I took my son to his first Mariners game on Sunday, September 24th, 2017, the final home game of the 2017 season. He won’t remember any of it, but that’s ok. It wasn’t really for him anyway.
When he was about two hours old, sleeping under the amber glow of a heat lamp, and his mother, exhausted from the effort needed to bring him into this world, was resting, I signed him up for the Mariners Kids Club. It was, at its core, an incredibly selfish gesture. Here I was, as one of my first acts of parenthood, assigning a fandom for a team known mostly for failure to my son. It was picking a college major and choosing a favorite color all rolled up into one. Except he had no choice in the matter, and I gave him a dud.
The day started as I would imagine most first games start. We made all the requisite stops: Section 128 for his First Game Certificate. The Kids Club for his backpack, complete with three wiffle balls. We said hi to Dave and got our picture with him. We spent most of the game in our seats, watching the game. And I do mean watching the game. I was convinced my 8-month old child would be distracted by the people, noises, and smells that give Safeco Field a large part of it’s charm. But like the die-hard old couple we’ve all sat next to that attends every game and insists on living the optimistic life until the siren’s call of the Fat Lady’s voice, he spent the vast majority of the game transfixed by the action on the field.
The Mariners, playing a game hundreds of feet away from the rarefied air of our seats in the 300 level, had my son enthralled. All the players, so tiny in our eyes, loomed larger in our minds. In the 5th inning, Ben Gamel drilled a first pitch fastball just over the fence for a home run to tie the game at two. Rather than get frightened at the sudden eruption of sound from what had been, up to that point, a rather reserved crowd, my son found the festivities amusing. He insisted on standing on my legs, dancing back and forth, a smile as wide as the gap in left-center field across his face.
Later on, between innings as the giveaways continued, Tom Hutyler’s familiar voice rang out with a sound I had never heard before. My section. My seat. We had won a signed Ben Gamel baseball. I’ve been attending baseball games for 30 years, having spent a large portion of my childhood inside the magical neon confines of the Kingdome, and referring to Safeco Field as my summer home for my entire adult life. I have not so much as whiffed the scent of a baseball. My son, in his first game, completely unaware of what was even happening, became the owner of not only a baseball, but a signed baseball by a player who had hit a home run that very day.
As the game wore on, and the group of dads I was with began to disperse, I wandered down with one of them and his son to the Kids Clubhouse. My son, being too young to independently play, quickly began to fuss. I assumed, perhaps naively, that because he had been awake for hours, he was tired, and that it was time to go home. When I was young, I rarely caught the end of games. We had a ferry to catch, and if you missed that 10 o’clock ferry, you were stuck in Seattle until nearly midnight. Things would be different when I got older, I vowed at a young age. I would never leave the game early. And for years, I kept my own ridiculous promise. But a child changes things. You no longer have jurisdiction over your schedule. When a child is ready to go home, it’s time to go home, even if that means missing the 9th inning.
But as we left the Kids Clubhouse to return to the car, I had to make a pitstop behind the right field foul pole to adjust a bag. As I stopped, my son’s attention turned back to the field, and his fussing eased up. It was the top of the ninth, and Emilio Pagan had just struck out Francisco Lindor on a 3-2 count. I couldn’t take him away from the game now, could I? Could he somehow survive another half inning of baseball? The most magical of innings – the bottom of the ninth. Where hope springs eternal and the home team can stave off the clock striking midnight for as long as the crowd believes.
The M’s were down 4-2 with the bottom of the order up. Of course it was the bottom of the order. Nothing is ever easy as a Mariners fan. But if just one man could reach base, it’s back to the top of the order and Hero of the Day Ben Gamel would have an opportunity to cement his legacy as the Gomez Family’s Favorite Mariner of All-Time. Facing Cleveland’s closer Cody Allen, Mike Zunino struck out, then Guillermo Heredia grounded out to second. With two outs, Daniel Vogelbach was brought in for only his fifth at bat of September to pinch hit and promptly struck out on three straight pitches. There was to be no miracle today, at least not in baseball terms. We made our way to the car, sat in traffic, and drove home. My son slept the whole way, exhausted from a day of new experiences he won’t remember, but will be one of the first scenes that plays on the highlight reel of my life.
I don’t know if my son is going to grow up to be a baseball fan. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. You don’t get to choose your kids’ interests. Ask any parent – you don’t choose their interests, they choose yours. Of course, I hope he becomes a baseball fan. I dream of him becoming the person I talk baseball with. Criticizing the team’s latest free agent signing, bemoaning the schedule, and endlessly repeating the mantra of every lifelong Mariners fan: “maybe next year.” Maybe he won’t like baseball. That’s OK, I’ll become a fan of whatever he’s interested in. But for one perfect, sunny, fall afternoon, we had each other, we had baseball, and all was right in the world.