The Wedding reception for Gayle Frink and Randy Schulz at the Seattle Yacht Club will have to carry on without who sits in his car in the parking lot with the engine off and the radio on. He dares not leave, not as long as the Mariners have one last turn to bat, one last turn to alchemize imminent defeat into another magical victory.
It is Sept. 24, a Sunday afternoon. Yes, this is a blessed, once-in-a-lifetime event. It's the first time the Mariners have been in first place this late in the season in their 19 years of existence. Cripes, they had never been in first place even as late as Memorial Day. Gayle's wedding? It's her second.
So the radio and the listener cannot be separated, as if the connection is magnetic. Seattle, trailing by a run, has one man on against Oakland A's closer Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth. The voice of Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus crackles through the car's speakers: "Here comes the pitch to Tino.... Swung on and belted!.... Deep to right-field.... And that will be.... Flying away! The Mariners win it, 9-8, in perhaps the most incredible game in their history! And 46,000 fans are losing their minds in Seattle! Tonight, I guarantee you, it will be sleepless in Seattle for everybody who was here today, including me!"
Holy matrimony! The Mariners have done it again. Now the guest can join the wedding party. He takes the keys from the ignition, slips out of his car and shuts the door. And this is what he hears: the whoomp of about 20 other car doors closing at almost the same time. Other guests have been captivated by the Mariners too. Soon they are high-fiving in the yacht club parking lot. The party has just begun.
Legend is history's big brother. Derived from the Latin word legenda, meaning "to be read," legend has come to define events so large that the recounting of them occurs mostly by spoken word over years, even generations. Until last August, the term was virtually inapplicable to anything having to do with major league baseball in Seattle.
What play, game or event, for instance, could move Seattle's few faithful baseball fans to recite exactly where they were when it occurred? The time in 1981 when Lenny Randle, a stand-up comic who also played third base, tried to blow a rolling baseball foul? Funny Nose Glasses Night in '82, which out-drew Gaylord Perry's 300th win two nights earlier? The evening in '86 on which the Mariners struck out a major league record 20 times against Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox? The first time the Mariners sold out the Kingdome—in their 1,019th home game, on April 13, 1990? The only two seasons ('91 and '93) that Seattle had a winning record?
What about the time in '69 that righthander John Gelnar of the Pilots, the Mariners' deadbeat major league forefathers in Seattle, lost two games in one day? Well, that was the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. All the more amazing. They could put a man on the moon but not a team into a pennant race in Seattle. One year, '83, the Mariners played in front of 3.9 million empty seats at home.
"For obvious reasons, baseball in Seattle never caught on," says ace pitcher Randy Johnson, who joined the Mariners in 1989. "It's because we never won. When you're on the mound and you can hear the popcorn vendor guy going, 'Popcorn!' and someone in the stands is having a conversation with someone else and you can point them out, that's bad."
"It was so quiet," says rightfielder Jay Buhner, a Mariner since 1988, "that you could hear a bird chirp."
The Library of Congress catalog shows 77 books under the subject of the Boston Red Sox. The Seattle Mariners' listing stops at four. Not much legenda.