For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are definitely a passion of mine. Following sports, baseball and the Mariners has shaped me into the man I am today. I have spent countless hours listening to games on the radio, watching games on TV, attending games and various other ways to be "involved" as a fan. Quite a few people think that being this involved as a fan and interested in sports is stupid and a waste of time, but I would not have it any other way. I think a person can learn a lot about themselves, others and life by being involved in sports in some way.
Growing up in the Northwest as a Mariners fan was not always the easiest. In fact during the 14 years that my family lived in the Northwest, the Mariners never made it to the playoffs and only had a winning record a couple of times. It was not until after my family moved to the Denver area that the Mariners finally made the playoffs for the first time. Nevertheless, regardless of how the Mariners have performed I have remained one of their biggest fans. One of my birthday wishes every year was to go to a game on my birthday and I spent many birthdays cheering on my Mariners in the Kingdome.
I would also have to say that my passion for the Mariners is one of the biggest reasons my dad and I are so close. My dad is also a big Mariners fan and his passion for sports and the Mariners definitely rubbed off on me. There were many a summer afternoon listening to Mariners games together or playing catch out in the yard, with me pretending I was my favorite Mariners.
This past season was one of the hardest to be a Mariners fan. While their record was not their worst ever, the expectations coming into the season made their final record seem worse than it really was. However, the real reason I am writing this is to talk about two events that really stood out for me.
The first event took place on June 2, 2010 with the retiring of Ken Griffey Jr., one of the greatest Mariners and baseball players ever. Junior or “The Kid” as Dave Niehaus called him, has been by far my favorite athlete. His rookie season in 1989 lined up perfectly with my fanhood. In 1989, I was 9 years old and was at the age that I could understand everything that was happening without the help of my dad. I followed everything Junior did religiously. He played centerfield, so I played centerfield. He loved Runts candy, so I loved Runts candy. He wore his hat backwards, so I wore my hat backwards, and so on. I also owned everything I could get my hands on that had to do with Junior and the Mariners: baseball cards, hats, posters, gloves, jerseys and much, much more.
There were many moments in Junior’s career that stood out for me, most of those high with few low mixed in as well. When he hit his first homerun, I was excited. When he hit back-to-back homeruns with his dad, I was amazed. When he tied the all-time record for consecutive games with a homerun, my dad got us tickets to the next game to see him set the record. (It did not happen.) When he crashed into the wall making an amazing catch and broke his wrist in 1995, I was so frustrated and angry that I broke our family’s TV remote when I threw it at the wall. Later when Junior came flying around third base and crossed home plate to help the Mariners win the 1995 Divisional Championship against the New York Yankees in a thrilling game and series, I was delirious with happiness. Seeing Junior, with the biggest smile on his face, at the bottom of the pile after his teammates mobbed him, is an image that is etched into my memory and brings a smile to my face to think about. When Junior was traded away to the Cincinnati Reds, I was devastated. When Junior’s career started to become derailed due to injuries, I was sympathetic and felt so bad for him. When Junior returned to the Mariners to finish out his career I was happy to see him back yet sad because I knew Junior was returning to the Mariners a shell of his former self.
I have never followed another athlete as much as I have Junior. His retirement mid-season was somewhat unexpected because of the timing but not a surprise because of his and the Mariners performance. It was a sad day when Junior retired, for it signaled the end of part of my childhood. One of the biggest links to my childhood and the fond memories I had formed was gone from the game. Junior will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when his time comes. He had one amazing career and would have been considered one of the best players of all-time if not for the many injuries. His career will probably go down as one of the biggest what-ifs. What if he had stayed in Seattle his whole career? What if he had stayed healthy? Regardless, his career was one of the best of all-time and I am so glad I was able to see all of it.
The second event was the death of Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Mariners, on November 10, 2010 at the age of 75. While I was sad when Junior retired, I was heartbroken when I heard Dave Niehaus had passed away.
Dave Niehaus was the voice of the Mariners since their entrance into the league in 1977. Since that time, he announced over 5,000 games, and his talents made each game a gem to hear. His hard work, talents, skills, and passion for the game, and the Mariners, was finally rewarded with his induction into the Hall of Fame and his reception of the Ford C. Frick Award in 2008. Dave had a remarkable way of describing everything he was seeing to those of us listening on the radio. He painted a picture that was so vivid and real that I could almost picture every single pitch, every at-bat, and every play. His voice was soothing, yet carried with it a passion that made every game seem as if it were a playoff game. With Dave announcing a game, you always felt like the Mariners had a chance to win. I absolutely loved listening to Dave call Mariners games. I probably listened to well over a thousand games called by Dave and each one was a joy.
It was hard when my family moved away from the Northwest, not just because I would not be able to see my Mariners play, but also because I knew I would not be able to hear Dave’s voice on the radio. Later, I was thrilled when I discovered I could pick up the Mariners’ broadcast on the Internet. I then sat around our family’s computer just listening to games each summer. When I moved back to the Northwest for college I was excited knowing I would be able to tune in to Dave’s call of the Mariners’ games once again. Even moving to California I continued to listen to Dave.
Every single time we would tune into Dave it was like inviting Dave into our home, our car, or wherever we were tuning in. He essentially became a part of our family, like a grandfather sitting with us describing the game. I never met Dave, but when Dave passed away, it was almost like losing a family member. The day that he died, I listened to some of his biggest calls and I choked up each time and actually shed a few tears.
Moving forward as a Mariners fan will be difficult to say the least. Not only will Junior not be playing baseball, but the voice, and probably one of the most influential people associated with the Mariners, Dave Niehaus, will be gone as well. Things just will not be the same. I just wish that Junior and Dave could have been a part of, or at least witnessed the Mariners winning the World Series.
One day, the Mariners will win the World Series. When that day comes, I will think back on all the amazing individuals that have been a part of Mariners baseball, especially Junior and Dave.