One of my strongest memories from childhood is lying on my parents’ bed at our house in Redmond, while my dad was watching a Mariners game. Randy Johnson was pitching that day, and Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez were all playing. My dad told me about each of them, and 3-year-old Brita was intrigued. Or maybe I was 4. It was 1995 or ’96. But I definitely remember him telling me that Griffey’s real first name was George. He denies to this day that he told me this, but it’s a fact, and not an alternative one. 😉
I tell this story because this was the beginning of my relationship with baseball. I never played the sport, but it was my obsession from then up until high school, when other concerns flooded my mind. That’s probably because the Mariners stopped being good after 2003 or so, and next time I paid a little attention, I didn’t know who any of the players were. But before then, I knew all of them. Everyone knew who Ichiro Suzuki, Martinez, and Buhner were, but I remember the less significant ones, like David Bell, Carlos Guillen, Mark McLemore, and Stan Javier. When my parents and I would go to Mariners games, I’d cheer just as loudly for them as I did for the superstars. In 2001, the year of 116 wins (and no world championship), I liked how everyone contributed to the team’s success in some way. Ichiro got a lot of hits and stole bases. Bret Boone hit home runs. Martinez was his usual clutch self. Jamie Moyer threw slow pitches and deceived hitters. Kazuhiro Sasaki closed out the close games. No one had a bad year. 9-year-old Brita was overjoyed.
It wasn’t just the Mariners I fawned over. I knew at least couple players on all 30 teams. So much that in 2003, I started writing a play called “Baseball Congress,” where a player from each team represented at meetings just like the ones the Continental Congress had during the years of the Revolutionary War. I’d become obsessed with the musical 1776 and combined my two obsessions by writing about them. My dad and I had fun making up stories for them to talk about in the Congress. And I would make sure my parents recorded the All-Star games on videotape (yes, videotape, not DVR) because I’d have swim meets while the game was going on. Complete obsession.
I don’t know why I stopped paying such close attention to baseball. By middle school, the Seahawks were taking over the attention of the Seattle sports scene. I became busier with swim team and orchestra. I spent much time away from home during the summers at music camps. I started watching football more. And of course, the Mariners were terrible. (Still are.) I stopped videotaping the All-Star games, though I did continue to watch them. It was part of growing up, I guess.
By the time I moved back in full-time with my parents in 2014, I had more time on my hands, fresh out of college, so I paid more attention to the Mariners. I didn’t know any of their names, except Felix Hernandez. I don’t think they were very good that year, but we kept the games on in the summer evenings. I was often too busy with my friends to pay attention.
In summer 2015, spending evenings in my apartment, I began to turn to baseball again. This time, the Twins. Also not a great team lately. But I found the broadcasts comforting. Watching baseball on a summer night seems like the right thing to do. Plus I enjoyed seeing whoever Bert Blyleven chose to “circle” on TV. I went to 2 Mariners vs. Twins games in 2016 – one here and one in Seattle. The Twins won both.
I hardly know any Major League Baseball players anymore. That’s when I feel old. The players I grew up watching have mostly retired, or if they’re still playing, they’re close to 40. Ichiro is still playing, actually, for the Miami Marlins now. George Ken has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Martinez is the Mariners’ hitting coach. Moyer and his wife run a foundation for helping children in distress. Hernandez is still pitching. He’s still one of the few Mariners I know, except for Kyle Seager.
My love for baseball has reduced from the obsession it was when I was a kid. But it still lives quietly within me, reminding me that I don’t have to grow all the way up. I still call my dad sometimes and ask how George Ken is doing.