When I sat down to write this, I thought that Ben Noble and I went to spring training in 1996. I based my assumption on the memory that I’d already been charmed by Alex Rodriguez the previous fall when he was photographed comforting Joey Cora after the Mariners lost the American League championship.
But it turns out that I didn’t have it quite right. I spent September of 1995—the month of my 30th birthday—riding my bicycle around Ireland and returned home to a city in a frenzy—with the Mariners set to play a tiebreaker against the California Angels to determine who would win the AL West. Ben offered me a ticket so I went with him and we were both blown away by the noise and enthusiasm in the King Dome and thrilled to watch our team defeat the Angels. Of course, the Mariners went on to lose to the Cleveland Indians (hence the need to comfort Joey Cora) but that’s not really the point. We didn’t go to spring training the following spring but the one after that, in 1997.
My grandfather lived in Mesa, Arizona not far from Peoria where the Mariners trained. At the time I made a point of visiting him once or twice a year to play Kismet, scrub the kitchen floor, and check on his driving. In the winter of 1997, I mentioned to Ben that I was thinking about going to spring training and he jumped at the chance to join me. Ben was one of three or four friends I loosely referred to as my “baseball husbands” because they were the people I watched baseball with and Greg wasn’t really interested in the game.
I can’t recall how many games Ben I and attended that spring but I do know that after the first day Ben decided that we needed to buy official MLB baseballs and Sharpies so that we’d have something to hand over should we get the opportunity to gather autographs.
The next day we set about collecting signatures—Ben wisely going for the future hall of famers who I didn’t recognize, my expertise being limited to the M’s roster.
The first autograph I managed to get was from a scrub infielder named Brian Raabe, which is why I know it was the spring of 1997. (According to Wikipedia, Brian Raabe played three seasons in the Major Leagues, including a brief stint with Seattle in 1997.) I also collected an autograph from John Marzano who was a backup catcher to my beloved Dan Wilson, who I watched get an inside the park home run (pardon me, grand slam) so I’m not entirely surprised that I don’t remember John Marzano.
Anyhow, that afternoon I noticed that Alex Rodriguez played the first few innings and then after they pulled him, he carefully made his way along the third base line signing autographs for all his young fans as he went. The next day I got myself into position by moving to an open seat near third base waiting for Alex to get pulled and make his way toward me. I waited in a cluster of eager children and creepy grown-ups to collect my own autograph of a future hall of famer. The smart folks among us handed Alex a fresh ball or rookie card when their turn came but I handed him a ball on which I’d already gathered the signatures of John Marzano and Brian Raabe, the future head coach of Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I can tell you that Alex’s eyes were green and his adolescent skin was impossibly clear and smooth. I can also tell you that our love affair was brief and that I stopped adoring him the moment he left Seattle for a contract with the Texas Rangers worth $252 million.
Offering: One official MLB baseball with three signatures: Alex Rodriguez, Brian Raabe, and John Marzano (deceased.)