Frank Fullmer is a lifelong baseball fan.
At 86 years young, he has a healthy number of innings under his belt. Hearing is difficult, but that doesn’t diminish his love of the game.
Frank retired to the Spokane Valley, and he and his wife, Betty, live a quiet retirement. And they’ve made some great friends over the past few years.
Frank’s passion for baseball started as a youngster, when he became a New York Yankees fan because of his favorite player: Lou Gehrig. When “The Iron Horse” succumbed to the disease that is now known by his name, Fullmer changed his allegiance to Brooklyn to follow a new favorite player: Pee Wee Reese.
He joined the United States Navy for a 30-year career, but his love of baseball went with him. He played on base teams, and when the years began to catch up with his game, he switched to fastpitch softball.
When Frank and Betty wound up in Los Angeles, they followed the Dodgers and spent many a pleasant night at the stadium in Chavez Ravine.
And when they moved north to Seattle, they became Mariners fans and took in games at the Kingdome, then moved with the team to Safeco Field.
“We loved watching those Mariners teams with Ken Griffey Jr.,” Betty Fullmer said. “And Safeco Field is ‘the stadium that Griffey built.’ ”
Settled in at home in the Spokane Valley, Frank follows his Mariners on television and spends hours talking baseball with his friend, local umpire David Sutton.
“He even offered to take Frank to Seattle to see a Mariners game in person,” Betty said. “He said he would take care of everything, even find a wheelchair at the stadium so that Frank could get around. But Frank just isn’t strong enough to be able to do that anymore.”
Some friends just don’t take no for an answer.
A year ago Sutton took it upon himself to get Frank a personally autographed memento from his favorite player, Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. An annual visitor to spring training, he tried in vain to get the player’s attention and came back empty-handed.
Well, not totally empty-handed. After contacting the Mariners public relations office, the team sent Frank a package of appreciation that included a Kyle Seager bobblehead, among other fun items like a “True to the Blue” banner and a team pennant.
But the longtime umpire was determined to get that autograph.
“As you know, Kyle Seager doesn’t sign that many autographs,” Sutton explained. “So this year we came up with the picture to get his attention.”
Instead of asking the all-star to sign a picture of himself for Frank, Sutton had a poster made of Frank and planned to ask the player to sign it.
And he knew he was going to have to work hard if this was to all come together.
“I asked the usher as we entered Mariner Stadium in Peoria where I should go to get the autograph,” Sutton explained. “He pointed waaaaay out in right field, down the ramp and through the small park where the players come in.”
Sutton hustled over and spotted Seager in a golf cart heading toward the field.
“I dangled the picture in front of him, and he did not stop,” Sutton said. “But he did look back like he was interested.”
Spotting an opening, Sutton knew that, if he was going to have any chance at all of pulling this all off, he was going to have to beat the golf cart to the dugout.
“I raced to the end of the dugout yelling, ‘Kyle, this is Frank!’ ” Sutton explained. “That’s it. It got his attention. And the attention of the near-by seats. And the TV camera and the ushers. I almost fell into the dugout. Round of applause for Frank as I took my seat.
“It was amazing how the crowd reacted to it all. ‘Go Frank! Go Frank!’ The fans thought it was great.”
The effort made the broadcast from spring training, but Frank and Betty missed the episode.
But they happily received the autographed poster.
“Dave’s wife, Vicky, is a very craftsy lady, and she put the poster in a lovely frame,” Betty Fullmer said.
The poster resides on the wall of Frank’s TV room, where it will watch over a new baseball season that starts next week.
“We’ve enjoyed this whole process, and we appreciate all the work they put into getting this for Frank,” Betty said.
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