I took this picture a year ago on the day.
At the time the above photo was taken, I had known one person in it for a few years, and maybe two or three others by Twitter handle/maybe real life name for less time than that. This was on the Mariners’ Social Media Night last year, a night that was not as well attended as I thought it would be, but was certainly a driving factor in the events of the 2017 baseball season, which is what I am going to talk about here.
This photo would lead to photos like these:
Most recently, it led to me going to Nickerson Street Saloon last night with some fellow fans, to watch James Paxton pitch for an inning and change in what is now his only real option for a rehab start, due to the season winding down and minors teams being unavailable or in their own playoff hunts. He didn’t do great, and was on a pretty heavy pitch count (which he used up during that short time, having issues with his location and a home plate umpire who maybe didn’t have the best idea about where a ball should occur within the context of a strike zone), but there were about 15 or so of us there at the pub watching the whole game.
This might not seem like a big deal to a lot of other sports fans. You have friends who like sports, you go to games, you have fun, you talk about it before and afterwards. Shrug, right?
Well, it wasn’t always that way for me. When I started going to games about 10 years ago (wow, has it already been ten years?!) I didn’t have any baseball friends. I have plenty of friends in my life, and I am grateful for every single one of them, but a lot of the time it was like pulling teeth to get people out to go to a game – a game that was free to them, I might add, since with my season tickets I had already taken the financial hit at the beginning of the year. All I wanted was someone to go to a game with; but after a while, even that wasn’t enough. After a while, I wanted more; a Mariners fan to go to a game with. Going to see baseball with fans of other teams was fun, but it was an opposition activity; it’s really hard to be a fan of the team that is losing (and the Mariners lost a lot back then) when your friend is lording it over you that they just won a World Series, or is talking about how your closer just blew another save or how your final batter is never going to make that walkoff against Mariano Rivera. In layman’s terms, it was fun, but it also sucked.
In the early days when I was on Lookout Landing, I at least had a place to go to talk to other folks either during games I was watching at home, or before/after games I was going to. But none of us really socialized other than that. I’m not even sure that anyone else went to the games at all, because I didn’t know them, really. I made some friends there, but the games we were all willing or able to attend were few and far between. I still had to collect a non-baseball friend or opposing team fan (or Tom) if I didn’t want to go to a game alone. During the 2008 season and probably a few times in 2010 I went to a few by myself because tickets were cheap and the team was disappointing, and I knew it would be easy to get good photos; but again, not the same. When Twitter was created, it was easier to get to know more fans online, but it seemed for years like a lot of us were just indoor kids, and talking online was as easy as it’s ever been, but still nobody was really going to games. It usually took some sort of blogger meetup special event, where there was a lure outside the game itself that got people to come out. Even then, folks seemed to stay in their own little groups, and I stayed with the few people I knew, feeling awkward and out of sorts and still generally not like I was connecting with anyone.
Then over the last few years, something really weird happened. The writing staffs for USS Mariner and Lookout Landing changed. Those guys moved onto other (hopefully better for them) things, and other writers moved in to fill their shoes. Some of them were women. I’m not going to get into anything political here, but long story short, it’s been a breath of fresh air, and it seems to have really manipulated the way that at least our group of Mariners fans interacted with each other. Since the first picture in this post was taken, things have changed for the better for me. I have forged stronger friendships with the people I already knew (and now consider them “regular” friends, in addition to being baseball friends, if that makes sense), and I have made new friends from attending events hosted by these new writers and the Mariners front office. Fanfest got more fun. I have gathered even more Twitter buddies who maybe I haven’t met, but who are Mariners fans as well. Rational, level-headed Mariners fans. Daniel and I hassled Canada for the second year in a row this year, which then turned into this wonderful thing we call The Maple Grove. I feel comfortable nabbing a single ticket for myself to go to a game, because it’s 99.9% guaranteed that someone I know will be there – usually several someones – and we can go sit in some unsold upper level seating and hang out together while we watch the game. Sometimes we go out after and socialize. Sometimes we socialize before. Some of them come over to my house for the monthly cookouts I hold in the summer. And last night, I took a Japanese maple sapling to Nickerson Street in Fremont and we sat it on a table while we watched James Paxton pitch.
These people I have met and come to know over the 2017 Mariners season are the absolute loveliest of people. They have taught me boatloads about the game, and helped me grow as a fan. We all have friend categories, like work friends, close friends, friends we consider as close as family, people we keep guarded from and people we let into our inner circles. Out of habit, I still refer to this group as baseball friends, but I think those days are rapidly coming to an end, where I can just call them friends. Some of us may never hang out during the offseason, but the point is I would. As someone who suffers from MD-diagnosed anxiety, I mark my relationships by how much someone has managed to penetrate my personal bubble; would I go to a movie with this person? Hang out at their house in a non-baseball context? Cook for them or watch their pets or ask them to do the same for me? Those are basic questions, but you maybe get the idea. And the fact is, I love these folks. I love all of these people. They have vastly improved my baseball viewing experience, which is basically 6-7 months of my life every year. They’re wonderful, and I could not ask anyone for a better group of people to go watch baseball, a thing that has become such a huge part of who I am over the last, yes, ten years. In the offseason, I hope to be able to take in some hockey, or community theater or art shows, or curling matches, or whatever else they might be involved in that makes them who they are outside of baseball. Maybe some of them will show up when the musical project I am currently involved in gets out for some shows. So in no particular order, here’s to all the Daniels, Hillary, Su, the Daves, the Matts, Brittney and Lil’ E, Kate, Isabelle, the numerous Johns, Joe, the Rachels, Leonard, Tiffany, Dylan, Chris (there may be more than one), any Shanes that might have been involved, Dez, “Mommy Unit”, Rebecca, Josh, the Tims, Brett and Britt, Tommy, Alex, the Jasons, there is likely at least one or two Petes, the two Joses, Trista, Connor, anyone else I may be forgetting because I haven’t had any coffee yet or I simply don’t know your real name because it was noisy when we were introduced, we were never introduced (or just haven’t talked in person), or your Twitter handle is weird, and of course the Mariners front office for being super early adapters of social media, and having a most excellent social media and marketing staff. Honestly, baseball sells itself, but the work this team does with its fans and the public is amazing. And big ups for providing us with Stick Rizzs, an action that means more to a lot of us than you may ever know.
I am out of gas and need to do some prep work for our final party of the summer here at the house, but I wanted to write something here so that they all know how rad they are, and that after 10 years and change of Mariners fandom, I finally feel like I’ve found my tribe and it is the best tribe. I love you guys. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week for the final few home games of 2017. ❤