Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Game 13: Chasing Perfection

Mariners 5, Twins 3

Note: We apologize for the delay on the blog, but we have a series of posts on the way in the next two days. We will be caught up before leaving San Diego. That includes additional pictures to come in the posts being put up tonight. Thank you for your patience, and for following along. 

During the middle of the of the Giants game on Wednesday afternoon, Owen sent me a text informing me that Mariners' ace Felix Hernandez was perfect through five innings. I promptly uploaded Twitter on my phone in order to follow Felix's progress.

Before the trip started, one of the things we discussed was the possibility of just missing a great game by arriving in a certain city a day before or a day after a particularly memorable performance. I figured at some point we would miss a a great pitcher's duel or a big comeback; never did I imagine that we would narrowly miss a perfect game, much less one thrown by Felix Hernandez.

As the game progressed — my eyes lit up as I learned that Felix struck out the side in the sixth inning and then again in the eighth — my emotions became more and more conflicted. Did I want Felix to throw the perfect game? Of course. But did I also want to see it happen in person, or on TV at the very least? Absolutely.

Mariners fans have had very little to cheer about over the last decade. Please don't mistake that for a complaint — it's not. As a fan of any team, you should very rarely expect success. There are, in this case, twenty-nine sets of other fans, most of which also won't root for a successful team in a given season or, for some, over the course of a decade. Being a fan of a team — and, as those close to me know, I use the word fan to describe only those very loyal people — is about failure more than it is about success. Those people who expect success, or whose interest or passion is contingent upon the success of their team, are the people who leave a game during the eighth inning or who jump on and off the bandwagon as they please.

But watching a bad team or a losing team is not an exercise in futility. You watch them play to see them improve (you hope) and to better understand the future of the team. You devote time and resources during even the worst seasons because you know — or you think you know — that the painful seasons will make the best seasons that much sweeter. And above all, you watch them play for the same reason you watch any team play — the hope of seeing something in a game that you have never seen before.

And so, with Felix just three outs away from completing the twenty-third perfect game in the history of the Major Leagues I stood up out my seat and legged my way up the steps of AT&T Park into the club area above our seats. Immediately I found an usher sitting in a corner watching the televised version of the Giants' game that I had, for the moment, abandoned. I strode over to him and asked, as politely as I could muster, "Excuse me, is it possible to change the channel? There's a perfect game going on in the ninth inning of the Mariners game." To which he replied, in a get-that-weak-shit-out-of-here kind of way, "Come on man, this is the Giants." So much for that.

I walked the length of the club section, searching in vain for a television that was showing something other than the game that was taking place 30 feet behind me, alternating between watching the televised game in the hope of seeing an in-game update and peeking out to see if the JumboTron might cut to Felix's ninth inning. But in the end, I was relegated to scanning 140-character updates on Twitter, which, of course, chose that time to stop working, to find out if Felix completed the perfect game or not. Ten minutes after I confirmed with Owen that he had indeed, finished the game, AT&T showed the final out on the JumboTron.

Sitting there, I was elated for Felix but in equal part, selfishly feeling hollow disappointment that I missed his performance.

Since Felix's third year in the majors — the first year he showed signs of reaching his sky-as-the-limit potential — it seemed like only a matter of time before he would make a run at a no-hitter. In his second start of the 2007 season, he threw seven innings of no-hit baseball against the World Series bound Red Sox. And then, after approaching the brink of throwing a no-no Felix didn't threaten again — until Wednesday.

Since then I have watched replays of Felix's performance and attended the Mariners' game following his performance, before which the team commemorated his performance. But the hollow feeling in my stomach has remained. At times, it has made me feel almost sick. I wanted to be at his performance; I needed to witness it live on TV at the very least.

Sports fandom is about proximity through experience. Watching your team lose the last game of the season will always hurt more than reading about it the next day; seeing Dustin Ackley slide head first into third base can never be accurately portrayed through an gamecast; and no matter how many times I watch replays Felix's performance, it will never be as special as witnessing it in the moment — sweating out every pitch, calling my dad in between completed innings and above all, feeling the explosion of adrenaline with the final called strike.

The only guarantee you have as a sports fan is heartbreak. Even the most successful fan bases have had their hearts broken. Twenty-seven World Series is no defense for a Luis Gonzalez broken bat single and for most, one World Series only occurs after twenty-seven of the latter.

But on Friday night as the sun set over Seattle and the Mariners took the field, I was reminded that despite all the pain and failure, nowhere do I feel more alive, or more connected, than at Safeco Field.

Games Watched: 15
Games To Go: 15
Thuuz Score: 23
Stadium: A- Safeco features great views of the Seattle skyline and also boasts a retractable roof in one of the country's rainiest cities. 
Fan Atmosphere: B- While Safeco's neighbor, the stadium formerly known as Quest, boasts the loudest fans in the NFL, Mariner fans are of a meeker sort. 
Concessions: B+ Safeco offers a variety of different cuisines and a good, though limited selection, of beers.
Tim Kurkjian Award: Miguel Olivo entered the game 10-21 lifetime against Twins' starter Nick Blackburn. True to form he lined a 419-foot home run over the left field wall on the first pitch he saw. What came next, however we had never seen before. In Olivo's second and third at bats of the game, Blackburn splintered Olivo's bat.
Miles Traveled: 5,975
Miles to Next Game: 809 (Indians @ Athletics, August 18th, 6:05 pm)

"Read more" for pictures

View from the seats

Scoreboard, Qwest Field in the background


Seattle skyline

Sunset over the Sound

Friends and family (we had a large Seattle contingent; thanks to all who came!)

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