 2009.  Tri-Cities scores their winning runs in the eighth inning on a combination of two hit batsmen, a wild pitch, a passed ball, an intentional walk, and a sacrifice fly.  Low-level A baseball.  Catch it.

D.J. Peterson scored on a Huascar Brazoban wild pitch in the 11th inning of a 2013 game to give Everett a victory.

(Written July 2004.  Updated July 2009.)

Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington

Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, WASHINGTON

Number of states: Still 4
States to go: 46
Number of games: 5 (1 before quest began)
First game in quest:  July 1, 2004 (Tacoma Rainiers 7, Portland Beavers 6)
Most recent game: July 20, 2015 (Salt Lake Bees 8, Tacoma Rainiers 2)

(Click any image to see a larger version.)

In the Puget Sound region, Tacoma is the butt of a number of jokes.  Its industrialization, crime problems, and, simply put, aesthetic unattractiveness lead stuffy, rich Seattleites to refer to “the aroma of Tacoma.”  This stereotyping led me to expect that Cheney Stadium, the AAA ballpark in Tacoma,

wouldn’t be a great place.  I was wrong.  Cheney Stadium is a fine place to watch a ballgame, and even better when watched with enthusiastic seven- and nine-year-old nephews.

It’s easier to teach youngsters to score than one might think.  My then-eight-year-old nephew did a fine job scoring a Mariners/Orioles game I took him to.  It was a pitchers’ duel, which made it easier…very few baserunners to follow around the bases, which is the tricky part of basic scoring.  So at the Tacoma game, I worked on the six-year-old.  We started with the very basics…color in runs when they’re scored, and a K means a strikeout.  Soon enough, David was working with me.  He started by filling in the runs that were scored.  He worked intently, like this was the world’s smallest coloring book.  Adorable.  He then  wrote in a few K’s for me.  This, also, was cute.  It’s a challenge for a six-year-old to write small enough to fit into the scoring box.  David concentrated so hard on writing the K that he actually came close to scraping through the page.  

The ballpark itself has surprising charm.  It’s fairly old, and the age shows well.  The pavilion area was  excellent–it included loads of minor-league promotions such as an opportunity to take kids’ pictures on top of horses (this would be the only time to date I’ve seen horses in a minor-league park).  I was a little bit bothered by the number of people in the beer garden.  The beer garden is in the pavilion, which means that

you can’t see the game from there.  And it was absolutely packed.  I’ve got nothing against enjoying beer at a baseball game, but why enjoy beer at a baseball game if you’re not going to watch the baseball game?  Why not just go to a bar?

A fine sense of Tacoma baseball history is on display in the pavilion–a number of plaques for big names in Tacoma baseball history (I remember Matty Alou), but most tellingly, a lovely mural.  The mural is of a dugout with a player wearing the uniform for each of the teams in  Tacoma history.  I was quite pleased and impressed.  So much nicer than the usual cinderblock wall left blank!  Additionally, they have reserved one of their better seats for a sculpture of Mr. Cheney, the bigwig in Tacoma baseball history for whom the field was named.  Not only is he there in the front row of back section, but there’s a bronzed sculpted scorecard by his feet and even some sculpted peanut shells on the ground around him.  I can’t think of a better tribute for a baseball lover than to be set down in a good seat to enjoy and score baseball

for eternity.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
Good sense of Tacoma history, Mt. Rainier on the scoreboard, and evergreen trees beyond the field.  Too bad it’s in a nondescript semi-suburban location.

Charm:  4.5/5
Cheney Stadium manages to feel legitimately old without being ancient or kitschy-retro.

Spectacle: 4/5
Pretty good.  Not too much–feels about right for AAA ball.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5


Rhubarb is a silly name.  A moose should have a proboscis bigger than his.  The name Rainiers is fantastic–beautiful, local, majestic.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
The ballpark was quite lovely, but there was almost zero in the way of views beyond merely trees.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Quite good–loads of activity, lineups, and the like.

Scoreability:  3.5/5
Nice use of scoreboard, but failed to give information on some borderline scoring decisions.

Fans:  5/5
How can I possibly vote against my sister and her family?

Intangibles:  4/5
A good ballgame and a lot of fun with the folks.  I’ll be back.

TOTAL:  40.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The first game for Jeremy Reed in the Mariners’ organization after the M’s gave up Freddy Garcia to get him.  He goes two for four with a two-run home run.

A.J. Zapp hits a pair of homers for Tacoma.

Portland’s Xavier Nady also homered just a few days before getting called up to the Padres.

In 2007, I see Salt Lake’s Joe Saunders for the second time in two weeks.  He impresses, going 7 strong innings and striking out 7.

Salt Lake blows a 4-0 lead in 2007 before winning on Brandon Wood’s 9th-inning single.

A delightful experience in a pair of games in 2015 led to one of my favorite moments ever at a ballpark.  Our family went to a game in May that year, and my son Steven, who was 6, did his usual trick of writingStevenautograph down the lineups before the game. A Rainiers photographer spotted it and took several photos. When I asked when they’d be used, he said that a shot like that looked like a cover shot for a future version of the program.  Sure enough, the Rainiers were nice enough to notify me when he would be on the cover, and we headed back up there to get about a zillion copies.

In the pregame, the Rainiers’ Shawn O’Malley was giving autographs on the concourse. Steven went up to get one.  Steven told O’Malley (and everyone else he saw at the ballpark) that he was on the cover of the program. O’Malley’s response has made me a permanent fan of his.  He said “Well, I should be asking for YOUR autograph.”  He then had an usher grab him a copy of the program…and thus it came to be that a professional baseball player asked for my son’s autograph.

 

(Written July 2004.  Updated April 2016.)

Everett Memorial Stadium, Everett, Washington

Everett Memorial Stadium, Everett, WASHINGTON

Number of states: still 2
States to go:  48
Number of games: 13 since quest (about 5 before)
First game in quest:  July 28, 2003 (Everett AquaSox 4, Tri-City Dust Devils 2)
Most recent game:  August 14, 2011 (Everett AquaSox 6, Tri-City Dust Devils 3)

Everett Memorial stadium is my “home” minor league park.  It is about 40 minutes from my place, and Safeco Field is both closer and major league…so my local baseball budget is pretty well filled with the M’s.  Still, I make it up for a game or two a year.  They’re always enjoyable–so unabashedly minor league.  It’s fun.

There’s one word I think of when I think of “unabashedly minor league,” and that is PROMOTIONS.  I knew we were in for a treat when they announced the umpires’ names and said “The umpires tonight are brought to you by Everett Optometry clinic.  Everett Optometry Clinic is not responsible for any missed calls.”  Stupid.  Corny.  Still, kinda funny, even though I normally hate ref/ump

jokes.  And there was some sort of promotion in between every half inning of the entire game except for two or three.  Plus, any patron who buys a program can select for which promotions he or she can be considered!  They have a massive list of every promotion they do every night, and by checking off items on the list, you put yourself in the running for said contest/promotion.  On the night I graded this stadium, I declared myself eligible for about a dozen contests and promotions.  Through five and a half innings, my name wasn’t called, but then:  WOW!  I was the contestant in the Grand Slam Inning Contest!  If the AquaSox hit a grand slam in the sixth inning, I win $5000!  What a wonderful feeling of anticipation…and very, very short-lived.  The bottom of the sixth lasted exactly five pitches.  (Apparently the M’s are not teaching their minor leaguers plate discipline.)  Brian Lentz popped the first pitch to right.  Bryan LaHair grounded his first pitch to first.  And Mike Cox watched a whole two pitches go by before flying to right.  Oh, well–no five grand for me.  But at least I got to hear my name.

This is a ballpark that’s worth getting to early.  Inside the gates are lots of places for kids to jump around, a few wandering mascots, some music, and a football-field sized grassy area in which to play catch or settle in to have a pre-game picnic.  There was also a prominently-displayed lineup board, where I saw something for the first time.  Check out the difference between the elderly fan on the left, who is writing the lineups in a scorebook, and the fan on the right, who is–swear to God–programming the lineups into a Palm Pilot.


Only in Microsoftland!  I’m sure this will grow more common down the line, but man, I sure hope I never make that switch.

Two mascots.  Webbly the frog is awesome, but Frank the Frank is what it’s all about.  A giant walking hot dog slingshotting T-shirts at patrons!  (I can’t be the only one who thinks of Maude Flanders when this happens, can I?)  So while I’m impressed with both the quality and the quantity of mascots, there’s one fairly severe problem:  accessibility.  Neither mascot stepped off the field of play and into the stands even once.  No hugs, no high fives, no direct interaction at all.  This is completely unacceptable at the single-A level!  Even major-league mascots will get into the stands, frequently to all levels of the stadium.  With only a couple thousand fans on hand and two mascots, each person in the stands needs to be personally greeted.  This highly disappointing shortcoming hurts the score.

Still, however, a fine ballpark and a fun experience every time I go.  The problems here are easily fixed…with some work on the grass and some mascots in the stands, I may change the score later on.

BIG UPDATE:  Michelle and I enjoyed our wedding rehearsal dinner at Everett Memorial Stadium in 2005.  Click here for all the fun!

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
Espresso stands and a view of Mt. Baker.

Charm:  4/5
Mostly quite sweet.

Spectacle: 4/5
Constant, clever, wonderful, and I could have won $5000…but never interferes with the game.  That said, the score is hurt because mascots never leave the field.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5


Frank on the left, Webbly on the right.  Multiple mascots, and Frank is a fine idea.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Nice overall.  It’s a bit of a strain to see the mountains, and metal bleachers aren’t pretty.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Huge areas of grass to play catch or have a picnic.  Outstanding.

Scoreability:  4/5
Nice job by the PA guy, but there needs to be an “At Bat” notation on the scoreboard.

Fans:  4/5

Intangibles:  5/5
This score has gone up since my first visit–as Everett will always have a place in my heart for hosting my rehearsal dinner.

TOTAL:  37/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Four Dust Devil errors–three by shortstop Jonathan Swearingen–play a role in all 4 AquaSox runs.

A funny mental error by the AquaSox’s Josh Ellison.  He’s called safe after sliding into second on a fielder’s choice…he beat the throw.  But I guess he didn’t think so much of his speed…he definitely didn’t think to look at the umpire, because he moseyed right on towards his dugout and was tagged out in the consequent rundown.  (To be fair, I’ve seen a similar error in person by a major leaguer…Quinton McCracken thought an out on a teammate’s rundown was the third when it was the second.  He stepped off second base, and Ken Griffey Jr. snuck in behind him to tag him out for the third out of the inning for the Mariners.  It turned out to be a 7-2-4-6-8 double play.)  So chin up, Josh…happens to everyone.  I guess.

A horrible 19-9 win by the Yakima Bears over Everett, which I mention for one reason only:  All nine of Yakima’s starters finished the game with at least one run, hit, AND RBI.  That’s right…there were no zeroes in the traditional box score.

BRANDON CASHMAN, bay-bee!  Set a Northwest League record (and the Northwest League has been around for 50 years!) by hitting four homers for Spokane in an 18-9 victory over Everett in 2004.  He also tied the record for RBIs with 9.  I’m keeping my eye open and hoping this wasn’t an anomaly.  (January 2007:  It was.  He peaked at low-A ball and is now out of the affiliated minors.)

In 2005, I saw Yakima’s Brandon Burgess hit a home run–notable because I was sitting next to his grandparents.  That was awesome.

Salem-Keizer’s Adam Cowart looked nearly unhittable in short-season A…his ERA was under 1 late in the season when he gave up two hits in 6 innings with 7 strikeouts.  His delivery was bizarre…I swear it looked like he was, um, taking a dump.  He crouches down to a Jeff Bagwell crouch, then pitches…and nobody in the Northwest League could hit it.  Another guy to keep an eye on.  He was fun to watch.

A hilarious 20-7 loss to the Vancouver Canadians at the end of the 2006 season.  Vancouver scored runs in every inning except the fifth; Everett scored all 7 of its runs in the fifth.

(Written August 2003.  Updated August 2009.)

Avista Stadium, Spokane, Washington

Avista Stadium, Spokane, WASHINGTON

Number of states:  1
To go:  49
Number of games: 3
First game:  July 4, 2003 (Yakima Bears 13, Spokane Indians 7)
Most recent game: August 4, 2015 (Northwest League All-Stars 6, Pioneer League All-Stars 5)

Can’t think of a more appropriate day to start the Minor League Ballpark Quest than the 4th of July, or a better way to start

it than on a road trip with the cool and awesome girlfriend Michelle.  And get this:  it was her idea. I had a think-out-loud moment where I said I wanted to go to a minor league game in all fifty states, and within minutes she wanted to do a road trip.  Michelle’s a bit of a baseball fan–competitive in my fantasy baseball league and a former employee of a minor league team, so she likes spending some days at the ballpark.  So I was glad to have her come along to get things going.

They’ve done nice work in Spokane with Avista stadium.  I’ll admit they started with a fairly lame promotion…the will-call window is inside a pickup truck.(Get it?  The ticket pickup window?  Yeah, I know, lame.)  But once you get inside, there are multiple positive attributes to the stadium.  For starters, they have a real sense of minor league baseball history.  There’s an entire museum exhibit with the

history of minor league baseball in Spokane.  Two things I did not know:  one, Spokane was the Dodgers’ first farm club after moving to Los Angeles, and that Maury Wills and Steve Garvey and other folks played there, and Tommy Lasorda managed there.  The other is that the Spokane Indians were the victims of the worst accident in American professional sports history when nine members of their team perished when their bus slid off a snowy road in 1949.  I like that there’s a little baseball museum inside the park to teach me stuff like that.

Other nice bits about their fantastic pavilion were clear listings of the lineups (and the fact that I wasn’t the only one copying them),

some fine music, programs for only a buck, and energetic hawkers.  Once I got into the stadium, I found a similar situation to Everett Memorial Stadium in that there were section leaders, mostly perky and attractive college kids,  welcoming you, telling you their names, and volunteering themselves to help in whatever way was necessary.  It made for a fine experience.  In truth, the only drawbacks to the experience were the game (Spokane gave up 8 runs in an endless sixth inning) and a few fans with anger management problems.  Some bastard kept yelling at the umpire during Yakima’s big inning, saying “Ladies and gentlemen, our home plate umpire, born and raised in Yakima!!!”  Does he think he’s clever?  Does the think he’s interesting?  Is he aware how stupid he looks?  Chill out, man, it’s the minor leagues.  If the ump’s bad (and he wasn’t), he’ll be gone soon enough anyway, and this idiot fan will be getting an ulcer about something else.

But I won’t let that override a fine experience, with multiple mascots (Otto the “Spokane-a-saurus”–decked out in patriotic duds and a white beard!–and a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty), a bunch of promotions, and free American flags.  The latter

led to a pretty funny moment–Spokane’s right fielder, Brandon Simon, ran out to his position with a flag in his hand in a patriotic gesture, but appeared (to me) to realize, once he was out there, that he had nowhere he could respectfully put the flag.  So, after a second of aimlessly meandering with his flag, he had to run back to the dugout to hand it to a teammate.

Also, Spokane looked to me to be a fine place–a place I could imagine living happily if ever I decided to leave the big city.  Nice riverfront walk–a good place to spend the evening watching fireworks.  It was a much smaller city than I’d imagined…I know it’s the biggest city between Seattle and Minneapolis, but of course, I never stopped to think how little else there is between Seattle and Minneapolis.  But it felt cozy.

A great place to start the ballpark quest!  I imagine, when I finally cross the 50th state off and finish my quest, when I’m middle-aged and graying, it’ll still be near the top of my list.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
The museum and the outfield view combine to make this a very high score.

Charm:  4.5/5
It felt just right.

Spectacle:  5/5
Lots of wacky promotions–which I like in the low minors–and none interfered with play.

Team mascot/name:  3/5
Multiple mascots, but “Spokane-o-saurus?”  Please…probably done right about the time of Jurassic Park. And I’m PC enough to be bothered by the nickname “Indians.”

Aesthetics:  5/5
Lovely views and a good-looking stadium.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Again, the museum was perfect, diverse food options…a great feel.

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans: 3.5/5
Lighten up, guys!

Intangibles:  4.5/5
The crappy game didn’t help.

TOTAL:  43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Spokane’s Andrew Wishy gets 4 hits, including a home run, in a losing cause.  Kevin Richardson also homers for Spokane.  Jamie D’Antona homers for Yakima.  The top of the sixth features 8 runs, 7 hits, two errors, three walks, a hit batsman, a passed ball, and a balk.  That there is short-season A baseball!

The 2013 game ended on a 3-2 pickoff of the tying-run-on-first.  I hadn’t ever seen that before:  it was an awesome way to end a game.

Peter Van Gansen of the Tri-City Dust Devils hits a walk-off single in the 10th inning to lead the Northwest League to victory over the Pioneer League in the first Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game.  You bet my family headed out there to see it…it was a splendid experience. Nice kids signing autographs.  Spokane Indians (like, members of the actual tribe) doing a traditional dance to start the festivities to show their ties to the team. Teams wearing uniforms with the team names listed in Spokane Indian language.  And my second home run derby.  It’s far more fun to watch a home run derby in person.

Written July 2003. Updated April 2016.

Safeco Field

no images were found

Safeco Field, Seattle, WA

Number of games: 165
First game:  July 16, 1999 (Padres 2, Mariners 1)
Most recent game:  April 9, 2015 (A’s 6, Mariners 1)

(Click any photo to see in a larger size.)

Safeco Field is my home major league stadium, but my regular visits, rather than leading me to be biased in favor of the ballpark, have led me to be a little more critical of it than I might.  It’s a nice place, but it doesn’t quite pass the “is there any doubt you are in Seattle” test, with three exceptions:  if you’re up on the third deck overlooking the Sound, on the third deck looking out at downtown,

or if you’re enjoying an Ivar’s salmon sandwich (eight bucks, but worth it).  Also, there’s no open pavilion area where people can hang out in the sun while seeing the game in progress, like there is at Camden Yards, Coors Field, or Jacobs Field.  Then there’s the matter of the retractable roof.  I greeted the idea of a retractable roof with palpable ambivalence.  I’m about to betray a major secret to those of you who don’t live here in the Pacific Northwest:  the summers here are drop-dead gorgeous.  It rains nonstop from about October 1 to about May 1, but during the baseball season, it’s usually clear.  In fact, people with way too much time on their hands checked out the number or rainouts an outdoor Mariner team would have (I think this was 1996), and the number compared favorably to New York and Detroit and other Eastern cities.  Nevertheless, we as taxpayers spent an extra hundred-and-something million for this huge eyesore roof.  While I like knowing there will be a game any night that I have tickets, I don’t like the looks of it or its cost.  Oh well–what can you do.

The best part of Safeco Field is the art.  A huge percentage of the cost went to providing art for the stadium.  My favorite parts are the literary quotes on the gates to the ballpark (hard to see if you’re going to a game, but wonderful if you walk by the park while it’s closed).  Included are an awesome montage of major league (and historical Seattle) teams’ logos done in license plates and aluminum from pop cans, a 3-D commemoration of the winning play of the 1995 ALDS, and an archetypal representative of every position on a baseball field.


All of the family and friends I visited the Kingdome with, I also have visited Safeco with.  I saw the second-ever game at Safeco with my brother and his very pregnant wife (it was our job to protect her from foul balls).  My folks’ 30th birthday present to me was taking me to see John Olerud hit a walk-off home run.  (I am so predictable.  This is what I ask for every year.  My birthday brings out the best in the Mariners.  The previous year, Ken Griffey Jr. hit an eighth-inning game-winning grand slam at the Kingdome.)  I enjoyed the loudest stadium I’ve ever been in–and perhaps the best game–when fellow bookish baseball fan David and I saw Edgar Martinez hit an eighth-inning grand slam to beat the Yankees in 2000.

By the time the M’s moved to Safeco, I had a real-live teaching job, and to celebrate, I began what I hope to be an annual tradition:  the Because We Can Game.  It’s the first weekday afternoon game after school ends. 

If you see me and a bunch of teacher friends heading to the ballpark some summer weekday afternoon, thumbing our noses at you poor suckers who have to work, it’s the Because We Can Game celebration.  Every year, I notice an incredible number of people arriving at the last minute or an inning or two late.  You poor people playing hooky!  If only you had my job.  (Of course, you’d be working your butt off, as I do, throughout the rest of the year, and for not nearly enough pay.)

Only my dates have changed since the Kingdome days.  Although it wasn’t technically a date, Erin personifies my absolute favorite kind of female baseball companion.  She’s a brilliant non-fan (now working on a doctorate at Cambridge…that’s right, a real dumbass) who is eager to learn about the game.  She showed (or at least did a really good job faking) interest in every arcane rule, scoring decision, and player story I came up with.  Gabriella was a fun girlfriend I took to a couple of games, but for whatever reason, she wasn’t as outgoing at ballgames as she was at every other moment of the day.  Maybe she thought I was too transfixed by the contest to be bothered with conversation.  Baseball, of course, invites conversation among its participants.  You can talk about anything at all and not lose track of the game situations.  Still, in spite of her ballpark silences, Gabriella goes into my Ballpark Hall Of Fame for her skill at drawing low ticket lottery numbers.  There were 500 people lined up at her local drugstore waiting to pick numbers for 2000 ALCS tickets.  I drew #436.  She drew #16.  As such, I got to go to my

first Championship Series game.

In August of 2001, I had my first baseball date with a woman who is actually more hard-core a fan than I am.  It’s a scary thought, but it was certainly a wonderful experience.  Now, you might ask–did I rush this relationship by going to a Mariner game too early?  The answer:  absolutely not.  We worked our way up through the minor leagues.  Our first date was a single-A Everett AquaSox game.  Then, about a month later, when we knew each other better, we headed down to a triple-A Tacoma Rainiers game.  We needed to get our cuts in, maybe have some scouts get a look at us, before we headed to the majors.  It was an excellent choice:  we were ready when we finally made the show.  We subsequently worked our way through the Division Series (traveling to Jacobs Field to do it, no less!) to the ALCS together (amazingly, she duplicated Gabriella’s ticket-lottery mojo).  Some relationships head straight to the major leagues, then flame out too quickly.  Mine–well, it started at about the All-Star break and ended a few minutes before Game 7 of the World Series.  ‘Twas fun, but ’twas not permanent.  Like the M’s run that year, I guess.

In any event, I’m finding it’s actually harder to write about my home stadium than about any other stadiums–in good part because I feel like my impressions of the stadium–and the self and others I take there–are obviously very much in flux.  So, I guess if you want to know my current feelings about the Safe, and cool stuff and people I’m seeing there, you can either wait ten years or send me an email.  Sorry to cop out, but hey.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

After Andy Pettitte takes a no-hitter to

the sixth inning, Seattle comes back and wins on a grand slam by my favorite Mariner, Edgar Martinez.

Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS: New York 5, Seattle 0.  Roger Clemens one-hits the Mariners and strikes out 15, tying the LCS record.    The hit was nearly caught by Tino Martinez…it was very close to a no-hitter.  Derek Jeter hits a 3-run homer; Dave Justice hits a 2-run homer.

I saw the historic 2001 team play a total of ten games at Safeco–and the 116-46 team went 5-5 in my presence (one loss was on a three-hitter, eight innings of which were pitched by Pedro Martinez).  Clearly I was bad for the team.

Best Mariner pitching performance:  Jamie Moyer.  A two-hit shutout (with relievers Rhodes and Sasaki) against the Orioles in 2001.  Honorable mention:  Joel Pineiro pitches a complete-game three-hit shutout against the Rangers in 2003.

9-9-2001:  Cal Ripken’s last game in Seattle.  He received some nice gifts and spoke eloquently before the game.  He then went 0-3 against Moyer, his former teammate.

9-18-2001:  The first game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Quite emotional…it was interesting getting back into the cheering.  I didn’t like looking up at planes going overhead.

I attended the final game of that regular season for the M’s; they had a chance to win a record 117th game.  They lost.  But I still can say I’ve been to one of only two regular-season games in MLB history that featured a 116-game winning team.  (The other:  the 116-36 Chicago Cubs ended their season with a 3-3 tie against the Cardinals in St. Louis on October 7, 1906.  I missed that one.)

Game 2 of the 2001 ALCS:  New York 3, Seattle 2.  Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera are too damn much to beat.  I hate the Yankees.  I find it unjust how they can afford to buy the best teams year in and year out.

If I give props for Edgar’s game-winning grand slam against the Yankees, I have to give props to a visitor who does the same thing.  San Diego’s Rondell White hit a ninth-inning game-tying grand slam as the Mariner bullpen melted down in an 8-6 Padre win on June 29, 2003.

The final game of the lamentable M’s 63-99 2004 season, a 3-0 loss to Texas, was memorable for two reasons.  First, Ichiro Suzuki extended the record for most hits in a season by getting base knocks #261 (a single to center off of Chan Ho Park) and #262 (a single to center off of Ben Shouse).  Second, it was the last game in the majors for Edgar Martinez, who (alas) went 0-for-4, grounding into two double plays.  Still, he received standing ovations for every at bat and several curtain calls.  What a stud.

Oakland clinched the 2006 AL West crown here while I watched jealously.  They jumped up and down on the field after a 12-3 victory on September 26, 2006.

A 2009 gem by Zack Grienke against an injury-depleted Mariners lineup.  He gives up only one hit–a Kenji Johjima single in the second inning.  With a man on first and no score, Royals center fielder Mitch Maier plays it safe and lets the ball drop in front of him to protect the team from a run.  If it’s the 8th inning, though, he dives for that ball and might get it.  That’s how close I was to seeing a no-hitter.

2011:  Jason Vargas shuts down the Phillies on Father’s Day with a 3-hit shutout.  At that moment, the Mariners looked like they had it together: then the wheels totally cameo ff.

2011: A bizarre situation:  The Florida Marlins came to town as the home team: Land Shark Stadium was unavailable for the series due to a U2 concert.  Seattle bat first and wore grey.  I sort of hoped that the Mariners would put Marlins’ stuff on the scoreboard, invited Billy Marlin…but no dice.  In fact, the Mariners taunted the Marlins as they ran out, playing “Beautiful Day” as their taking the field moment.  In fact, the Marlins taking the field was the weird moment.  Instead of shouting “Ladies and Gentlemen, your SEATTLE MARINERS!!!”, Tom Hutyler, the PA man, simply said “Ladies and gentlemen, the Florida Marlins.”  Which sort of led to polite Pacific Northwest golf claps.  I’m just glad that the Marlins didn’t have a walk-off hit…that would have been horrible.  But Felix Hernandez wouldn’t let that happen.  He and Brandon League combined on a 2-hitter as the Mariners won 2-1.

Kingdome

kingdome291191

From King County website, www.metrokc.gov/stadium.

Kingdome, Seattle, WA

Number of games: 28
First game:  March 31, 1996 (Mariners 3, White Sox 2, 12 innings)
Last game:  May 30, 1999 (Devil Rays 15, Mariners 7)

The Kingdome was imploded in March of 2000.

The place was a dump, and in spite of the fact I went to so many games there, and that one might think this might breed some affection, I will never miss it.  The day they blew the damn thing up, I remember they interviewed some guy in his 30s wearing a Seahawks jersey.  He was close to tears, and they asked him for his opinions about the loss of the Kingdome, and he said it just made him sad, thinking of “watching Jim Zorn take snaps there, watching Dave Kreig take snaps there, watching Griffey, Buhner, Randy…”  Wow.  This is a man who did not cry at his own wedding (although I’d lay money that he’s never had and never will have said wedding).  I tend to be a weepy-sensitive-poet sort, and I tend to be an our-place-in-history lover of sports, but I refuse to mix the two.  I mean, every time I went into that place on a gorgeous summer night in the Pacific Northwest, no matter who I was with or how excited I was to see the game, going indoors made me think, just for a split second:  “I’m wasting my life.”  I don’t think that when I enter an outdoor stadium.  Additionally, even as indoor stadiums go, this was disgusting…grey everywhere.  In short, the ballpark itself is not worth another word here.

My first game there remains the only Opening Night I’ve ever attended.  It was two weeks after I’d moved to Seattle.  I had just moved into a scary rooming-house–didn’t yet have any kind of temp work, didn’t yet have a chance to make friends beyond my brother’s friends.  Not the best life situation, but I was still optimistic against all odds, though, which is a perfect state of mind for opening night. It was quite an opener, too:  a sold-out Kingdome the first game after the amazing ’95 playoffs.

A good balance of family and friends were always on hand to go to the Kingdome with me…I went on my own just twice, once to see David Wells get shelled but still win (final score:  16-10…ugh), and once near the end of the Kingdome’s existence, when I sat right behind Griffey in center field, to watch my last game there, where Jose Canseco and just about everybody else homered off of just about every Mariner reliever.  Went with my parents whenever they were in town…Mom’s not a huge fan, but likes “to be with my boys.”  Went with my brother and his friends. Did several games every year with David, an exceedingly kind and bookish actor/director and New Yorker who liked to watch the Yankees (but is not a Yankee fan).  Celebrated my 29th birthday with about a dozen friends watching Griffey hit a game-winning grand-slam so dramatic and perfect that friend Darcy thought it looked suspicious–she thought the whole game might have been rigged.

DeAnn was a terrible blind date I went to a game with…I hated her name (which wasn’t really DeAnn), hated her lack of intelligence, hated her not-so-hot morals, and still went out with her for as long as I could because I was new in town.   Michelle was a major winner who thought it cute when I talked about the infield fly rule.  I’ve heard she got married to the guy she dated right after me.  I’ve also heard she then got very, very sick…I certainly hope that’s not true, and that she’s out there somewhere and doing well.

***October 2004:  I wrote the above, about Michelle, in July of 2001, literally a few days before I got a letter from her reestablishing contact after 4 years apart.  She was not married and not dead. In fact, we resumed contact, became friends, started dating again…and I will marry her in July of 2005.  Yippee!  I am proud to report that she is still a “major winner” and a total babe.

Maria let me take her to a game during her week visiting me in spite of her lack of love of sports.  It still comes up every now and then, and I still explain to her that a love of sports and a love of stories are the same thing.  “I understand that,” she says–skeptically, I think.

A standout Kingdome baseball date was Kerry.  For one thing, Kerry flew all the way from Boston to go to a pair of games with me.  She counted down to her visit in criminally cute emails:  “In only five weeks you’ll be teaching me how to score.”  “Score” puns aside, that ain’t too shabby…what more could a baseball nerd want than to teach a brilliant woman how to mark a scorecard?  At one of our games, Kerry began a fixation on then-rookie Mike Sweeney, simply because she liked the sound of the name “Kerry Sweeney.”  When she pointed her binoculars at his butt, she liked him even more.  So what happens?  Sweeney clearly feels the love, and hits his first major-league home run.  Kerry’s passion for Sweeney has not waned, and in the five years since, under her good karmic graces, he’s become an all-star.  (Mike, if you read this, drop me an email…you clearly owe Kerry at least an autographed baseball.)  We laughed a lot, leaning in, very close to each other, joking quietly, especially at the expense of the stupid children next to us who kept repeating everything I yelled, causing me to shout stupider and stupider things to see exactly what I could get them to say.  These were wonderful dates.  Three years later, I would return the favor of her visit, and she would take me to two games at her home stadium, Fenway Park.

On the whole–some good baseball, a fair share of bad baseball, lots and lots of memories, all good.  I live 10 miles from the Kingdome, and I could feel the earth shake when they blew it up.  Had a lot of fun there.  Glad the place is gone.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

Favorite player:  Randy Johnson.  I was a fan since his Montreal days, as I liked the idea of a gangly guy throwing the ball at great velocity and with unpredictable results.  I first got to see him in the opening night game, 1996.  He was long gone when the new rookie Alex Rodriguez, hitting ninth, drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th with his only hit in a 1-for-6 night. About a year and a half later, I saw my favorite game of Randy’s, where he gutted out a 5-4 win over Kansas City when he didn’t seem to have his stuff–still, everyone chanted his name, begging Lou Piniella not to take him out.  He struck out 16 that night.

I’ll be talking about seeing Hall-of-Famers like Johnson and Rodriguez  and Ken Griffey Jr. years down the line, I guess, saying I saw them play.  I saw Griffey hit 3 homers and score 5 runs, driving in 6, on a 4-for-4 night against the Yankees.  On the other hand, I twice saw him fail to take a step towards either left or right field on plays where his neighboring outfielder either misjudged a fly or missed making a tough catch against the wall.  Only when the ball hit the carpet did Griffey consider running to back up his teammate.  Inexcusable, just standing there like that. I’ve had people tell me that a major-league outfielder can’t be expected to run to back up every fly ball of the whole year.  My response:  yes he can.

All of these pale in comparison to The Greatest Play In Baseball History, which took place at the Kingdome in my presence on April 8, 1997.  I was way down the left-field line with my partner-in-crime Rob (with whom I have enjoyed 3 games in two stadiums, plus one spring training) when the Mariners’ bullpen was getting shelled again.  This time it was Josias Manzanillo.  Now, Josias was sprinting in from the bullpen full-speed before any of us had ever heard of John Rocker.  So he comes sprinting in and works himself into trouble:  men on second and third, one out. Manny Ramirez is up.  Ramirez absolutely crushes a scary screaming line drive up the middle, 100+ miles an hour right off of Manzanillo.  Manzanillo falls down with the impact, gets up, and throws the ball home to force Jim Thome out at the plate…then goes back down.  Quite an impact…It was only the next day that we learned that Mr. Manzanillo was not wearing a cup.  I don’t want to make light of his injury, which was serious–it ultimately cost him a testicle.  Look it up in Baseball Weekly from early that season:  “Mariner reliever Josias Manzanillo (testicles) is on the DL…”  Still, considering how hard a shot he took, and the fact that he wasn’t wearing a cup, it is indeed amazing that he got up and made the play! But wait, there’s more…once it became clear to the Mariners’ infield that Josias wasn’t mortally wounded (the seriousness of the injury wasn’t known for some time), his teammates started teasing him…”Hey, let’s see you sprint off the field now!”  The best part of the play:  he did.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2009.)