An Interview With Andy Benes About His 1995 Mariners Season

Randy Johnson and Norm Charlton seem to dominate most fans’ memories of the pitchers on the 1995 Mariners; some remember Jeff Nelson, or Chris Bosio, or Bob Wolcott for his start against the Indians to begin the ALCS. But Andy Benes and Tim Belcher, two in-season additions via trade who were two-fifths of the rotation starting in August, didn’t remain with the team after 1995, and don’t get much attention from fans. I recently got in touch with Benes, looking to add an interview of a player to this site’s project of looking back at the ’95 Mariners. I was also hoping for a different perspective on the season, from a player who hadn’t been part of the team’s pre-’95 struggles and doesn’t get asked about his Mariners experience often.

Benes lives west of St. Louis and is involved with the Cardinals’ community and charity programs. That reflects his two stints with the Cardinals after 1995, and fits in pretty well with his spending the first 20 or so years of his life in Evansville, Indiana, along the Ohio River near the Illinois line. He also helps coach the Westminster Christian Academy baseball and softball teams, hosts an annual golf tournament to benefit the school, and he and his wife, Jennifer (married for 26 years), have six children. The two youngest are adopted from Central Russia. After breaking off his studies at the University of Evansville to play baseball, Benes recently finished a degree in business from St. Louis University.

Here are the thoughts and memories Andy shared about 1995.

What was your response to getting sent to Seattle? The team’s history wasn’t impressive, but it had talent. Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez were having remarkable seasons, and Griffey was going to come back soon. Did you think you had a chance of making the playoffs, even though the Mariners were just around .500 at the end of July?

I was surprised that Seattle was my destination. I had heard that I may get traded to many different places, but Seattle was not discussed. I really did not follow the American League much at all because there was no interleague play at that point. The team was very, very good and extremely talented. The GM told me that Seattle was just several games out of the Wild Card hunt, but 11 or 12 games behind the California Angels.

The team definitely knew that the playoffs were a real possibility and anything short of that would have been disappointing.

I’ve heard Mariners players say they had a unique chemistry in ’95, a strong togetherness and focus, and that helped sparked the run at the pennant. Did you sense that spirit among the players when you joined the Mariners, and on into October?

The chemistry was unbelievable. They all truly cared about each other and played the game in an unselfish way. I had not experienced that in my big league career to that point. It seemed like there was a different hero every night. I don’t think teams can win consistently without some type of cohesion, and this team had it. They genuinely liked each other and hung out together away from the ballpark. I think that was a culture set from the leaders (Buhner, Bosio, etc.). The Refuse to Lose motto was very appropriate for this team because there was a genuine belief that destiny was on the M’s side and nothing was going to get in the way.

Looking at your stats with the M’s, you had some up and down starts for the first month, but then had four very good starts in a row in September as the team went into the division lead. Was there any clear catalyst for that change? Was it mainly a question of adjusting to a new league and the Kingdome and other new ballparks?

The American and National Leagues at that point were very different. The teams were built differently with the use of the DH and more runs were scored. As I remember, I either pitched well and won or not very well at all. Not too many games in between. I kind of found my groove and pitched well down the stretch. I enjoyed watching the rest of the staff pitch as well and the guys were so good to me. Randy, Bosio, and Belcher really took me under their wings and made me feel welcome. I could just be one of the guys and not have the pressure of being the #1 guy in the rotation as a young pitcher. It was awesome to watch the veteran guys pitch and they really helped me with the hitters.

I also had the luxury of knowing our team was a great offensive team and would score a bunch of runs. That was a foreign concept for me as I came from having the worst run support in the NL for 6 years. I remember Jay Buhner coming up to me before my first start and saying, “just keep us within 6 runs in the first 5 innings, and we will figure out a way to win.” I hadn’t ever had six runs scored for me in a game, so I thought, “wow, this could be fun.”

I’m not sure how many fans remember your start in game 5 of the ALDS, given all the drama that happened after you left the game. It looks like you were on for the first three innings, facing the minimum nine Yankee batters, then battled through the rest of the start. What are your memories of the game, first pitching and then watching the late-game drama?

What a pressure packed game. I remember the Kingdome was rocking and everyone in Seattle was on fire for the M’s. It was my turn and I was excited and nervous to have the ball. I really do not remember that much about the time I was in the game. I believe I gave up 4 runs on 4 hits thru 7 against a good Yankees team.

I remember wondering why David Cone was left in the game as long as he was. He eventually walked in the tying run in the bottom of the 8th. Then it got exciting. The Big Unit came in after throwing a complete game two days earlier. It was insane. That is about the only way to describe it. He wanted the ball and all of his teammates wanted him to finish. He pitched well and then came the heroics of Cora, Junior, and Edgar. Seeing Griffey Jr. score from first on that double in the corner was as good as it gets in baseball. What a game. What a privilege to be a part of it.

How do you think of your time with the Mariners at this point, 17 years later? Are there strong memories of those 11 or 12 weeks?

It was a special time in my career as I got to compete in the playoffs for the first time. I am thankful for the faith the organization placed in me and have fond memories of my time there. I am especially thankful to have played with such a close knit group of guys who would do anything to win. They embraced me as one of their own for the time I was there and that is a testament of their character.

johnsonbenes This picture of Johnson, Andy, and a Mariners trainer, I believe, was taken at a road game vs. the Angels in early August of ’95, just after he joined the team.

A Game 5 Story

The following story is reprinted from Edgar and the Hall, a website “On Edgar Martinez and a quest for the Hall of Fame” that began at the start of the year. You can find the original story here, with a couple of asides that I’ve left out of the reprinted version below:

I was at Game 5.

Yep, I was there. In the third deck down the right field line. It was bedlam. It was amazing. It was seminal. But, honestly, I barely remember it. It was all a blur. No. My most vivid memory of Game 5 came nearly five years later, on the morning of March 26, 2000, on a stranger’s floor in Washington D.C.

Here’s the story.

I moved to D.C., from Seattle, in October, 1999, after graduating from law school. I was a brand-new baby-lawyer at the Department of Justice and I didn’t know a soul. Well, I did have a friend from the fraternity house at the University of Michigan who lived there. But this was it. I was on my own for the first time. It was exciting and challenging, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss home.

Six months after starting work, I’d become friends with some of the new lawyers who’d started at Justice around the same time. I was out drinking with a group of Justice newbies on the night of Saturday, March 25, and we all ended up at some random stranger’s apartment early Sunday morning. As people snatched up spare beds and couches, I was left with the living room floor. There was no chance I could sleep.

So, instead, I turned on the TV. And, to my everlasting delight, ESPN Classic was airing the “Best games ever played at the Kingdome,” in anticipation of the Kingdome demolition later that morning.

Lying on that floor, I watched the game again for the first time. Extra Innings. Randy Johnson out of the bullpen. “Black” Jack McDowell. Stupid Randy Velarde. Yankees take the lead. Joey Cora bunts and slides around Mattingly. Junior’s line drive single. Runners at the corners . . . .

Up comes Edgar . . .

Wow. Things were changing in Seattle. Edgar’s double led directly to the demolition of the Kingdome. Safeco Field was open. The next year, that beautiful new stadium would play host the 2001 All-Star Game, a rookie named Ichiro, and a winning streak the likes of which no one had ever seen.

And one drunk M’s fan, lying on a stranger’s floor three-thousand miles away, felt like he was home.

An Interview With “Baseball’s Greatest Series” Author Chris Donnelly

After receiving word of Chris Donnelly’s book on the 1995 ALDS, Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History, I wrote a quick summary of his book and printed an excerpt describing Edgar Martinez’s grand slam in game 4. I’ve followed up by asking Chris some questions about his project of researching the ALDS and writing the book on it. Here’s our exchange:

Arne: You came to this project as a Yankees fan, right? I’ve always assumed this ALDS was the province of Mariner fans, so I’m curious to find out why you decided to write about it from over in New Jersey.

Chris: I was born in 1981 so the ’95 series was the first time I had seen the Yankees make the playoffs. They have seemingly made it to the postseason every year since, but back in ’95, this was a huge deal in NYC. Plus, like many Yankee fans, Don Mattingly was by far my favorite player, so there was an overwhelming sense of relief that he finally made the postseason. The games were beyond anything baseball fans could have hoped for and despite the outcome, I often thought back upon the series and how exciting it all was. As I got older, I learned more and more about it and found there was more to the story than just the five games, so I thought it would make for a good book.

Arne: Your book’s to a large extent about the swan song of Don Mattingly. Could you talk a little bit about how he figured in the ALDS. It seems that him striking out three times against Randy Johnson in game 3 was an emotional turning point in the series.

Chris: I think for many Yankee fans, it was almost more about Don Mattingly making the playoffs and winning the World Series than about the Yankees doing so. Very few people knew for certain if he was returning after that season, so for fans, it became crucial that the Yankees win it then and there. Additionally, his performance during the series (10 hits, 6 RBI and a home run) reminded many of the dominating player he had been during the 1980s. Mattingly was the only left handed batter in the lineup against Johnson, showing Showalter’s faith in him. Unfortunately, it did not work out well for Mattingly and even Seattle fans, who had been mostly cordial to him, began taunting him after the three strikeout performance.

Arne: The N.Y. vs. Seattle baseball dynamic really got going in ’95, then it became a recurring rivalry for the next six years. And of course a lot of Mariner fans are still disgusted by Alex Rodriguez leaving town, so he’s helped make the Yankees a continuing object of dislike in the Northwest. It’s somewhat well known here that Seattle’s first name was “New York Alki,” or “New York by and by,” and Seattle still seems to emulate itself on New York City in some ways. What are your thoughts on the sports rivalry between the two cities?

Chris: From 1995 to 2001, the Yankees-Mariners was possibly the best rivalry in baseball. Most of that was driven by the Division Series, but you had dynamic players on both sides and there were always NY/Seattle connections, whether it be Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez, Jay Buhner, or Luis Sojo. I think just about every city takes pride in defeating the Yankees, but especially Seattle because they had a one up on everyone because of what happened in ’95.

Arne: What take does the average Yankee fan have on the ’95 ALDS?

Chris: I don’t want to speak for all fans, but for me it’s mostly bittersweet. I think the Yankees had an excellent chance of beating the Indians in the ALCS that year and getting to the World Series. Had they done so, it would have been very difficult for Steinbrenner not to have brought back Buck Showalter and other members of the team. It was disappointing for fans that off season to slowly see their favorite players start leaving for other teams, and then to not have Mattingly return was almost unthinkable. Yet the Yankee dynasty of ’96-’01 does not happen if the Yankees don’t lose that series, so in a twisted way, you almost seem grateful that Edgar hit that double (although the pain of watching that and reliving the moment, as a Yankee fan, never goes away).

Arne: What do you think was the biggest mistake the Yankees made during ALDS to help the Mariners come back?

Chris: I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but not utilizing Mariano Rivera. It’s not a mistake because no one knew just what Rivera brought to the table. He hadn’t pitched well during the regular season, and yet he dominated Seattle in the playoffs. Had Showalter known then what we all know now (a fact Buck admits), Rivera would have been brought in sooner in Game 5, possibly pitched out of that 8th inning jam without letting the Mariners tie the game, and today we would be talking about the Tampa Bay Mariners. But it would be unfair to blame Showalter for that because no one had a clue and anyone who says otherwise is simply not telling the truth.

Arne: I’ve always thought Yankee fans have a grudge against Randy Johnson because of his feats in the ALDS and the ’01 World Series, and because he then didn’t do too well in New York. Do you agree?

Chris: Again, I don’t want to speak for all fans, but I think that is probably fair. What is odd about that is that the Yankees actually performed very well historically against Johnson during the regular season. I don’t have the exact stats, but I believe few teams did better. But when it came playoff time, he simply dominated them in two separate years. Johnson came to NY with high expectations and, in the minds of fans anyway, never lived up to them.

Arne: How did the interviews for the book go? Who did you talk to, what did they say, and what were your impressions of them?

Chris: I spoke to approximately 70 people for the book. They ranged from umpires, to team personnel, people who had been on the teams in the ’80s, and of course, the coaches, managers and players who were there in ’95. Just about everyone was very supportive of the concept and for those who took part in the series, they all loved talking about the experience (even the Yankees). On the NY side, many of those guys had great memories of their teammates and coaches, many of whom they never played with again after the Game 5 loss. For Seattle, most of the players simply couldn’t stop talking about what a great experience it was and how Seattle baseball really came to life that year.

Arne: Along the same lines, which Mariner players and/or officials were the most interesting to research and to interview?

Chris: Researching the Mariners’ early history was fun because, frankly, the team was so bad. They were just so many oddities that I kept discovering, like Wills trying to make the batter’s box bigger, or a guy who gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw in the majors. Everyone I interviewed, and I sincerely mean this, was fantastic. No one hesitated to share stories or memories. Jay Buhner and Chris Bosio stick out most of all because I spent the most time with them. They are both open and frank guys who not only shared stories of the series, but also gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for little aspects of the game (how to pitch certain hitters, what to do against a David Cone slider, etc.).

Arne: The trade of Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson after the ’95 season was, along with the trade of Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe two years later, one of the great Mariner missteps that kept the team from doing more with its amazing talent in the ’90s. Did you have the chance to talk with Nelson and/or Martinez about the trade? Also, did any of the Mariners officials you talked with describe the reasoning behind it?

Chris: While I was able to interview more than half of the players who took part in the series, unfortunately, Tino and Jeff Nelson were not among them. Obviously, from the Yankees side, the trade became necessary once Don Mattingly made clear he was not returning for 1996.

Arne: There were so many themes and subtexts to the Mariners/Yankees rivalry in the ’90s and early ’00s, with all the players, and Piniella, having experience with both teams in their careers, and the re-emergence of the Yankees as a team good enough to be worthy of rooting against even if you were three thousand miles away. What was the attitude toward those Mariner teams in and around New York City?

Chris: I think Yankee fans always held a resentment against the Mariners for what happened in ’95, at least until the 2000 and or 2001 seasons. The Kingdome always seemed to be a nightmare for the Yankees, and players like Junior, Edgar and Randy Johnson were easy for New Yorkers to pick out as villains because they handled the Yankees well. After the 2000 and ’01 ALCS, I think that bitterness died away, not just because the Yankees won those series, but because so many of the key players were gone from both teams.

Arne: Stepping away from the ’95 ALDS for a final question, how do you remember the ’01 ALCS? It’s obviously overshadowed by that year’s World Series, but that was such a uniquely important and moving time, to have playoff baseball about 10 miles north of the World Trade Center site.

Chris: That entire playoff run for the Yankees was obviously a special moment in New York. It seemed like the one time when people, at least not collectively for a change, weren’t praying for the Yankees not to win again. The Yankees played many fantastic games that postseason, including Game 4 against Seattle, and to be able to clinch the League Championship at home meant a lot to the city that year. Additionally, at least from the fans’ perspective, the Yankees were trying to prevent the 116-win Mariners from eclipsing the ’98 Yankees as perhaps the greatest single season team in history, so to beat them and maintain that aura was especially satisfying.

“Baseball’s Greatest Series”: The Book on the 1995 ALDS

A few days ago I learned about this book, called Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History. The author, Chris Donnelly, then sent me the text, and having read it, I can say that the book is the most comprehensive retrospective analysis of the ’95 ALDS that I’ve seen. Donnelly has written a biography of the two teams from the ’80s up through 1995. In Seattle’s case he begins with the Pilots and then discusses the Mariners’ various travails before focusing on Lou Piniella’s job of transforming the franchise; in New York’s case he focuses on George Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ revolving cast of managers during the ’80s and early ’90s.

Donnelly then describes the course of the Mariners and Yankees’ regular seasons in ’95, but this is all a prelude to the main event: a highly detailed account of the five games of the ALDS. Donnelly describes each game at an inning by inning level, interspersing short profiles of players on the two teams–not just the superstars, but also players like Tim Belcher, Sterling Hitchcock, and Joey Cora. For key at-bats,  Donnelly zooms in even closer to describe individual pitches and the mentality of the pitcher and hitter during the at-bat. You can read some more about the book and buy it here. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt describing Edgar Martinez’s grand slam in game 4:

Wetteland, working cautiously, threw two straight breaking balls to Martinez, both outside. It was impossible to pitch to Martinez, regardless of the situation, but Wetteland wanted to keep the ball outside, hoping Martinez would end up hitting the ball hard somewhere for an out and keep the damage to a minimum. Wetteland’s breaking ball was not working and he could not afford to walk Martinez. Down 2-0 in the count, he delivered a fastball straight down the middle. Martinez swung under the pitch, sending a high pop down the first base line in foul territory and the Yankees almost caught a break. Randy Velarde made a mad dash for the ball, nearly tripping over the visiting team bullpen mounds in the process.

Stretching as far as he could, he stabbed at the ball, but it dropped just out of his reach in foul territory. Had Velarde caught it, Vince Coleman would most likely have scored from third base giving the Mariners the lead, but considering how the Mariners’ bullpen had pitched in the series, a one run lead would not have assured victory. Instead of an out, Martinez was presented with a second chance.

Wetteland fired two more fastballs and Martinez fouled off each of them. The tension and anticipation inside the Kingdom on each pitch was utterly nerve racking. The count now 2-2, Wetteland got the sign from Mike Stanley, brought his hands to his belt, checked the runners, and delivered a fastball straight down the middle. “I wanted to get just one good slider over to Edgar (but) I had to come in with it (a fastball). When you do that you have to live with the consequences,” said Wetteland. Martinez, following through with a lightening fast swing, sent the ball screaming to straight away center field. It was hit so hard that fans didn’t have enough time to contemplate whether it may or may not go over the fence. The ball quickly sailed over the center field wall just to the right of the 405 foot mark and crashed into the batter’s eye tarp for a grand slam. Mariners’ announcer Dave Niehaus, sounding like he might blow a vocal chord, could barely contemplate what he was seeing. “Get out the rye bread and the mustard…a graaaaand salaaami,” the overly excited broadcaster screamed into his microphone. “I don’t believe it, my oh my!” In the Mariners’ dugout, Lou Piniella high fived Lee Elia with both hands.

The crowd reaction surpassed anything that had ever taken place inside the Kingdome to that point. It was ear-shattering, painful, and unreal. A mix of elation and pure pandemonium.

Martinez, mild mannered and rarely one to wear emotions on his sleeve, raised his right arm in triumph after seeing the ball clear the fence. The emotional display was certainly justified. Martinez had just hit the biggest home run in the history of the Mariners’ franchise. “I was only trying to make contact,” said Martinez. “I was surprised it went out. I was so excited. As a kid you always dream of hitting a home run like that, and here it is in the playoffs.” His team, once down 5-0 and looking at the end of their season, was now leading 10-6. Just two hours ago they had been thinking about spring training in 1996. Now they were starting to think about Game 5 the next night.

John Wetteland stood dejected on the mound. Things had collapsed so rapidly it was hard to contemplate what had just happened. “It was just a poor, ugly, non-inning,” said Wetteland after the game. “I started off bad and things caved in on me from there. The walk, the ball off Griffey’s foot…it was just ugly all around.” Seconds after Martinez’s shot had crashed behind the centerfield wall, Buck Showalter was already making his way towards the mound. Chaos ensued all around him as “Shout” blasted from the loud speakers and 57,000 people sang along. Just a minute after giving up the home run, Wetteland sat on the bench in stunned silence.

David Cone on the Doug Strange Walk and Randy Johnson in Game Five

David Cone’s performance in game five of the ’95 ALDS gets some extended discussion in A Pitcher’s Story, the 2001 book he collaborated on with Roger Angell. In the book, Angell describes the Mariners’ run as “a populist triumph that kept the Seattle franchise in town” as well as “a huge boost for the new and widely disparaged extra tier of playoff games . . .  and a television godsend for baseball itself at the end of two unhappy, strike-shortened seasons.”

Cone reflects on his split-finger fastball to Doug Strange for ball four, a bases-loaded walk that let in the tying run in the eighth inning of game 5.  He says: “It took me forever to get over that. I couldn’t sleep. I almost didn’t go out of my house for a couple of weeks after. I’d thrown a hundred and forty-six pitches in the game up to that point, and I had nothing left, but I was still sure that was the right call. I just didn’t execute. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I have this conviction that I should be able to deliver any pitch in any situation.

“I’ll never forget that flight home. My catcher, Mike Stanley, kept telling me it was his fault for calling the pitch, but I wouldn’t let him get away with it. Buck Showalter, the manager, must have known that he was finished with the Yankees after the loss, and Donnie Mattingly is somewhere else in the plane, going home for good and knowing that he’s never going to play in a World Series. I’d let them all down.”

A little bit later in A Pitcher’s Story, Cone talks about Randy Johnson’s performance in the ALDS, specifically Randy coming in to relieve in game 5. Cone:  “I can’t say enough good things about the man who can perform like that when the price is so high.”

Cone adds: “This was the game I’d come out of, after that base on balls. I’m in the dugout, thinking how I’d let the team down, but when Randy Johnson comes in I stopped being an opponent. What Randy did-that disregard for long-term effects-is what real players do. I was proud of him. He had back trouble the next year and had to go on the D.L., and there may be a connection, but you don’t think of that at the time. What we knew, watching him, was that he’d already beat us on a four-hitter and here he is back again after only one day of rest, ready to pitch some more, because he was their best. I was in awe, watching.

“Here’s a man about to become a free agent who could name his own price anywhere, and he pitches on like that, regardless of the risk to his career. This came on the heels of a bitter strike, when the players had been hammered in public opinion. I think America began to change its mind about players right there. Sitting in the dugout, I applauded him as a fan.”

As for Cone’s 147 pitches in game 5, he says: “I’d have thrown two hundred and forty-seven to win that game.”

Edgar At The Bat

Edgar at the Bat: A Tale of Salvation

With Apologies to Ernest L. Thayer and Casey At The Bat

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mariner Nine that day;
The score stood 4 to 4 as the eleventh inning began its play.
And when Kelley scored for the Yankees, and the Unit was to blame
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to wail in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope that springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Joey or Junior could get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money then with Edgar at the bat.

So Joey preceded Edgar, as did Junior and his Rake,
And the former was a banjo and the latter had had a break;
So upon that stricken multitude the rally cap was the hat
For there was a chance of runners on with Edgar coming to the bat.

And Joey laid down a bunt single, to the wonderment of all,
And Griffey, kept hopes alive and tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the fans saw what had occurred,
Hysteria reigned across the Dome, and many an eye was blurred.

Then from sixty thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through Snoqualmie Valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon THE mountain and it recoiled upon the flat,
For Edgar, mighty Edgar was advancing to the bat.

There was an ease in Edgar’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was a pride in Edgar’s bearing and a smile on Edgar’s face.
And when responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Edgar at the bat.

A hundred thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Many thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Edgar’s eye, a smile curled Edgar’s lip.

And now the leather covered sphere came hurling through the air,
And Edgar stood a watching it in coiled readiness there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my pitch,” said Edgar. “Strike one.” the umpire said.

From the Dome seats black with people, went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone in the stand;
And it’s likely they have killed him had not Sweet Lou raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity Pinella’s visage shown;
He stilled the raising tumult; he bade the game go on.
He signaled to the umpire, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Edgar saw, read, and swung before the umpire could say “Strike two!”

Oh, somewhere in this favored town the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing at Safeco, and Seattle hearts are light.
And everywhere folks are laughing, and everywhere children shout;
For there still is joy in Marinerville—cause mighty Edgar did NOT strike out.

Bud Orr
Baseball Boyz Banquet 2003

Our story for 1995

We were living in Leavenworth and I can remember that entire fall like it was yesterday. I think the first thing I remember was driving south to teach a seminar in the Tri-Cities and coming home in the afternoon with one of those mid-week Mariner matinees on the radio and Dave and Rick talking about Refuse to Lose. It was mid-September and they were putting the post-season tickets on sale the next day. Unfortunately, I had another another seminar to teach–this one in Wenatchee. My kids (at that time my son was 16 and my daughter 14) were in school so there was no way for them to buy tickets. My wife (at the time) hated baseball with a passion but it has always been a way for me and my kids to connect. Even today, 14 years later, my son and I e-mail about the Mariners on a daily basis. We still do games together. My daughter a little less, but it’s one of the few things we have in common and we still find the time to do at least one game each year.

So how was I going to get tickets. We had made the trip over from Leavenworth six or seven times that summer. We had grown totally distraught early in the year when Junior broke his wrist and we had watched unbelieving as the rest of the team sucked it up and played better than they ever had. I knew that we just had to be in the stands if they went to the playoffs.

So, I was standing in front of about 200 people in an East Wenatchee auditorium when tickets went on sale at 10:00 am. I told my audience we would take a short break while I made a phone call. I dialed and prayed. Ten minutes came and went and I was still on hold, 20 minutes and the crowd I was teaching had filed back in. I was still on hold but I had to start speaking again. So I handed my cell phone (it was huge compared to what we all use today) to someone in the first row and I told them to let me know if anyone picked up. About 10 minutes later someone did. I excused myself and told the crowd I had to take a phone call again and I was sorry, got on with the ticket agent and scored three tickets in the 2nd deck right over Junior in centerfield.

When I got off the phone no one in the audience of 200+ could figure out why I was jumping up and down and screaming until someone said, “You just got playoff tickets? Didn’t you?” I admitted that I had and the crowd started applauding. It was beyond cool.

Jump forward a few weeks to the night of the one game playoff against California. I wasn’t able to get tickets to that game. I was sure we would have it won long before that (because I was a total believer) but a good friend went and we sat in the pizza parlor he owned in Leavenworth (me and my kids) and watched that game. When they finally won we went nuts.

But the next two games were two of the worst of my life. Watching the games from Yankee Stadium with my kids as we lost both of them and knowing that if you couldn’t get Jay (still my all-time favorite baseball player) to win for you in Yankee Stadium then maybe things were over. It made me hate the Yankees and that bastard Jim Leyritz more than any group of people before or since. I still hate the Yankees. Maybe the Mariners were just too tired. Maybe my kids and I would only get to use one of those precious tickets I had bought in front of 200 audience members.

So two days later, I went to my kids schools and picked them up around noon and we made the drive to the Dome (sorry, I have always capitalized it–it was kind of shrine to me) and watched them win. OMG! It was incredible. We did Refuse to Lose. We got lost leaving the Dome that night but we didn’t care–we had won. Did I mention I had one of the worst colds of my life. So here I am driving over Snoqualmie Pass twice a day for three days and not able to take any cold medication. My kids and I talked more in those three days of traveling than we ever had before. (I guess five days if you count the Cleveland games).

The next day my kids went to school and I went to work. Thankfully I work for myself so I could go in at 4:30 am and get my days work done and then I picked them up again at noon and we headed west. The second night was even more unbelievable than the first. When Edgar makes the Hall, it should be more about that game than about The Double. A three run homer and a grand salami. Our seats were just above where that ball (the salami) went out and we couldn’t see it go. (Remember how bad the sight lines were in the Dome looking down from the upper decks.) We had to wait for the rest of the Dome to go NUTS when the ball went out to know he had done it.

That third night. Oh geez! I still get tears in my eyes when I think of it. Nothing makes me emotional like that game. Up and down, up and down. The whole night. Still today, I count it as one of the five best days in my life, maybe top three. I remember so much of it. And when Joey pulled off that wonderful bunt and then Griff pushed him on to third we just knew that there was no way we were going to lose. It wasn’t possible. I don’t care if Babe Ruth (or any other of the Yankee legends of the past) had come back from the dead and pitched that inning or got to bat first in the next one, we knew there was no way we could lose. If you were there when you saw Edgar come up, you knew too. There was no way for us to lose. We didn’t even have to refuse at that point. It was destiny.

I can still see that swing in my mind. It was so sweet. That ball bounding into left field. It didn’t even look like it was hit that hard. But we knew we were tied. I was watching the ball and my son grabbed my arm and screamed that Junior was going for it. OMG! I had never, NOT EVER, seen him run that fast. Even after a fly ball in centerfield. When he scored—pandemonium.

If you were there and as into the Mariners as we were you will understand when I say that I am sitting here in my kitchen right now, typing this, with tears streaming down my face. That was it. I could die happy. Now don’t get me wrong. I lead a GREAT life. I have remarried (to a woman who likes baseball) and I have moved to Redmond so I don’t have the Leavenworth drive to get to Safeco and my kids have grown and are two of the best people you could ever want to meet but that night was beyond special. That night stands out. It is perhaps my most vivid memory. And not just the game. The exhilarating drive home with my kids. I look back now at those five games (the three with the Yankees and the two with Cleveland) and the trips to and from the Dome and I think that’s when we truly connected. We had been close before but my son and I found a common ground that we have kept going for all these years. And it’s a memory that I can replay over and over again of the best of times with my kids. For that I am truly thankful.

I want to mention the other two games. Well, really only one. For the life of me, I can’t remember the first game with Cleveland. I remember that Hershiser pitched for them and that we had a young kid on the mound who loaded the bases in the first and then got out of the jam but I can’t remember his name. Was it Dave Fleming? (My son would know but it’s too early to call him.) [It was Bob Wolcott.] I do remember that, of course, Cleveland won. And I remember they won the next night too. And that we were done. But you know what? If you are like me, that last night…when it was over…that was the second best night of the playoffs. Sure Joey cried in the dugout while Alex comforted him but if you were there you remember that we in the stands didn’t Refuse to Lose, we refused to leave. We screamed, cheered, applauded and just kept going until the team came out. My kids and I had a two and a half hour drive to go home after a loss but we stayed for almost an hour until they came out and we thanked them for what was perhaps the best month of baseball in the history of the game.

I grew up in Southern Cal. I learned baseball from Vin Scully listening to Dodger games on my bedside radio after my parents had told me to go to bed. Before 1995, the best game in baseball history had been the night Gibson hit the home run off Eckersley to win the first game of the World Series in 1988. And then my boys in blue going on to win in just five games from the Mighty A’s. Well September and October of 1995 made that look like little league. It was magic. Truly magic. Thank you so much for putting this site together. It made me write this down which I have never done before.

By DrKoob