With the Mariners comfortably up 10 runs in the ninth inning, Spokane resident Brian Jackson smiled from his seat at Yankee Stadium as he watched relief pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen enter the game.
Jackson described the Seattle pitcher as serious, with his high socks and professional attitude.
It was a contrast to the Wilhelmsen he met earlier in the day.
The one behind the tiki bar, blending non-alcoholic slushies and belting out karaoke music.
“He sang us this beer song that my wife and I now laugh about,” Jackson said.
Hours earlier, Jackson and his wife, Kimberly Jackson, were guests at the MLB Fan Cave, a destination point in New York City that unites players and fans. The couple won a social media contest through the Mariners for an all-expenses paid trip to New York to hang out with Mariners players in the Fan Cave and go to the May 15 game against the Yankees.
Now in its third year, the MLB Fan Cave features nine Cave Dwellers – whose job it is to watch every baseball game of the season on 15 big-screen TVs that make up the “Cave Monster” – along with concerts and celebrity and player appearances.
Each MLB team this year is hosting a separate contest for its fans for a chance to fly out to New York when their team is playing either the Yankees or the Mets.
Jackson said he saw the contest advertised on Twitter. It asked for fans to submit a photograph of themselves with an image of the famous Mariner beard hats superimposed on the photo.
Jackson perused the photos he had on his laptop and picked a winner – their wedding photo. The contest judges were impressed and chose the Jacksons for the trip.
Jackson said he had never heard of the Fan Cave despite closely following baseball news. He and his wife were given a tour of the cave, a two-story baseball playground featuring a winding plastic slide, the Cave Monster TVs, pingpong tables, walls of autographed baseballs and even dirt from each team’s field.
Wilhelmsen even took a small taste of the dirt from Safeco Field.
“He’s like, ‘That’s good dirt,’ ” Jackson said.
The Jacksons watched the May 14 game from inside the cave with the Cave Dwellers and tried to keep up with their rituals.
“They (go down the slide) every time someone from their team hits a home run,” Jackson said. “If their pitcher strikes someone out they have to do 10 pushups.”
Felix Hernandez recorded eight strikeouts that night.
Jackson, a 26-year-old Gonzaga University Law School student, said he and his wife are lifelong Mariner fans. For him, it started when his family moved from Utah to Everett when he was young. His wife was swayed when she found a Mariners T-shirt in a thrift store.
After witnessing moments like Ken Griffey Jr.’s 500th career home run, Jackson said the New York trip will rank up there with his favorite Mariner memories.
“It was kind of weird when we went to the Yankees game and the Yankees fans were cheering for Ichiro,” Jackson said. “I was like, ‘He’s our guy, how dare you.’ ”