I remember being four or five years old and dragging my dad into our front yard to teach me how to do a leg kick like a big league pitcher. Like Mark Langston and Mike Moore, two of Seattle’s very best, whose games I had actually seen with my own eyes. I could already swing my red plastic bat like Alvin Davis and could throw and catch a little bit. But now we needed to step it up. I wanted to bring the heat.
I failed at first. Where Langston and Moore stood poised like cranes on the front of their baseball cards, the rendition I put together, in retrospect, probably looked more along the lines of a miniature Chris Farley doing a karate kick, then chucking a tee ball with all his might. But I kept practicing and eventually got the motion down. Shortly thereafter, my parents stuck a pitchback screen on the lawn and let me while away the afternoons tossing to a net, whispering the names of all the great hurlers I knew as I fired fastball after fastball into a red rectangle.
I remember sitting on the floor listening to games on a transistor radio as I feigned cleaning my room, tuning in and out to the likes of Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs weaving the tales of otherwise forgettable summer nights. The tones of their voices would rise and fall with the action, and every pitch that fell beneath the nether reaches of the strike zone would be relayed by the sound of Niehaus’s baritone dropping an octave as he uttered “Looowww” in tandem with the umpire’s ruling of a ball.
I wondered what in the world they meant when they blurted out phrases like, “You can now close the book on Melido Perez,” and got more familiar with “no runs, no hits, no errors” than any child should be accustomed to hearing.
I remember wearing my mesh-back Mariners hat everywhere I went as a kid, royal blue with a yellow “S.” That is, until the first day of first grade, when my teacher told us we had to leave our hats on the coat rack by the door. We could wear them out to recess if we wanted, but there would be no caps in this classroom. Turned out baseball existed in stark contrast to the hatless world in which the rest of society lived.
I shook Ken Griffey Jr.’s hand at Photo Day, 1992, back when fans could traipse onto the Kingdome turf and only a thin, yellow rope separated the men in uniform from the average people like us. I pushed my way to the front of a crowd as I saw Junior approach, stuck my arm through a sliver of daylight, and waited anxiously as I started into the nothingness of some yuppie’s backside.
It was like fishing, really, dangling the bait in search of a bite. And then I felt my hand engulfed by a much larger one, taken up and down, up and down, and finally released back into a crowd of adults who now chatted with the center fielder as if he were their oldest, dearest friend. Mission accomplished.
I remember getting the Mariners’ alternate teal hat for Christmas in 1993, months before the players would even wear it in a game. It sat there on the bannister in our living room, right above our stockings. I’d wanted a fitted pro-style cap my entire life and here I was, nine years old, happier with that than I would have been a new bike. I destroyed that hat I wore it so much.
I remember changing my stance time and time again while taking batting practice, always searching for whatever adjustment would yield more hits. There was a Griffey phase, with the back elbow cocked at a 90-degree angle, chin pointed on a perfectly straight line towards the pitcher’s mound. An Edgar phase, with the bat held high above the helmet, twirling menacingly overhead. A Buhner phase, body opened toward third base, fingers opening and closing upon the handle. Even a Tino phase, knees bent as if sitting in a chair, hands chest high, elbow relaxed. If only resembling these hitters produced the same output at the plate.
This is only a fraction of what I remember about my childhood. The bulk of the things I do recall, however, seem to involve baseball or the Seattle Mariners or both. I figure that must mean the team meant something to me growing up, just like it does now.
And while it seems like we spend most of our adult lives either lamenting the team’s failures or celebrating their oft-fleeting successes, there was a time for any of us who simply classify ourselves as fans when the results didn’t matter. It’s silly to think that we could ever return to that level of naivety as jaded adults. But when I think back on those memories, it makes me feel better about anything and everything. So, apropos of nothing, I encourage you to give it a try and see where it takes you.