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Brent Mayne in the news again!

I hear that Phillies infielder Wilson Valdez just became the first position player to win (as pitcher) a major league game since Brent Mayne did it back in 2000. This means Brent Mayne’s name is suddenly in the news again. Mayne was the backup catcher for the Colorado Rockies when he performed the feat.

I actually watched the crazy extra-innings Braves-Rockies game in which Mayne got the win on television from the Jersey Shore one night while on vacation. I wrote about it the following year, when I tried to get Mayne’s autograph one night in Seattle at Safeco Field, when he was playing with the Royals and I was there for a game. I never did get Mayne’s autograph, but I did get a batting practice ball that night, and the autographs of Mike Cameron and Brett Boone, back when they were both stars for the M’s.

So here’s the flashback post from August 16, 2001, in which I recount my trip to the ballpark and Mayne’s pitching performance along the way:

I arrived in the city known for coffee, Microsoft, and rain with tickets to a Mariners game in my pocket and a copy of Baseball Weekly in my bag. What does an East Coaster like me know about the Mariners? I know what every body knows, about the three superstars who left, about the best winning percentage in baseball, about a seventies expansion team that’s never seen the World Series, about a nice new ballpark that hosted the All Star Game, in this, the year the Mariners have put it all together with pitching, speed, and defense.

I work a job back in Boston that keeps me on the clock until 9pm most nights, which means I don’t get to hear much of my beloved Yankees games on the radio. But I do get home just in time to log in to MLB.com and listen to the Mariners’ broadcasts.

I picked a good year to start following the Mariners, what with the splash of Ichiro, the surge of Bret Boone, the return of Jeff Nelson, and the sudden dominance of their no-name rotation. When I realized my summer travel plans were going to take me to Seattle I immediately made plans to hook up with a friend to see a game and investigate Safeco Field for myself.

The first thing I noticed my first day in Seattle was how many Mariners hats I saw on people’s heads. I’ve been to a lot of major league cities, Chicago, New York, Baltimore–and I live in Boston. Only the Yankees in New York in October rival the sheer quantity of hats you’ll see people wearing this summer in Seattle. And not only a lot of standard design M’s hats, lots of funky variations, green bill, blue bill, “Mariners” spelled out in script, reverse color combinations, you name it. I rode the bus into the city from the ‘burbs and noticed people of every different class and ethnic background sporting the teams colors.

Once I got into downtown Seattle, the M’s fever became as obvious as the measles. So many store fronts had Mariners signs in their windows–“You Gotta Love These Guys,” “Go M’s,” were the standards, but also handmade signs exhorting individual players to greatness… and in every type of store I could find: art galleries, musical instrument shops, craft boutiques, drug stores, restaurants, most of which were NOT in the neighborhood of the ballpark.

When I did head toward the park late in the afternoon, I stopped in to the Elliot Bay Bookstore, one of the best literary bookstores in the country. There on the rack facing the entrance was a special display of sports magazines featuring the Mariners on their covers, a few racks over were the expensive hardcover books on baseball, including Roger Angell’s A PITCHER’S STORY, Don Zimmer’s autobiography, and THE BALLPARK BOOK.

From Elliot Bay, the park is walking distance, and I found myself walking with two fans from Oregon who had driven up just for the game. “We live on an island and the last ferry runs at 9pm,” they told me. “So we’ll stay overnight in a hotel and go back tomorrow.” They told me I’d love Safeco Field.

Walking from there, the new stadium doesn’t rise majestically out of the horizon. Instead, you walk under a highway overpass, and onto a side street that runs along the newly erected, not-quite-finished football stadium and convention center, built on the site of the old Kingdome. Along one side of the street are the businesses you see outside all the old ballparks like Fenway and Yankee Stadium, pizzerias, souvenir shops, beer joints. Out on the curb and in the street vendors have set up stalls selling caps, pretzels, t-shirts, bottled water, boxed pizza. As one pizza vendor proclaimed into his bullhorn, yes, you can bring food into the stadium! At first I thought, oh, how nice, but then I remembered, hey, you’ve ALWAYS been able to bring food into Yankee Stadium! When I was a kid we used to bring in buckets of fried chicken, sandwiches, pastry…

What you can’t bring into Safeco field is any liquid. Oddly, it’s not bottles themselves that are banned, they just make you empty your water bottle at the door. By contrast, Edison Field in Anaheim lets you bring in plastic water bottles so long as they are under a certain reasonable size. At Yankee Stadium, although it says no bottles of any kind, ushers have always okayed my bottle of Poland Spring. It was a bit surreal to see people pouring the contents of their spring water bottles into garbage cans at the entrance before proceeding into the stadium.

Two other stalls worth mentioning outside the park. One sold t-shirts and bumper stickers with the slogan TWO OUT … SO WHAT?! and a variation shirt that reads “Alex out, Junior out, Randy out… SO WHAT?!” There are some folks in the stands in left field who hang out a large black banner with the slogan in glowing green whenever there are two outs. I didn’t actually notice the crowd paying attention to it–there’s no rhythmic chant to go along with it, for example–but these kinds of things only pop up in towns where people are seriously crazed for their ballclub. The other stall I’d never seen before outside a ballpark was one selling roof tiles and reroofing services. I guess in a place where it rained 90 straight days last winter, that’s important.

Of course, the best and newest roof in Seattle is the rolling roof over Safeco Field, which I was interested to see at work, but was happier to have nice weather. It was a 96 degree heat wave when I left Boston, and in Seattle I found it sunny, pleasant, warm in the day, and comfortably cool in the evening. Still, it was a nice feeling of security to know that if rain were to appear, the game would go on no matter what. I’m sure the couple from Oregon would agree with that.

I reached the end of the street and there was the back side of the ballpark. Several thousand people appeared to be milling around it–then I realized they were all IN LINE to get in. It was 4:30 and the gates didn’t open until 5pm. Through various wrought iron openings we could see clear through the centerfield concessions concourse and into the outfield where Mariners were shagging BP flies. Two Japanese men ran up to the doorway, pointed and said something very excitedly to each other in Japanese, one word of which I made out: Ichiro.

From that vantage point, Ichiro was pretty much a speck. How could you even be sure that was him over there? One appeared to talk the other out of trying to take a photograph from there. They wandered away, undoubtedly to try to find the entrance closest to the right field seats that Mariners fans have dubbed Area 51. (Ichiro’s number and, of course, where this particular alien has landed.)

I ended up in line with some young M-Heads, their faces painted blue and green and one of them sporting the actual giant foam M on his head. They seemed surprised that I, and then several other people as we stood in line, wanted to take their picture. How unlike New York where one would be disappointed if no one took a picture or if you didn’t at least once get picked up by the scoreboard camera. (Skipping ahead just a bit, I did notice that M’s fans are amateurs when it comes to the scoreboard camera between innings. In New York, people start waving and trying to get on the screen before the pitcher even gets to the dugout. In Seattle, the camera sometimes had to search for several seconds before finding someone who was aware they were on screen… Then again, watch the news in New York some night. At any murder scene, car crash, train wreck, or what have you where there’s a news reporter live on scene, what do you see in the background? Bunch of people jumping up and down and mouthing “Hi Mom.” So maybe it’s something about New Yorkers…)

Five pm came and the lines crept forward toward filling up the park. When I finally made it inside it was close to 5:30 and I was surprised to find the Mariners still on the field. Two hours before first pitch many home teams, like the Red Sox, are just clearing out as the fans arrive in their seats. (For the record, Yankees BP goes on until 5:40.) I explored the centerfield concourse area: sushi bar, barbecue pit, a bar where you can sit and face over the bullpen … how about three Nintendo set ups? Very cool, but I, like most other people there just then, were more interested by real life than the virtual game. Not far from the Nintendo machines, people stood behind a chain link fence to watch pitcher John Halama do some throwing. The bullpen is constructed on the same level as the concourse, and so you stand literally a few feet from the pitching rubber. The fence seems inconsequential except for the fact that if it were not there, you’d never stand that close to a pitcher on the mound. Even the bullpen coach watching the session is further from Halama than the spectators are.

Even more impressive was walking the sixty or so feet to the other end and standing next to the bullpen catcher. Halama was bringing some heat, if the loudness of the pop in the catcher’s mitt was any indication. Some of the pops were so loud, I would have wanted earplugs if I’d been catching.

From the centerfield concourse I went up the stairs into the main sections of the stadium, and investigated the concessions there. I quickly identified the theme of names of the various stands–any baseball pun relating to food that could be made, was. High Cheese Pizza, The Sweet Spot (bulk candy), Frozen Rope Ice Cream, Good Hops Beer, and how about the fresh stir fry place called Intentional Wok? That’s your cue to groan, but it’s hard to complain about the variety of food available. And how about those garlic french fries! Mmm!

I noticed the Mariners were still batting, but that I hadn’t seen a program vendor since outside the park. Weird. I’m used to places where they sell one thing outside the park, and something different inside, but I didn’t find them selling anything inside and began to wonder if I should have picked up that thing with Bret Boone on the cover while I was out on the street.

I KNEW I should have picked it up when I went down alongside the Mariners dugout a few minutes later. A tv crew was getting set up to do some onfield interviews and I figured I’d see who they got. Ichiro was out there in right field and every time he got a ball, people would scream for him to throw it to them. The coach hitting fungoes didn’t appreciate the intense hunger for souvenirs and made him throw them back in most of the time. Still, a lot of balls did get tossed into Area 51. Meanwhile, down near the dugout, I was standing next to a pretty blond woman, her boyfriend, and a kid who was one of their younger siblings, I believe. She kept waving to Boone, who was taking grounders at second base.

Suddenly he came trotting over. “Sorry! I didn’t see you, didn’t recognize you!” he said to the woman. “I don’t have my contacts in!” He proceeded to autograph everything the kid was carrying and his shirt, while exchanging pleasantries with the woman. Then he went on to sign at least fifty more autographs, including one for me. Unfortunately, all I had was my ticket! He graciously swooped his double B’s across the stub and then I yielded to other people trying to reach him. After he stopped signing, said goodbye to his friends, and headed for the dugout, Freddie Garcia came out and signed for quite a while, too. I don’t know why, I wanted Boone’s autograph but didn’t feel like fighting for Freddie’s. Maybe it’s because he beat the Yankees in the postseason last year? I didn’t even think of that until later though–at the time I was only thinking of the Mariners. One autograph from a star was enough for me, maybe, and I decided to check out my upper deck seat.

My favorite place to sit in many parks is upper deck, behind home plate (above the press box, usually) because of the complete and panoramic view of the action it gives me. I can watch a runner tagging up on the bases while watching the outfielder going back for the fly ball. I also like the view of the pitches it often gives. I made my way up several long flights of stairs (stairs! there ain’t no stinkin’ stairs in Yankee Stadium except in the seats themselves!) to my level. There an usher looked at my ticket and seemed as psyched about Bret Boone’s autograph as I was. “That is so cool!” he enthused and then pointed the way to my seat.

Stanley Jordan, the amazing jazz guitarist, played the national anthem by playing two guitars simultaneously–a very appropriate rendition here in the city that was home to Jimi Hendrix.

Now, the night before, the mighty Mariners had been humbled by the lowly Kansas City Royals. Today, the Royals learned they had lost their last remaining star, Jermaine Dye, to the same Oakland A’s who had taken Johnny Damon in the offseason. It didn’t seem too likely that they were going to be able to beat the Mariners.

But baseball is a funny game, and even the worst team can beat the best team on a given day. As I found out as they game went on and the Mariners were held scoreless until the ninth inning, when they scratched out a run on a double, single, and sac fly. Now, the Mariners bullpen stacks up favorably against just about any in baseball, but the Royals’ starter, a fella named Paul Byrd, pitched the complete game, holding the M’s to six hits in the game and walking only one. The result was a very pleasant evening in Safeco Field for me, but some measure of frustration. These weren’t the Mariners I had been hoping to see!

Instead, I spent most of my time watching the crowd. A few more observations about Mariners fans. In many stadia around the country, people start to leave en masse after the seventh inning. Not M-Heads. Maybe it was that they were still hoping for a miracle in the late innings? In any case, people did not really start to quit the ballpark until the ninth inning itself.

I saw some very clever home-made signs. KA-BOONE! and OLERULES! were among the slogans I saw, but my favorite was one in the distinctive maroon stripes of a certain overnight delivery company that read “AIR BOONE EXPRESS.”

And just to prove that the world really does revolve around ME, the scoreboard department made the oldies trivia song of the day “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Somewhere around the sixth inning I asked myself, what the heck does Safeco do, anyway? Looking around at the other ads sprinkled throughout the ballpark there were a number of head-scratchers. Cloverdale Meats? Try to imagine Perdue Chicken having a billboard in Yankee Stadium. Les Schwab Tires? Oberto Beef Jerky??

For the record, some M’s fans do know about the two strike clap, but they wait until the late innings to use it. Some of them out to give lessons to the Orioles fans at Camden.

Probably the final surreal moment of the night was, as my friend and I were walking from the ballpark to the big parking garage adjacent to it, there was a group of people there yelling “Free Money!” It was a group of Microsoft employees, giving away copies of the checkbook management software called “Money.” You know, in other parks they give things away free as you come IN to the ballpark, things like t-shirts, towels, cups, pins… Definitely something you’d only see in Seattle.

Well, maybe it was the delicious garlic fries, or maybe it was my still-not-quenched desire to see some exciting Mariners baseball that brought me back to the ballpark the next night to see if any seats were to be had. They had announced that only “single seats” were available, but hey, that’s all I needed. I arrived around 5pm again and went up to the window. For a mere $36 I was seated in the SECOND ROW just past the Royals dugout, close enough to third base to hear David Bell sneeze. Wow–I’ve never sat that close to the field even in spring training.

The Mariners hadn’t lost three in a row the whole season, and I was hoping I wouldn’t be on hand to see them finally do it. I’d really think I was a jinx then. But they were sending rookie Joel Piniero to the mound, and he’d been battered a bit in his previous two starts. Confidence–or maybe it was naivete–was high among fans though. When your team has a completely ridiculous winning percentage, that’s what happens. And even if you lose, so what? The nearest division rival is what, thirty games back? Among the fans gathered behind the dugout, I was the only one mildly concerned.

In fact, the only thing these fans weren’t cocky about was their team’s ability to make it to the World Series. One woman wouldn’t even say the words “World Series.” Yet another difference between M’s fans and Yankees fans, who repeat the words “World Series” like a mantra.

I was once again in the right place at the right time. This time I had bought the magazine (The Grand Salami) outside the park and was prepared with my Sharpie to get autographs. This time it was Mike Cameron who took time to make the fans happy! Now, if I had really planned ahead, i would have gotten Boone to sign the magazine which has him on the cover, and would have had Cammy sign on the ticket stub. But there’s no planning for random good luck. Cammy graciously signed the magazine and then I found myself trapped by the crush of fans. I served as a conduit for several people behind me, including a woman who played softball and wanted a softball signed. Cammy signed everything within arms reach for a good ten minutes. Then BP was over, and the team came in, and he joined them in the clubhouse.

The Royals then had their BP and I caught sight of the guy they had gotten in trade recently, Brent Mayne. He was taking grounders at first, even though he’s a catcher most of the time. I yelled to him, but didn’t expect him to turn around while he was busy. If there was one non-Mariner player whose autograph I would have liked it was Mayne’s. Why? Well, last year, when he was with the Rockies, he was a part of the weirdest game I’ve ever seen.

I was on vacation in New Jersey, and turned on the tv to find the Braves and Rockies game was on TBS. The game went into extra innings so long that the Rockies were down to their last pitcher, John “Way Back” Wasdin (who they had picked up from the Red Sox), facing Andres Galaragga. Wasdin hit Galaragga with a pitch, then while Andres was trotting to first, exhorted the Big Cat somehow with commentary from the mound. He said something that made Galaragga suddenly snap, veer toward the mound, and deck Wasdin. Benches cleared and when all was done, Wasdin had been ejected.

Let me say for the record that although I like a lot of the individual Braves players (Galaragga, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) I really don’t like most of them (Chipper Jones, then John Rocker, etc…) and don’t like the Braves in general. I really wanted to see the Rockies beat them. But the Rockies were out of pitchers. Mayne was on the bench and they ended up bringing him in to pitch.

At this point the Braves were now out of pinch hitters, and had to use Tom Glavine as a pinch hitter. So here’s Glavine, a starting pitcher, pinch hitting against Brent Mayne, a catcher. it doesn’t get much wackier than that. No wait, yes it does. Mayne pitched a one-two-three inning, and when he got back to the dugout, his teammates made a big thing out of it, wrapping his arm in a towel, getting him a drink, etc. Then in the bottom of the inning, they got him the win! Thus Brent Mayne became the first position player to be credited with a pitching win in a million years. Okay, not a million, but I’m too lazy to look up the actual stat. A long time. The point is, that’s why I really like Brent Mayne, and why I would have really like to meet him.

With this in mind, I went over to the Royals side of the field, where I discovered just how close to everything my seat was. I had my glove on in case any foul balls should come my way, and lo and behold, one did. It kicked off the wall and rolled onto the grass. A stadium employee went and picked it up and I yelled and waved my glove–and he tossed it right at me. Without the glove, I think the kid next to me would have grabbed it. But I got the ball in my glove, and hung on.

The ball was a bit muddy and had bits of wet grass stuck to it. I turned it over and found it was marked with a red circle and the letter KCR. For Kansas City Royals, I presume. Wow, do major league teams need to bring their own balls to each park they visit?

I didn’t get a chance to get Mayne to sign the ball, though. The Royals were doing a good job of ignoring the crowd, who were also mostly ignoring them. They hustled into their clubhouse at the end of their BP, and that was that.

People began filling in their seats and I wondered who I would be next to. A few rows over from me I spotted one guy in a NY Yankees hat, blue turtleneck and home white pinstripes. I went over and chatted with him for a few minutes, but then went back to my seat. Next to me were two Japanese tourists, who spoke just enough English that they could ask me questions,and I could come up with answers that they seemed to understand. They were a couple, I think, a man and a woman, young and nattily dressed.

The first question they asked me was after the fourth inning. Rookie Piniero had allowed only one hit up to that point (to Brent Mayne! yeah Brent!) with four strikeouts and one line drive comebacker that he snared out of the air himself to end the inning–after which he shook his glove hand in pain! “This one of the best pitcher?” the woman asked me. “No,” I said, “rookie.” “Ah, rookie?” her partner asked. They knew the word rookie perfectly well, they were just finding it as hard to believe as everyone else what a gem Piniero was pitching.

The Mariners began to score in the bottom of the fourth, scratching out a run on back to back doubles by Boone and Olerud, but that was all they could get. They got another one in the fifth, spreading out the excitement and making Piniero bear down to hold the lead. Which he did, leaving the game after six still having only yielded that one hit to Brent Mayne.

The next question the tourists asked me was “What does SODO MOJO mean?” This was after the Mariners got their third run on hits by Cameron, Bell, and Stan Javier. First I had to explain that SO- DO- is short for “South of the Dome” since that neighborhood where Safeco is now is south of where the Kingdome used to stand. There’s no dome anymore, but they still call the area SODO. And Mojo? That’s another word for magic. So, SODO MOJO is Seattle Mariner’s Magic. Phew–they seemed to understand my explanation.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” I did not have to explain–they both sang along perfectly, so I can only assume that they sing it in the seventh inning in Japan, too.

Nelson pitched a perfect inning. Arthur Rhodes pitched a perfect inning. There was much cheering and excitement for every Ichiro at bat, and I don’t mean just from my neighbors. Ichiro, unfortunately, never made it to third base so my neighbors could take lots of pictures of him–though he did steal second in the eighth. But if you want to hear Safeco Field get loud, have a listen to the place when Kazuhiro Sasaki comes in for the ninth.

Kaz did not have a one-two-three–I’ll be darned but Brent Mayne got the second and only other Royals hit of the night off him–but he did the job. And so the Mariners streak of not losing three in a row continued, and I finally got to see what the buzz was all about.

My next ballpark sojourn would be to the Oakland Coliseum, to see the A’s take on the Yankees for two games. Coming soon!

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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