You had to be there, exactly 14 years ago today. To really understand how much this city responded when the Mariners made it into the playoffs for the first time in 1995, you had to have been here to feel the palpable shift after 18 years of bad baseball.
The Mariners’ late season ascent that August and September is a fond memory for many people who, like me, don’t even consider themselves sports fans. The business and culture around Seattle baseball — from the romance of Emil Sick’s Pacific Coast League Rainiers, to the single-season backroom shenanigans of the Pilots, to the years of anonymous struggles and threatened sales of the pre-1995 Mariners — had always been far more fascinating to me than anything happening on the field.
But all that changed, officially, on October 2, 1995 when the Mariners played the Angels in a one-game tiebreaker to decide which team would go on to the division series. A win for the home team would send the Mariners to their first post-season play in franchise history.
On that particular day, I was working for the Business Volunteers for the Arts (BVA) program of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The game took place right in the middle of “The Art & Technology Symposium” that BVA was producing at Intiman Theatre. My memories of the crude “technology” on display that day may as well be in sepia toned prints — it seems like a century ago. That the game was taking place at the same time was also pretty distracting, and only a few people carried cellphones in 1995, and the cellphones were only, well, phones. I remember stepping out into the Intiman courtyard several times during the program to get updates from a now-forgotten attendee who was in touch by cellphone with someone attending the game at the Kingdome.
The Mariners beat the Angels that day, and went on to beat the New York Yankees in the division series — a series widely regarded as one of the best in the history of professional baseball. After losing the first two games of the best-of-five series, the Mariners came back to win three in a row, including the final and deciding game, on a key play by Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey, Jr.
There are legends in many cities about how you could walk through town on a summer night in the 1930s and 1940s and not miss a word of the local baseball broadcast as radios played from each house. While taking a walk through Wallingford during game five of the Mariners-Yankees division series, my wife and I couldn’t hear any of the play-by-play (it was October in Seattle, after all, and windows were closed), but we did hear simultaneous whoops coming from houses in all directions each time the Mariners did something good. It’s one of my most vivid memories of feeling like a Seattleite, feeling really connected to the city.
Though they would ultimately lose to Cleveland in the American League championship series, the ’95 Mariners had erased years of scorn and derision, and had set the city afire.
It was a similar though much milder feeling this past Tuesday night at Safeco Field, where I took my daughter to just her second Mariners game ever. We scored a free parking spot under the Viaduct just three blocks from the ballpark, and were in our $8 seats in center field in time for the first pitch and for the rain that seems to only fall on that most inexpensive patch of real estate in the place (even when the roof is closed).
When ’95 hero Ken Griffey, Jr. (back in a Mariner uniform after a decade hiatus) came up to bat in the second inning, I tried to explain to my eight-year-old who Griffey is, and why she should try and remember this particular player and this particular moment more than any other part of Tuesday’s game. Before I could make much headway, Griffey went down on strikes and my daughter seemed unimpressed and more excited about getting some cotton candy.
Since it was a school night, I had planned for us to leave at 8:30. But 8:30 came, and the Mariners were at bat again. I told my daughter that we should stay long enough to at least see Ken Griffey, Jr. one more time, just in case this was his last season. Fortunately, in his second at bat, Griffey hit the first pitch over the right field wall. The crowd leapt to their feet and cheered, and I think my daughter understood.
Since “Seattle-bonding” moments of the magnitude of the ’95 Mariners are rare, I try to pay attention to the little things that set our city apart, and try to get my daughter to do the same. From bright spots for our otherwise hapless teams, to corny places like the Fun Forest and oddball events like the Fremont Solstice Parade, we seek out the things that make Seattle feel like home — even if the neighbors aren’t all whooping in unison.
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