I admit it. I’m a fair-weather fan. If my team’s winning I’m behind ’em. Might even spend a few dollars going to their games. But if they’re losing, you won’t see me at the ballpark and I won’t waste any time watching on T-V either. I finally learned my lesson ten years ago after serving time as a Seattle Mariners fan. Yep I had “Mariner fever!” I knew the stats, I knew the score.
It all began in the old days of the Kingdome with the coming of Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989. It ended 12 seasons later at Safeco Field at the end of the 2001 season. It will be ten years ago next month and I’ve never looked back.
Tom Hanks in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own gave us the classic line, There’s no crying in baseball! But frankly I shed a few tears in those years. Always happy tears for those exciting days while watching my team at it’s best. Best of all I got to enjoy those games with my kids. It wouldn’t have been the same without them along for the ride. Probably some of the happiest and funnest times we spent together were at those games or in front of the television set at home watching as rabid Mariner fans. Those are great memories but, that was a long time ago.
The highlight of those 12 seasons was smack in the middle, 1995. It was the first time the Mariners had made it into post-season play. On October 8th my kids and I watched from home the 5th game of the 1995 division series. The Mariners against the dreaded Yankees. With the series tied 2-2, the M’s battled from behind to score two runs and send the game into extra innings. In the bottom of the eleventh the Mariners had runners on first and third. Designated hitter Edgar Martinez came to the plate and hit a double down the left field line driving Ken Griffey Jr. home to win the series. It was the greatest moment in Mariner history. Pandemonium broke out in my living room as we all shouted and jumped with joy! The M’s were one series away from the World Series! Nine days later however the Mariners lost the American League Championship Series in six games when they choked, allowing the Indians to win 3 in-a-row. It was heartbreaking. But thanks for the memories.
Six seasons later 2001 was the best year ever for the M’s while it would turn out to be the worse for me as a loyal fan. It was the year they won 116 games. They broke the American League single-season record of 114 wins and matched the Major League record of 116 set by the Chicago Cubs in 1906. Just one more win and the Mariners would have stood alone in the annals of baseball history. It was also the year Japanese star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki made his major league debut. 2001 marked the only time the M’s reached the postseason in consecutive seasons. But for me, it was the beginning of the my last stand.
After defeating the Indians in the division series, the M’s were crushed by the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in only five games. Like the season before my beloved Mariners choked against the Yankees in the ALCS. It was October 22nd, ten years ago next month. I was crushed. For me it was a bitter ending and I’d had enough. My heart was no longer in the game. I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d been through the best they could give me only at the end to see the season, as it had so many times before, dwindle in loss and heartbreak. But again, thanks for the memories.
As I write this on Monday night the Mariners are at the bottom of the American League West with 66 wins and 93 losses. Only three home games remain and another, what started out as promising, season will end. It was just a few months ago during the first week of June when Mariner fans were excited and the team the talk-of-the-town on sports programs locally. Mariner fever was once again on the rise! The M’s were 3 games above 500. But I thought to myself, remembering all those heartbreaking disappointments of the past, yea let’s see how long it lasts! Well it didn’t last long. It was the very peak of the season. The downward slide began and it got bad. Sickeningly atrocious. Adding insult to injury a month later the Mariners lost 17 in a row! A club record having bested the 14-straight they lost in 1992. At least they left the Baltimore Orioles holding the American League record of 21 straight losses that started their 1988 season. The Philadelphia Phillies hold the major league record with 23 set in 1961. Before the Yankees left town on July 27th the Mariners had played 26 games that month. They won just 6 of them.
Yes it’s true the M’s have had some great players. They’ve set some records along the way and made a mark on the game. They’ve had great seasons too but, one other thing is true as well. In the end, if not way sooner they choke and the season goes in the books as what could have been. “There’s always next season” is a common refrain here in the Pacific Northwest.
Times change as we all know. For me it’s no longer fun being a Mariners baseball fan. The glory days of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriquez are long over. Edgar has long since retired, Jay Buhner too. Sadly and without warning Dave Niehaus, the only voice of the Mariners we’ve ever known, is no longer with us. Going to a Mariners game is just not the same. It’s not what it used to be and my kids, who I once enjoyed so many of those games with, are no longer around… Like I said, I’m a fair-weather fan.
The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers…. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past… It reminds us of all that once was
good, and that could be again.
Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) from the movie “Field of Dreams”