No one was as big a fan of Hisashi Iwakuma as my grandmother. Every week when we got together for lunch, she would rave about the Mariners’ Japanese pitcher. Being Japanese herself, my grandma couldn’t have been more enthralled by a successful baseball player of our ethnic heritage plying his trade in Seattle.
“Why don’t they let Iwakuma play more?” she’d ask.
“Well,” I’d explain, “they only let starting pitchers play every five days. It’s just kind of how they do things in baseball. They don’t want him getting hurt. He plays as much as he’s allowed.”
“Hmm. I wish they’d let him play more.” My grandmother was not going to be appeased by the silliness of a five-man rotation.
When she passed away in September, I was upset with her favorite baseball team. She had wanted for years to see this ballclub succeed, watching every game along the way, win or lose. But following the Mariners seemed to be an exercise in futility. They hadn’t made the postseason in over a decade. They typically battled for last place. And who knows how long it would be before the thought of a championship so much as crossed anyone’s mind.
In the summer of 2003, I was a proud high school graduate with little in the way of responsibility and all the time in the world to contemplate my future.
I was 18 years old and would be headed to the University of Washington come autumn. I had a job working retail at the mall, but my concerns rarely lent themselves to selling shoes or folding t-shirts. I’d rather hang out, watch baseball, listen to music, go to movies, impress the opposite sex, or work out — all of this according to my AOL Instant Messenger profile, of course.
I was still very much a kid back then, one who had never really emerged from the cocoon that seems to envelop the Greater Seattle suburbs. I was naive, goofy, quiet, innocent, and all the things you tend to be before you settle into adulthood.
In that final summer before college commenced, I just wanted to hang out with all the other kids that I’d grown up with. Kids who would move on to different schools in different towns. Kids I might never see again. Kids that I enjoyed being around. I think we knew back then that life would never really be the same for any of us. And for the final few months of our adolescence, it was important that we embrace the memories we had in our past, as well as those we would create over the following weeks.
On June 2nd, 1990, my dad took me to a baseball game. I was five years old and we were going to see the Mariners take on the visiting Detroit Tigers in the Kingdome. Even at that age I went to so many ballgames that this particular day was no different than many others. But somewhere, amongst my collection of baseball-related things, I still possess a ticket stub from that contest. It’s unusually glossy, with a vibrant yellow trim, and weaves the Mariners’ alternate logo — a blue baseball stamped with “M’s” lettering — into its otherwise-white canvas. It indicates my preferred seating location — somewhere in the nether reaches of the Dome’s 300-level, on the first base side, directly across from the big screen, or DiamondVision to the initiated.
I don’t remember much about that particular evening. When you’ve only recently hit the halfway point of your single-digit years, memories tend to be fuzzy and shrouded in puffy, silver clouds. I’d like to say I recall every moment of that game, but that would be a lie. About the only distinct memory I do have is rising to my feet with a crowd, clapping and cheering as the ninth inning faded into oblivion. Next to me, my dad explained what was occurring. Baseball may not have done everything right in defining their terminology over the years, but the term “no-hitter” is pretty easy for anyone to understand, even a kid.