The Stadium Vote and the Fan Van

It was a magical season for our young family. We lived in West Seattle, 10 minutes from the Dome, and were often given free tickets through work, so we went to almost every game. My wife and I and our 2 sons would often get to the Dome early enough for batting practice, and would often stay until the players left and the parking lot was empty. Sam was 9 and Zach was 6, and they had many autographs from the players from both teams. A favorite was when Don Mattingly signed Zach’s Stand Up action figure (in the unopened package). My wife and I would sit in the nearly empty stadium, and watch as both Sam and Zach would make the rounds for autographs. It was a very relaxed time.

One night after a game towards the end of the 1995 season, I remember when Lou was being driven out to his car in a golf cart, he stopped to sign some autographs, and made the quip that it seemed there were more people waiting outside than there were in the Dome. Boy, within a few games that all changed. They started winning, and it seemed every win was in the last 2 or 3 innings!

Well, fast forward to the Stadium vote. I remember how that divided a lot of relationships! Either you were for, or against! Neighbors against neighbors! Eastern Washington versus Western Washington!

The night the stadium vote failed to pass, Sam, 9 years old, told us he wanted to write a letter to Governor Lowry. So we gave him pencil and paper, and off we sent his letter to the Governor’s office, on our new “fax machine.” He wrote how he wanted to help save baseball in Seattle.

Then it all started. We received a phone call from the Governor’s office. They wanted to know if this kid was real. Yup. Later that evening, we watched the Governor’s News Conference on TV evening news, where he read Sam’s letter, and told how it moved him to call a special session of the legislature, that we needed to save baseball in Seattle!

Then the calls began. The Seattle Times, Spokane Review, Channel 4, 5, 7, and even 13! They all wanted to know who this Sam kid was. Walking to the store on day, Sam was approached and asked, “Hey, you’re the Mariner kid aren’t you?” Twice we had TV stations come to the house just to interview us while we were watching the game on TV, at the games they’d catch up with us, they even went to Sam’s school a couple times for interviews. It’s funny looking back at the time when they interviewed Sam and his elementary class, asking their views on whether the voters should approve funding a new stadium. You could sure tell what the kids were hearing at home!

Then the season ended. It all came crashing down. It felt sooo cold outside, and the sky was just a little more gray. I noticed my lawn for the 1st time in 6 weeks, it must have been 6 inches tall. We ALL came down with the flu! No more living on adrenaline.

Then another phone call. It was the Governor’s Office. The new bill was going to be signed into law, and the Governor’s office wanted to know if they could come to Lafayette Elementary in West Seattle, where Sam went to school as a 5th grader, and have the bill signed into law, in front of all the kids. I said it was up to the school, better call them, but it was OK with us! Impromptu Assembly! Just about every politician in town, and every Mariner front office person was there. The night before, we went down to Southcenter and had “Refuse to Lose” T-Shirts made for ourselves and Governor Lowry. When the assembly started, Lowry got up in front of all the kids and explained what a law was, and what they were doing by signing it. He then led the school in a chorus of “Take me out to the Ballgame.” A heavy sigh, and back to reality.

Then round two. Vanity plates. We got plates #00001 and #00003. WOW, we wondered if we should chance getting it stolen by putting it on our car! We put the #00001 plate on our family van. It was silver with blackened windows. I mention that because as we drove around, people would look, almost getting in accidents to see who we were. I mean, plate number #1? Had to be SOMEONE! We then coined the term “The Fan Van,” and an idea was hatched.

The Fan Van. We approached the Mariners with an idea, and they liked it. We would have a van painted in Mariner colors, with big letters across the side calling it the Fan Van, all with the #0001 license plate. We planned on getting sponsors to donate the van and paint, and would drive the Mariner Moose out onto the field before the games. Pretty much everything was negotiated until at the last minute, the Mariners backed out, citing liability issues. The following year, they approached us trying to obtain the plate, but we passed. They tried the idea for themselves to a small degree with a Hummer…but it went nowhere.

Finally round number 3. It all comes together, and what a small world. In 2010, here in Phoenix at a business lunch, a group of 6 people, talking about the business we were all in, when the subject of Seattle came up. The gentleman I was sitting next to, Brian Beggs, mentioned how he too had lived in Seattle. I asked what he did in Seattle, and he mentioned he had worked for the Seattle Mariners as CFO!!!! OMG!!! You can guess what we talked about the rest of the lunch! The other people at the table just sat and listened. I recounted our family’s experience in 1995, and he told his stories. He told how he had to make the decision to cancel the games after the ceiling tiles fell, along with many other great stories. Then, I mentioned the Fan Van. He fell somewhat silent. Here he was, having flown in from California, trying to win my business, when he softly mentioned it was him that killed the idea of the Fan Van. We finished lunch, and I told him it was all in the past. I shook his hand, we shared a few emails, and that was that.

By Dave Keeler

Emmett Watson on the ’95 Mariners

A little bit ago I picked up Digressions of a Native Son, Emmett Watson’s old collection of some stories about Seattle. I’d heard of Watson, and thought of him as the standard-bearer for the old, pre-Microsoft, pre-Amazon city: the time when Boeing was the corporate king of the town and practically no one knew about Starbucks. Anyway, reading through the stories, I noticed a preoccupation with sports and baseball in particular, including tales about Watson’s boyhood days rooting for, covering, and, briefly, playing for the Seattle Pilots. So I went on to look for what the booster of Lesser Seattle had to say about the Mariners’ ’95 run.

Here’s most of his column from Tuesday, October 17, the day the Mariners lost the ALCS to Cleveland:

Invincible Summer: It’s Here At Last

For all these turbulent baseball-nutty weeks, I have sat by my window and watched the crowds pouring toward the Kingdome. Sometimes, I admit – sentimental slob – to shedding a tear or two.

You see, I live in Pioneer Square. I can see these crowds, full of joy and hope, chanting our victory slogan, “Refuse to Lose.”

They carry placards and defiant homemade signs. They wear baggy shorts, cutoff jeans, baseball caps on backward, carrying seat cushions and backpacks, bringing their own food to the games because they can’t afford a Kingdome hot dog.

There are young moms and dads, a lot of them pushing baby strollers. Some chip in and travel proudly in horse carriages.

I’ve lived among these people, I know them. All during those dreary, losing years when their hopes were betrayed by dumb management and penurious owners, these people were there – always hoping for a better break.

Watching people in those awful, draining years, cravings crashed, expectations bamboozled, you think of Albert Camus, the French philosopher, who once said: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” The invincible summer. It has finally come to these loyal, happy people going past my window to the Kingdome. Joy just radiates up from the sidewalk at First and Jackson.

Millionaires may own baseball, millionaires may play it, but the working people, men and women, make the game possible.

Because baseball is a game of hope, it is also a game for losers. Good teams often lose more games than they win. Yet fans stay loyal. Hope is the pursuit of happiness, isn’t it? What else is there?

It is the game for every guy who lost a good account. It is the game for waiters who get stiffed. It is the game for every guy who goes to work for short dough at a job he hates.

It is the game, as Jimmy Breslin once wrote, “for every woman who looks up 10 years later and sees her husband eating dinner in a T-shirt and wonders how the hell she ever let this guy talk her into getting married.”

We are up in the clouds with euphoria, and our kings and heroes are named Edgar and Tino and Jay and Junior and Mike; our guardian angel is a giraffe-tall, turkey-necked, scowling, tired-armed fellow named Randy Johnson.

This mostly naive, silly thing called baseball has given us a close-knit, intimate kind of community hope. And there’s always next year.

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