Here’s the kind of Seattle Mariners nerd I am: I own a full Mariners uniform.
Not just the jersey. I own the pants, the belt, the hat and the stirrup socks. Yes, even the cup.
There’s a valid reason for this – beyond being a nerd – which I’ll get to later. The point is, I have been known to don my Mariners uniform on special occasions. Once I invited some friends over to watch the Opening Day game, and I promised them a special surprise. I went upstairs, pulled on my uniform and made a triumphant entrance down the spiral staircase. I was expecting a stunning reaction, but what I got was more like, stunned. Jaws were agape. Eyes were averted.
Since that day, my friend Ralph has referred to it as my “Mariner costume,” as in, “Jim, I sure hope you’re going to dress up in your Mariner costume for dinner tonight.”
I have been a devoted – to the point of comical – Mariners fan for more than four decades. Now, on the cusp of the Mariners’ first playoff appearance in 20 years, this seems a fine time to describe the blind devotion, the unwavering loyalty and the irrational optimism of those of us in Mariners Nation. My Mariners story is best told in vignettes.
The Western Vacuum – When I was growing up in Denver, it had no major league team. So I became a Minnesota Twins fan. Why? Because I got out an atlas and a ruler and calculated (possibly erroneously) that Minneapolis was the closest major league city.
But when my wife, Carol, and I moved to greater Seattle in 1979, there was, for the first time in our lives, a HOME TEAM. A particularly inept home team, playing in a particularly cavernous domed stadium, but we didn’t care. We had finally found a team in our actual geographic region. It was love at first sight.
The Guy Trip to the Kingdome – When we moved to Spokane in 1989, we had no problem keeping our Mariners addiction stoked. Spokane was well within the Mariners TV and radio market, which was one of the city’s many attractions. We also came up with various stratagems for attending games, a task made easier by one quirk of the interstate highway system. If you hop onto Interstate 90 in Spokane and stay on it all the way to Milepost Zero, you are deposited more or less in the parking lot of the Kingdome, or now T-Mobile Park.
The ease of navigation was the impetus for one infamous trip, known as the Guy Trip to the Kingdome, in which a bunch of us guys played hooky from work, got in a van at 8 a.m., drove to the Kingdome, watched a game, hopped back in the van, and drove back to Spokane (with a strategic stop at the Brick Tavern in Roslyn), all in the same day. This is a trip that Carol and I have replicated numerous times (minus the Brick Tavern) when there is a particularly attractive day game.
The Pregnancy Home Run – In those early years in Seattle, we bought bleacher seats as often as we could, and sometimes when we shouldn’t. When Carol was pregnant with our first child in 1980, she was two weeks overdue and miserable. How to induce labor? The solution was obvious to this pair of Mariners nerds: Go to a game at the Kingdome!
So we sat in the outfield bleachers, alert to any incipient contractions. Nothing. But suddenly, the crowd roared, we looked up and saw a home run ball arcing directly toward Carol’s rather impressive belly. My first reaction was to stand in front and shield her. I didn’t even try to catch the ball – but the guy behind us did. He looked at Carol, offered her the ball, and said, “This is for the baby!”
She declined his kind offer. But later that night, her contractions began and our son Mike was born the next day. Now, that was a useful Mariners home run ball.
The Stress-Free Nature of Mariners fandom – People sometimes ask, “Isn’t it just stressful to be a Mariners fan? All of that losing?”
They don’t understand a crucial point. There is no stress in rooting for a losing team. Frustration, yes. Aggravation, sure. What is stressful is rooting for a contending team. Expectations are high and every game counts.
Rooting for the Mariners has been – most seasons – blissfully easy. Expectations are low, losses are no big deal and the occasional victory is a gift. Tickets are easy to get, the concessions lines are short and the restrooms are uncrowded.
There have been exceptions to the rule – the 1995, 2001 and 2022 seasons come to mind. Don’t get me wrong, those have been great, rewarding seasons. Yet angst-free they were not.
The Viking Tavern Victory Celebration – A losing tradition has one other consolation. It doesn’t take much winning to generate a sense of triumph. Case in point, our Viking Tavern Victory Celebration in 1991. I joined four of my fellow Mariners fans at this great Spokane watering hole to raise a glass to the Seattle Mariners in honor of a record-breaking feat: They had just won their 82nd game the night before, clinching their first winning season.
Yes, it took the Mariners 15 years to finally have a winning season. Yes, the team ended up with only 83 wins that year, which put them in fifth place in their division, 12 games back of the leaders. Still, this was a moment worth celebrating. We were nearly as happy at that moment as we were in 2001, when they won 116. (Well, not really).
The Cadre of Mariners Die-Hards – Over the years, a tight cadre of our fellow enthusiasts – Anne, Johnny, Leslie, Cleve, Lyle, Rick, Rick and more – have formed a bond over our shared Mariner mania. We have celebrated the successes and mostly ignored the failures. When Edgar Martinez was voted into the Hall of Fame, we invited Anne over, raised a glass with her and fought back a tear.
One summer, when I was reeling from a family crisis, Anne surprised us with an offer to join her and her husband at our happy place, a Mariners baseball game. That game was a Retro Cap Day promotion, so we all scored new Mariners “trident M” caps. That cap has been my go-to headwear for the past five years, and every time I slap it on my head, I think about that wonderful gesture.
The Mariners have also been a great source of family bonding. Not only are my son and daughter fans, but our grandsons are becoming fans. They especially love Julio Rodriguez, a character any 7-year-old can relate to.
Mariners Fantasy Camp – The pinnacle of Mariners nerd-dom is attendance at a Mariners Fantasy Camp, where middle-aged fans pretend to be major leaguers for a week. Yes, I actually achieved that pinnacle in 2004. In my defense, I was not an actual camper, but an employee, thanks to my friend Mike Murphey, who ran the camp. As an employee, I got to play in all of the games – two games a day, most days. I ended up with a sparkling .200 batting average. I still have my official fantasy camp baseball card to prove it.
And that, as promised, is the explanation for why I own a full Mariners baseball costume, I mean, uniform. Everybody who participated in camp received one. By the way, this seems like an opportune time to publicly apologize to Edgar Martinez for putting No. 11 on my uniform. The real Mariners have rightfully retired that number. But this was pretend baseball, and I prefer to think of my choice as an homage, not a rip-off. (I would also like to apologize to Edgar for hitting .200 while wearing his number.)
Making the Playoffs – Now is the time for all of us Mariners nerds to bask in the glory of finally making the playoffs. Fans have broken out their Mariners hats and jerseys all over Spokane this week, and I tip my cap to them.
I am not speaking metaphorically. I have actually tipped my trident cap to a few fans while shopping for groceries at Super One.
Will the Mariners win? I sure hope so. But if they don’t, the love affair will not weaken among the M’s Cadre of Die-Hards. That’s just not the way this nerd-dom works.
Jim Kershner is a retired Spokesman-Review columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.