I skipped out on my swanky 10-year reunion dinner to go to Mariners Singles Night. I’d bought the ticket a while ago, and figured that, while the 10-year reunion dinner would have been fun, Singles Night would definitely lead to a good story. I went in without any expectations, and had a great time. Some guys from Vancouver were holding their bachelor party there, and the piano players from Chopstix were great.
After a beer, I found myself standing over near the bullpen. At Safeco Field, the Mariners bullpen is right next to the Bullpen Market. From a fan’s perspective, it’s pretty cool. You can watch pitchers warm up, and sometimes you can interact with the players. I doubt the players like it very much, though. I know I wouldn’t want drunk fans yelling at me every night.
Some drunken assholes had been yelling vitriolic insults at John Wetteland, the Mariners bullpen coach. He came over and settled them down. I stood and listened to his pep talk. After the drunk fans left, I was still standing there. From the bullpen bench, Wetteland caught my eye, and I waved. Once again, he walked over and said “Excuse me, mam, but did you need something?”
Sometimes, after a beer, I just open my mouth and say what I think. Among my friends, this is an endearing habit. At least, I hope it is. So I opened my mouth, and this is what came out.
“I just wanted to say hello. Mr. Wetteland, my name is Anna. I’m a lifelong Mariners fan. I really want you guys to turn this thing around. The whole city feels bad for you guys, and we want to turn it around as much as you do.”
John Wetteland smiled a little, and said, “Don’t feel bad for us. We’re out here working really hard. If we weren’t working hard, you could feel bad. I don’t feel bad. You shouldn’t either.”
“Yes, but I really want you guys to turn this thing around. You see, it’s always been my dream to hear Dave Niehaus call a World Series.”
John Wetteland took a step back, and with a twinkle in his eye said “That would be really cool.”
And then, he put his hand through the bars of the bullpen gate, shook my hand, and said “It was nice to meet you, Anna.” He turned and went back to his coaching duties.
I was awestruck. As a baseball fan, one always hopes to be close enough to the players to actually interact with them. When you grow up with the game, the players always seem larger than life. Everyone wants to have a story about a meaningful baseball interaction. And this was mine. John Wetteland and I agreed that hearing Dave Niehaus call a World Series would be really cool. I think the poignancy of that statement was not lost on either of us. Niehaus is getting up there in years. For this to happen, the Mariners need to turn it around quick. Niehaus has been the Mariners’ radio broadcaster since Day One. Calling a World Series would be the crowning moment of his career.
Wetteland himself is connected with a piece of Mariners history. In Game 4 of the 1995 American League Division Series, John Wetteland was brought into the game in the 8th inning in a 6-6 tie. The Mariners loaded the bases, and Edgar Martinez, the greatest designated hitter of all time, hit a grand slam. The Mariners would go on to win that game 11-8.
My friends totally thought I was drunk when I called them, but I was honestly just euphoric. It’s not every day that you can have a five-minute conversation with the bullpen coach. They usually do their best to stay focused and ignore the fans.
After I calmed down a little, I decided to go to my seat. But first, I wanted to make sure I said goodbye to Mr. Wetteland and the rest of the bullpen. Don’t ask me why I thought this was a good idea. So, I walked over to the bullpen gate again, and got the attention of the sheriff inside.
“Hello, Mr. Sheriff,” I said. He came over. “So, John Wetteland came over and talked to me earlier, and I just wanted to say thank you to him. See, that really meant a lot to me that he did that. It was nice. I’m a lifelong baseball fan. I’m going to go to my seat now. If you would tell him thank you from me, that would be great.”
Apparently after a beer, I talk like a member of the Cleaver family. But this is honestly what I remember saying to the sheriff.
The sheriff nodded and smiled. “Don’t you go anywhere. I have to let Mr. Wetteland know who is saying thank you.”
And sure enough, between the first and second inning, the sheriff went over and told John Wetteland exactly what I’d said. He waved at me and tipped his cap. Other members of the bullpen gave me a little wave, too. It was awesome.
After the game, I decided to come back and say thank you to the sheriff. I walked up and said, “Hi. Remember me?”
“Of course,” the sheriff said. He smiled. He reminded me a little of my grandfather, if Granddad had been a King County sheriff with a rather imposing badge.
“I just wanted to say thank you for conveying my message. My name is Anna, by the way.”
The sheriff introduced himself, but I forgot what his name was. I’ll have to ask him again the next time I’m at the ballpark.
“I’ll come back and say hello next time I’m here.”
“You can say hello any time, Anna,” the sheriff said.
“Maybe I’ll say hi to the bullpen, too. Do you think they’ll remember me?”
“I don’t think they’re going to forget you for a really long time,” the sheriff said.
So, that’s how I met John Wetteland. I guess it’s not every day that a random fan just walks up to the bullpen and says the equivalent of “Excuse me, but will you please turn this thing around. See, Dave Niehaus is getting up there in years, and I’d like to hear him call a World Series.” And it’s definitely not every day that a major league bullpen coach listens, shakes the fan’s hand, and agrees that hearing Niehaus call a World Series would be really cool.