Living the Dream

(Stories from my side of the field parts 1, 2, 3, 4)

Doesn’t he know better than to give a test on game day?

As if the professor actually cares that there’s a baseball game today. 

Man on first, lefty at the plate……..Why is Chief Seattle’s speech in 1854 so significant?

Focus….you have to finish this test!

It is always hard to concentrate on game day. I glance over at my friend Ryan, our back-up shortstop sitting next to me, our eyes meet and he shrugs. 

Lefty at the plate, man on first…curve ball down and in………..1854……I have no idea.

Really there should be some sort of rule about giving tests to players on game day. The school might call us “Student Athletes” but in our minds we are “Athletic Students”. 

The bell rings and I turn in my blue book and walk outside and wait for Ryan. 

“That was brutal!”

“Yeah…..at least it’s over”

We walk across campus to the locker room on a rare sunny day in Bremerton, Washington. 

We’re an odd couple Ryan and I. No one would ever guess a farm boy from Spokane who wears Wrangler jeans, a cowboy hat, boots and a belt buckle would become friends with a Filipino who wears baggy jeans 5 sizes too big, a baseball cap a little crooked, and listens to grunge and alternative rock. 

But we have one thing in common. The love of baseball. We talk the game constantly whether it’s situations, pitch counts, our latest practice or our favorite topic, the Mariners

“You think we’ll see any action today?”

“You might” I say as we walk across the commons “but I threw a pen session yesterday so I’m on charts.”

“Doubt I will either…a day game on four days rest. Maybe as a pinch runner but that’s it.”

We’re not the best players on the team, Ryan doesn’t start many games and I’m a relief pitcher who tops out at about 78mph. Not enough gas for the community college league we play in. 

We make our way to the locker room and get changed for the game and then take my truck to the ball field about 20 minutes away. Although we know we’re not starting, the preparation is the same. We spend the 20 minute drive in silence knowing once the uniform goes on the mental preparations begin. I’m lost in thoughts of pitch counts and pitch selections while Ryan runs through play situations in his head. 

The game goes as expected for Ryan and I. I spend the game sitting on a bucket of batting practice balls spitting sunflower seeds and charting pitches. Ryan sits next to me on his own bucket with a stop watch. Timing everything from the speed of pitches to the catcher’s throws to second base. A split second can mean the difference of a stolen base or an out….and nobody catches the small details better than Ryan.

It’s not all glamour this game. You never see a pitcher charting piches on TV in the big leagues. They have staff people that do that. But here at the community college level if you’re riding the pine sooner or later you’ll find yourself keeping charts. 

By the 7th inning, although we’ll never admit it afraid to jinx the team, our minds start praying that these last two innings go fast. It’s not helped by the fact that the third person of our group has just shown up in the stands, coming straight from work. She slides in on the end of one of the bleachers with her Mariners sweatshirt on under her jacket and her hair pulled back in that signature ponytail.

I nudge Ryan with my elbow and give a toss of my head in her general direction. Ryan sees her sitting there and gives the slightest of head movements acknowledging that he sees her. 

As the last out of the game is made we break our silence.

“What do you think……can we make the 5:30 Bainbridge?”

“No way…we still need to pack up and drop my truck off at my place…..we’re better off taking the 6 o’clock Bremerton.”

“Yeah…but the Bremerton is an hour ride we won’t make first pitch.”

“Yeah…but if we try for the 5:30 and miss it we miss the first three innings.”

We part ways and work as fast as possible to clean up after the game. Another shot you’ll never see on TV. The players raking the field and fixing the mound after a game. But here in community college we’re both player and grounds crew. 

Ryan heads to shortstop and I head to the mound. Everyone knows these are our areas and everyone stays clear. Ryan and I built this mound from the ground up on a rainy Sunday for 5 hours with coach one weekend. I know this mound better than anyone and quickly work it back into shape. 

On another wet and rainy weekend, Ryan and I resodded the entire infield with new grass, and yet another weekend remixed the dirt for the infield. Ryan knows every bump, ever rock of the shortstop position and using a rake quickly smooths it out. We might not get a lot of playing time on the field but we still respect it and honor it the way a baseball player should. 

We quickly put our rakes away grab our bags and hustle out to the parking lot. She’s there at her car waiting for us. 

“We’ll never make the 5:30 Banbridge…we still need to drop my truck off at my place and change our clothes.” I say with a smirk on my face. 

“What if we left your truck here and you guys changed in the car? We have to pass back by here after the game anyway so we can pick your truck up then.”

Ryan and I look at each other with that look that communicated, why didn’t we think of that? And at the same time, We knew there was a reason we hung out with her. 

We pile into her car and head to Banbridge. 

Ryan and I change in the car in a similar scene that you’ve seen in the movies. Body parts being bent in all sorts of positions, clothes flying everywhere, and laugher erupting from all of us. By the time we hit the ferry terminal in Bainbridge, I’ve transformed back into my Wranglers and flannel shirt and Ryan into his baggy jeans and baggy sweatshirt. We both opt for our college baseball hats with the big OC for Olympic College embroidered on the front. After all, a cowboy hat doesn’t go over too well in Seattle.

We quickly park the car and sprint down the plank and jump onto the ferry just moments before its whistle blows and sets sail for Seattle.

“Told you guys we’d make it.” she says out of breath but in a tone to remind us that this is her town.

rainer
Mt. rainer from the Ferry

It’s an unusually warm May day, so we elect to sit out doors at the front of the ferry. As we slowly gain speed she pushes Ryan and I apart and sits between us. She promptly turns sideways laying her head on my shoulder and kicking her feet up over Ryan’s lap. I swear she never could sit like a regular person.

“So….didn’t see any action today huh fellas?”

“No….we saw loads of action today……we just weren’t involved in any of it.”

She laughs and Ryan and I bump fists over top of her.

As we sit there with the smell of the ocean filling our nostrils and the wind from the boat gaining speed forcing us to turn our hats around, we see our destination come into view. 

spaceneedle
space Needle and Seattle Skyline

The whitish gray top of the Kingdome standing out like a beacon south of the city. Off to our right Mt. Rainer stands clear and tall over Seattle slowly turning purple and pink with the setting sun. Off to our left and north of the city the Space Needle rises like a watch tower among low buildings. We sit there in silence for the longest time just taking in the view and the smell of the ocean as the ferry makes the 35 minute crossing of the Puget Sound.

“Who’s pitching tonight?” 

“Randy Johnson!” Ryan and I say in unison as if the answer was rehearsed. 

We return to silence as I wrap my arm around her shoulder as I can tell she’s cold. Ryan hugs her knees close to his chest to keep her warm on his end. 

As the boat slows to dock in Seattle, the skyline of the city sits in front of us slowly turning the same purple and pink of Mt. Rainer as the sun makes it’s way lower on the horizon. 

“Some day we’re gonna live right there.” I say pointing to a new condo building with a big NOW RENTING sign and phone number on it.

“Yeah…wouldn’t that be the bomb if we could afford to live there?”

“We can live there….the three of us together could afford it.”

“There’s no way! No way we could afford that…..seeing I’m the only one with a job.” She reminds us with a chuckle. 

“I bet we could….Ryan….write down the number….how much do you think the top floor of that place costs?” Ryan always has a pen on him usually with reminders scribbled all over his hand…so one more phone number won’t hurt.

“With that view? More than two baseball players with no jobs can afford.” Again reminding us of our employment status.

“I’m not talking now” I say, “but in the future…seriously….the three of us could afford it together.”

“That would be too cool…..could you imagine us all living in Sea town?” Ryan says spinning his hat around but leaving it just a tad to the left of straight. 

“Some day….I’m telling you…some day we’re all going to live here. We’re gonna live here and walk to games whenever we want. No having to run for a ferry!” 

“Keep dreaming boys!” She says as she sits up straight and the ferry pulls into the dock. 

It’s 6:05, an hour before the first pitch. We exit the ferry with the rest of the passengers dressed in their Mariner garb headed to the game. Once off the ferry we quickly separate from the crowd with our quick pace and make our way to the Kingdome. We order a soda and popcorn and find our seats just in time for the National Anthem.   


ryanjeff
Ryan and I at Safeco Field

As another baseball season begins today with my beloved Mariners taking on the Oakland A’s in Japan, I’m reminded of this boat ride. We had probably close to hundreds more just like it over the years as we made our way from the Olympic Peninsula to the Kingdome and Safeco Field. Each ride would be basically the same conversation. This idea that some day we would all live in Seattle and be able to walk to Mariners games whenever we wanted. Ryan and I envisioned leaving work in our ties and throwing on a baseball cap to catch an afternoon game or owning season tickets for those seats we could never afford. As we prepare for our move back to Seattle, where that girl and I now own a condo that has a view of Safeco Field and Ryan owns a condo just 7 blocks from us, I’m reminded of all those conversations we had on the ferry about these days to come. The days when we would all be living in Seattle, and just a quick walk from the ball park. 

safeco
safeco and mt Rainer from our Condo

So to my wife and to my best friend….may our dreams of 16 years ago see the light of day….and just remember I told you one day we would do it!

11 Comments

  1. Dang, Jeff, here I am at my desk at school, a soggy mess. Hope no one comes in. I got through season post 1, 2, and 3 ok. Got a little misty with the one about your mom. My mom was at all my brother’s games for over 10 years and I can so relate to what that meant to my brother. Then, I read the one about your grandfather. As I write this, I see and hear my dad. He loved baseball the way you do. He sleep on the sidewalk in St. Louis when he was 9 (with his much older cousin) to see the St. Louis Browns play in a World Series Game. He took me to see Bob Feller and Bob Lemon pitch in the same game. (I was 6 months old and don’t remember the game much.) He took me to see the Seattle Pilots play (I am that old) and many a game at the Kingdom. When he retired it was to Mesa, Arizona so that he could go see as many spring training games as he could. He played Senior Baseball until he was 70 and Parkinson’s stopped him. Saturdays were all about what game was on the television.

    These memories, like yours, are the precious times of my life. Thanks for bringing them to my mind today – Opening Day. Now I have to go find tissues and hope no one comes to get me just yet.

    • Thanks Gwen,

      Seattle Pilots……NICE! You’ll be glad to know that about 90% of our condo renovations came from the Lowe’s that nows sits on the old Pilots field. They have a plaque where home plate use to be…..glad they kept that part….and I have a retro Seattle Pilots shirt that Ryan but me for my birthday a few years back that I wear constantly when I’m in Seattle.

      Playing ball at 70….I can only hope I’m as lucky. I do hope to find a time and a team to play with when I move back. That would be another amazing thing to look forward to. Hopefully I can talk Ryan into joining with me and that would just be…..well….too cool.

      M’s just finished winning the opener. Sat her watching it with my wife and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  2. Hey Jeff,

    You really are living the dream! Growing up internationally (especially in Africa!) means that it is hard/unlikely that I’ll end up in the same place that my dreams were born.
    I liked your writing. The Italian press is pretty excited about Alex Liddi playing for the Mariners in Tokyo. Good luck this season.

    • Liddi is going to be great. He’s had a fantastic Spring Training to the point that they can’t send him down to AAA. They need to find a place for him somewhere on the team. As soon as they can find a buyer for Figgins he’ll be seeing a lot more playing time.

  3. Looking forward to meeting you. Let us know when you want to come to whidbey for dinner.

  4. Jeff,
    Very nice my friend. Those were some fun days on the baseball field. Even though we didn’t play much, I loved every minute of the experience. Hell of a ride. Looking forward to the summer, plenty of baseball to watch and safeco field right at our door step. Still the best place to watch a baseball game. I listened to a radio replay broadcast of the Ms game this morning, not a big fan of Rick Riz, but excited to listen to some baseball about or home town team. I have to admit, that I wasn’t thinking about you or our experiences back at OC while listening to the game, but I know every year this time year, we’re both thinking of the same thing, and that’s pretty cool in itself. We’ll always have baseball. I got tickets for our first game. Go M’s!

  5. So that’s what I was paying for – ferry rides and ball games!!! I can just see the three of you and hear that conversation. Can’t wait until you are home and we can share some games with you, Ryan and the wives. You know your dad put a ball (golf wiffle practice ball) in our hand at 3 months and had you throwing on your belly on the floor. Well not really throwing more like losing the grip and it would roll towards dad. Anyway – baseball has been the game!! Dad and I sure enjoyed spring training – one of our dreams! Alway go for the dreams – they are worth it. Another great story – Jeffers!!!

  6. Wow, Jeff…another wonderful story. Amazing how you will soon be living that 16 year old dream!

  7. My name is Diane from Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I absolutely loved reading this story and am planning on reading the others as well. I think it is neat that you succeeded in living where you said you would, not to mention sweet that you married a good friend of yours. I do have one question that may seem a little silly but I honestly don’t know how to get the captions under the pictures like you did in your post. Is it in the html code or do you actually type under the picture?

    Thankyou!

  8. I have fond memories of the Kingdome and seeing my first major league games there. I was a proud member of “The Baseball Bunch” and distraught when we moved to the South (NC) and they not only didn’t have The Baseball Bunch, but no MLB! (Although I have come to love the Carolina League & our other Minor League Teams) It was one of my favorite moments about two years ago to take my son (who was 3 at the time) to his very first MLB game at Safeco field and get him his first Mariner’s cap.

    Congrats on your dream come true – they don’t happen that often!

  9. I got all caught up in the story. Glad you took the time to write it and thanks for sharing with the rest of us. Now I know about your story.

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