I moved to Seattle in 1989, and, upon attending a game at the Kingdump, my first reaction was to turn to the person I was with and ask, “Do the games here really count?”
I grew up in New York, and spent scads of my summer free time at Yankee Stadium. Don’t get me wrong; I grew up with the horrible Yankees teams of the 1960s — Horace Clarke, Jerry Kenney, Fritz Peterson, Mike Kekich, Buddy Barker. Yes, I saw Mickey Mantle play, but his legs were shot by then, and maybe his liver was, too (although I still remember him hitting two home runs on Old-Timers Day, only to have the Yankees fall 3-2). Like Seattle fans, I remember Jim Bouton — but I remember him coming into a Yankees game in relief in 1967, where the world champion Orioles blew out the Yankees 14-2, and it was so bad that my 9-year-old self began to cry. I hated George Steinbrenner from the moment he bought the team, practically — he cut injured Mel Stottlemyre, my favorite player, in spring training so he wouldn’t be obliged to pay him a full year’s salary. And I remember what it was like in 1972 when the Yankees stopped stinking so badly, and actually began to compete for the pennant again. Then Steinbrenner treated Dave Winfield like dirt — all Winfield did was have the best 1980s of any player on the planet.
So when I came to Seattle, my loyalties were still with the Yankees.
It got no better when the 1994 season was destroyed by the strike. I actually had season tickets to the Mariners in 1992; I bought them with some of the money I inherited after my father died. I knew my father would appreciate that; he was the main reason I was a baseball fan. But when the strike ended baseball, I vowed never to pay for a baseball ticket again. (The fact that the ceiling tiles had fallen in the Kingdump, sending the Mariners out to play nothing but road games like the team in Philip Roth’s THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, didn’t help, either.)
And I made it through the 1995 season, not expecting much after Griffey injured himself, and watching the team sit at the mark of mediocrity for much of the year.
But then the Mariners began to win — stunningly, improbably, spectacularly. Each night a different player was the hero, whether it was Tino Martinez or Joey Cora, or Norm Charlton resuscitating his seemingly dead career. Jay Buhner — it was me, not George Costanza, who first yelled, ‘Why did you trade Jay Buhner?’ — urged the Mariners to play on to win the division and not to limp into the Wild Card. And then Griffey came back and put the team on his back.
And yet, I was only listening to the games on the radio, only occasionally catching them on TV.
But when it looked like the Mariners might actually make the playoffs, I went and ordered playoff tickets. I believe I ordered them in sets of three. Somewhere, on an old computer, I still have a very big TIFF file of the entire sheet. (I also have the sheet from 1996, when they missed the playoffs.) I took the day off to watch the Mariners/Angels playoff game on television. Mariners fans may love Dave Niehaus (as I loved Phil Rizzuto, who also had difficulty dealing with what was actually happening on the field), but to me, the signature call of the 1995 season was Rick Rizzs calling Luis Sojo’s double, concluding with his haggard, “Everybody scores!”
And then, before the Mariners could even get home, they were down 2-0 to the Yankees.
And the series turned around. Clutch hits were contagious. And I remember the feeling, standing way up in the upper deck behind home plate, believing firmly that the game was not over when the fifth game went to extra innings, even after Randy Johnson gave up the lead. The Kingdump was known for keeping noise in (although my main recollection was, as a new spectator, shouting something derisive at a visiting player, and HEARING THE TAUNT ECHO throughout the building), but what I remember the second-most about that game was the never-ending waves of the decks jouncing and bouncing as newly born Mariners fans — I don’t think there had been fans prior to August of 1995 — shouted and screamed and jumped and jumped. And when Edgar stroked that double, and Griffey came tearing around third — well, that may indeed have been the most exciting game I’ve ever attended. Fans chanted for minutes after Griffey touched the plate, stood for minutes before leaving, and it was as loud OUTSIDE the Kingdump as it was within.
But still, my favorite memory is of Game 6 of the ALCS. The Mariners actually led the Series 2-1, but fell in the final three games, sending Cleveland on to the World Series to lose to the Braves. When it became obvious that the game would probably end with the Mariners losing, I turned to my seatmate, and said, “I hope that the fans give the Mariners a round of applause for this great effort.” I know that in New York something like that could never happen, not at least for the Steinbrenner Yankees.
And so, when the final out was made, I was pleased. The crowd stood and shouted approbation and applauded. That would have been enough.
Even as Joey Cora cried in the dugout, there was no sign that the applause would end. Seattle fans got it that night. They understood that they had witnessed six weeks of baseball that have rarely been equaled in the sport. (Maybe last year’s Rockies matched the streak the ’95 Mariners put on, except that the Rockies did it for two fewer weeks.)
That moment is the moment I treasure the most from 1995. Yes, I remember many great moments, and, sadly, the older I get, there are some I no longer actually remember. But standing in that stadium, knowing that the Mariners had given the city of Seattle everything a baseball team can give a community, and knowing that the community got it — that was heaven in a real sense.
By Mike Flynn