I NEVER INTENDED to alienate my new neighbors in Section 148. I had been preparing all winter for the 2002 season—my first as a season-ticket holder at Safeco Field—honing my score-book skills, fine-tuning my cheers and jeers for Opening Day. I studied the Mariners' media guide, read reams of stats from the last few years, and followed the boys religiously throughout the spring. It was all part of my conversion: After years of living in New York, rooting on my beloved Yankees, I was ready to accept my new hometown's team as my own.
So when the men in white took the field earlier this month—Mark McLemore assuming his position in left field, just a few feet away, close enough for me to buy him a beer—I bellowed "play ballllllll," holding the latter note for 15 seconds, with vibrato, just like I had done for years. At Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, this chant usually is met with some applause, or at least a knowing chuckle. Here, however, what I got was disgusted stares from a bunch of swivel heads.
Of course, I did not give up. When Freddy Garcia notched two strikes against one of the opponent's most powerful hitters, I stood up and clapped vigorously, only to have a fleece-vested Yuppie seated behind me say, "sit down, you jerk." In the bottom of the inning, when I belted, "come on, Ichi, let's get it staaaaaaarted!" a brat to my left told me to "keep it down" as she shoveled garlic fries into her oversized mouth. Later in the game, just moments before Mike Cameron hit his first home run of the year, I implored him to "take it dowwwntowwwn" and was reprimanded by a grandma a few rows forward, who turned around, placed her index finger over her puckered snout, and growled, "enough!"
Things only got worse from there. Later that first week, I witnessed a come-from-behind victory in which the home team rallied for four runs to win it in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out, two-strike single. If this were to happen at Yankee Stadium, strangers would embrace, everyone would sing "New York, New York," and the subways would ring with chants of "Let's go Yan-kees!" After this game, though, as we headed for the exits, it was as silent as a funeral procession. I yelled, "Let's go Mar-in-ers!" and nobody joined in. I yelled it again, and, get this—about a half dozen people told me to "shhhhh." The crowd was so dead that a homeless guy walked by and asked: "Who won?"
It was, in a word, pathetic. And after dozens of experiences like these during my first month as a Mariners supporter, I've come to the conclusion that this is par for the course. The Mariners are one of the best teams in baseball, their stadium is newer, nicer, and more comfortable than the House that Ruth Built, but in the end, none of it matters, because Mariners fans just suck. People who call themselves "fans" know something about the game they watch. They encourage root, root, rooting for the home team, they stand and clap at two-strike counts, they're not afraid to boo an opponent or a hometown goat, and they always cheer more for a stolen base than for a stuffed Moose (or that idiotic hydroplane race on the Jumbotron).
WHAT SEDENTARY Seattleites have proven is that the term "Mariners fan" is an oxymoron. These are the same people who sway like prom dates at a Built to Spill show and drive 50 mph in the left lane on I-5. Seattle's team is younger than I am, and save for one lucky moment off the most ignominious pitcher in recent baseball history, has never won anything important after Sept. 30. Apathy leads to complacency, which, in turn, breeds mediocrity.
With such somnolent Seattle game sitters—fans who'd rather read four- sentence out-of-town game summaries on the scoreboard than scrutinize Lou's strategy behind an intentional walk or a safety squeeze—it's no wonder the Mariners can't beat the Yankees when it counts. Yankees fans are passionate—they love their guys, they hate them, then they love them all over again. They rally behind their players as human beings, as they've done in years past with Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden, Joe Torre and Mel Stottlemyre. For the New York fan, baseball mirrors life—gritty, dramatic, and intense. Here in Seattle, the game is just that—a game, a diversion. Like skiing or paddling or hiking, it's something you spend your money on, enjoy for a while, then leave early, hopping in your SUV to beat the traffic home. In Seattle, nothing seems to make anyone's blood boil, ever.
This is no way to win a championship.
Therefore this newest of Mariners season-ticket holders challenges the groupies of this great Seattle Mariners ballclub to become fans in the finest sense. I'm throwing down the gauntlet to see if laid-back Northwesterners can break their moldy mold. My loyalties lie in the balance.
This weekend, my real team, the New York Yankees, comes to town to take on my new team, the M's. A contingent of Yankees fans from back East will be in the center-field bleachers banging a cowbell, clapping, and yelling our hearts out. If there's life in you Mariners supporters, you'll be louder than we are, and you'll torment us the way we deserve to be tormented. If, on the other hand, we small but strong Yankees squadron are louder and more raucous than you, I will burn my Mariners gear in Pioneer Square, formally declare myself a Mariners hater, and donate the remainder of my season tickets to local minority youth organizations, so as to increase the number of African- and Hispanic-American fans at Safeco Field from zero to two at every game.
The choice is yours, Seattle. Either way, I'll be doing my part to deliver the kind of baseball experience the Mariners deserve. May the team with the best fans win.