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How The World Wags

Hope springs eternal
By Dave Kiffer


October 11, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - One of the great advantages to growing up in Ketchikan is that you don't necessarily have to become obsessed with the success or failure of a professional sports team.
jpg Dave Kiffer Ketchikan, Alaska

Sure, there are more Mariners-Seahawks-Sonics fans here than anything else, but it's not like if you grew up in Chicago and had to depend on the success of either the Cubs/White Sox or Bears for your sense of self worth. When I worked in Boston in the mid 1980s, there were at least three suicides attributed to the Red Sox' dramatic collapse against the Mets in the 1986 World Series. Just a sad reminder that fan is short for fanatic.

This all came to mind a week ago, when I was invited to an "end of the season" Mariners party at a good friend's house. After the current year (63-99), a wake would have been in order but the good cheer over Ichiro's record setting year and the nostalgia over Edgar Martinez' retirement ruled the day. At least, until it became clear that the Mariners were not going to win their last game of the season.

I have always been a somewhat detached Mariners' fan. I was certainly interested in their march to a league record 116 wins a couple of years ago and frustrated by their obligatory quick flame out in the playoffs. I have watched somewhat sadly as they have developed and lost three future hall-of-famers (Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey and Alex Rodriguez) none of whom is likely to wear a Mariner's cap on their Cooperstown plaque. In fact, the most heated up I got about the Mariners was when an idiot general manager implied that Randy Johnson was over the hill and traded him in mid 1998. That was something like four Cy Young Awards and a perfect game ago. And yes, a world championship with the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks. Fortunately that former major league GM has since been fired by his son's Little League team, but I also remember that he wasn't the only cretin in Seattle who thought the Big Unit was through.

But in general, I'm only a lukewarm Mariners fan and a mild Seahawks fan and a non-existent Sonics fan. You see, I'm still nursing a broken heart from the original Seattle major league franchise "The Pilots."

If you blinked in 1969, you missed one of the most pitiful expansion teams this side of the 1962 Mets. They played in the decrepit Sicks Seattle Stadium in what is now optimistically called "The Rainier Valley." Back then it was just a bunch of ugly strip malls along Empire Way South. It was just a few blocks from grandmother's house and because of an illness in the family I spent quite a bit of time in Seattle that summer. I spent a fair amount of it watching the Pilots' lose, but like every 10 year old I was full of hope that players like Marty Pattin, Diego Segui, Gene Brabender and Tommy Davis would eventually turn it around.

The only turn the team made was skedaddling off down I-90 to Milwaukee to become the Brewers the next year. But they did leave behind an interesting memento of the season. They had a barely noticed knuckleballing relief pitcher named Jim Bouton who wrote the first real expose of the national pastime, a book called "Ball Four." When I read it, I realized that the "heroes" were anything but, I wasn't particularly disillusioned to find that out. I was disillusioned that a team could just up and leave like that.

So I mourned the Pilots and by the time the Mariners arrived a few years later, I was too old to develop that intense youthful fanaticism.

At any rate, I had always really been a Dodger fan and remain so this day. It's somewhat genetic. My mother was a Brooklyn Dodger fan long before I was born and my older brother - who lived in California - took us a to a Dodger game in 1965. I saw the great Sandy Koufax pitch a perfect game. I was six. I have no memory of it.

Well, that's not entirely true. When you're six years old a perfect game is pretty boring. This one was doubly boring - the Chicago Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley pitched a one-hitter. I remember asking my mom if we could go to the concession stand several times. Mom said yes as she was bored too. My brother had a finer grasp of the situation, he was going nuts as the Cubs batters went down again and again.

As I got older, I enjoyed the Steve Garvey years in Los Angeles and even attended a World Series game in 1978 (they lost to the danged Yankees of course). I solidified my Dodger fandom and even transferred it somewhat to the Lakers and the Rams (before they skedaddled off I-70 to St. Louis).

But I digress. This was supposed to be about a party for the Seattle Mariners. But since they were losing 3-0 to Rangers (the team that snatched away Pay-Rod), the mood at the party was somewhat subdued.

When I was growing up there was an almost mythical sports team right here in Salmon City. The Kayhi Kings basketball team was state champs four years in a row from 1964-1968. I caught the tail end of that fanaticism and found myself somewhat awed at the altar of coach Claude Hunskor and John Brown. Even today I find myself oddly speechless when I see John Brown or Bill Pattison - who was a starter on the last Kayhi state championship team in 1974. I feel like I'm a kid again. It's a good feeling. Especially since these days it seems like the Kayhi Kings have only beaten Juneau once in the last 20 years and frequently lose to the likes of Craig and Metlakatla.

Anyway, the Mariners game was over and they had lost 3-0. Martinez had grounded into two double plays. Ichiro had hoofed out a couple more singles. There was a collective sigh as the last out of the 2004 Seattle Mariners season was recorded.

Naturally, I was less bereft than the other party goers. It was just a baseball season and it was over as far as the Pacific Northwest was concerned. The Dodgers - on the other hand - were in the playoffs (barely). I kept this feeling of muted joy to myself.

I was getting ready to leave, when I heard my host exclaim. "Well, everybody's tied." I didn't understand for a minute and I realized he was already looking ahead to next year and the first game of the season, when everyone starts off 0-0 and any team can win the World Series. Even the Cubs or the Red Sox or.........the Mariners.

Hope springs eternal, even for a Mariner fan(atic).

Dave Kiffer ©2004


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