A Year Without a Summer

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At the time of this article, it will have been twenty months since I have set foot in a baseball stadium. Let me say that one more time, “it has been 20 long months since I have set foot in a baseball stadium.” It was August of 2019 when I last put on the AquaSox T-shirt, sat on my AquaSox blanket, and drank a frosty cold beverage to cheer on the likes of future Mariners stars like George Kirby and Brandon Williamson, as well as local legends Austin Shenton and Trent Tinglestad.

The pandemic has a way of making that 20 months seem like 20 years. I struggle as I write this article trying to even remember what it was like to go to a game, what it was like to not wear a mask in public, and sadly enough what it was like to see fireworks night at Funko Field. It was exciting. I know it was! I went to the games at least once per homestand. But something cruel happened; there was excitement due to star level appearances and cool new promotions, but it all came crashing down, didn’t it?

Each of us had a different experience during this time. For me, it was the height of excitement followed by a prolonged series of unfortunate consequences that led to a year of our lives missing. A whole summer gone, a whole lifestyle interrupted, and a National Pastime feeling like a thing of the past.

Excitement bounds

It was about two years ago we were watching rehab assignments regularly from the Mariners as Sam Tuivailala, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Court and Dan Altavilla would grace the field. For those of us who saw that August 15th game where King Felix struck out 8 in 4 innings of play, we had a glimmer of hope that there was still a little something left in the tank. But that was the last time we saw the King. He would play a couple games for the Mariners, but he came and went and maybe we didn’t appreciate it as much as we should have—dang I wish I had taken a deep breath and enjoyed it more in the moment.

But, in recent years, the Mariners had been utilizing our very own AquaSox for rehab assignments. Before that we got to see the likes of Robinson Cano and another stint with King Felix. The fans were flocking to Funko field and every time a Mariner made an appearance it was electric. Throw in the weekly fireworks shows and we got quite a show during and after the game.

In addition to the star talent, the AquaSox had entered an agreement with Funko; perhaps the most popular toy company in America. With Freddie Funko in the outfield and a nice infusion of cash to upgrade the stadium, excitement ensued with a younger generation of fans who enjoyed collecting that sweet, sweet Funko swag on Fridays. The good times were rolling, there was no way they were going to end right?

Then it stopped

Then the 2020 season came and with Spring Training in full gear, we saw a pandemic that changed everything. I had known 3 certainties in life, those being: death, taxes, and Opening Day of baseball. Ok, so there was no opening day of MLB. But surely the pandemic would amount to a late start and by the time the Everett AquaSox were to start in June of 2020, surely there would be a season. Well, we all know how that turned out, because for the first time in 152 years, there would be no pro baseball at any level to start our summer.

It is just mind boggling that there were previous pandemics, world wars, scandals, strikes, and even disco music and none of those phenomena were strong enough to strike down our enjoyment to kick off a summer. And if the depression didn’t stop there, we also had to worry about our own local team perhaps being disbanded by Major League Baseball as a change of another kind swept thru the minors.

In 1866, Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings started us off on the path of perpetual motion with double plays and stolen bases.  The Boys of Summer were born again as they put down their cricket bats and decided to swing for the fences—ok I know fences came later. But last summer came and went and the Boys of Summer did not come around—the game that was put in motion came to a grinding stop.

If ever there were a time for me to call my high school philosopher teacher, this would have been the year. I do remember Mrs. Thenell explaining to us the paradox of a baseball in motion. When thrown, the baseball in each instant in time, technically occupies a space at a point in time and at that point in time is motionless. And if the baseball is merely a set of instances of being in a point in time, then there is no such thing as motion, therefore the ball never really travels to the plate, but paradoxically gets there. And that is how I felt, I felt like time stopped and we existed for 20 months, and I wondered “when will we ever cross that plate?”

Summer is baseball, baseball is summer

Baseball and summer are pretty much the same thing to me. The two are inextricably connected and being deprived of baseball ruined my 2020 summer. Granted there were other things I could have been doing, I could have created a garden, I could have gone camping, I could have played video games, I could have read great works of literature. I understand those are fine hobbies, but none of those speak summer to me and none are baseball.

I don’t want to be anywhere but at Funko Field (or T-Mobile park) on a sunny day with a beer and a brat in summer. Its pretty much non-negotiable. I hope that I am writing to the correct audience who understands this, but if not, summer without baseball is like a dull pencil—utterly pointless.

You may say that is hyperbole, but it really isn’t. There are other seasonal rituals that we lost during the pandemic–and not for the better.  For example, was Fourth of July any fun without fireworks and a BBQ? Was Seafair interesting without Hydros and the Blue Angels? How about Halloween, was that fun without costume parties? And no Thanksgiving or Christmas were downright tragic this last year.

So to tell me that baseball had stopped basically had negated the summer of 2020 for me. But this isn’t all about me of course.

Darkness sets in

Yes, the 2020 season was a disaster and we got to see zero AquaSox games and our summer was ruined, but there were other tragedies. It is worth noting that we had to watch our favorite team go without revenue for a year. No ticket sales means no income and that led to tough decisions in employment opportunities for staff and for businesses around the ballpark. For many no summer and no baseball meant a different type of tragedy.

When deprived of entertainment, many of us in our depression from the events around us, were frustrated at what we had lost. We lost out on fun, others lost out on their livelihoods and for that I can only hope for the best for those impacted by this.

It was hard to have a sense of humor about the situation as there was nobody to sit with at the pub, or be next to someone in line waiting for a Funko Pop, or in the line for a brat and burger to make light of the situation. And it is even more difficult when you think and empathize with that bartender, that Funko employee, and that AquaSox concession worker had their business taken away from them by the pandemic.

That rain cloud hovered

There were rumors during the pandemic that made many of us feel more downtrodden. Not only was baseball taken from us, not only was our summer taken from us, but there were hushed whispers and unsubstantiated internet blogs that talked of some minor league teams being downgraded or even shut down forever!

Coopt up in my home and with nothing but time and zero baseball to watch, I could not help but wonder if my local team was one of the rumored to be on that list. We as a people already had little to few answers for the pandemic, but when it comes to the one constant that had been in our lives, in baseball, not to know just made the summer worse.

Could the pandemic be the end of the pipeline to our Seattle Mariners? Or even worse after a nearly 40 year presence in Everett, would this be the end of Single A baseball? As what should have been a season that took us surfing on a wave of new prospects, it didn’t even register a drop of excitement. Rather this news, this portent of doom, combined with the pandemic, was like taking away from us our surfboard, our tasty waves, and the whole ocean as well.

It can’t always rain

Something odd happened however, there turned out to be a bright side to all this. So with the gut punch of pandemic and the haymaker of potential disaster headed to our face, we got good news in that our Everett AquaSox were promoted 2 levels, becoming High A!

This is fantastic, for those of you who aren’t aware, the AquaSox had been the bottom level of the minors. We got to see all the new draft picks which was exciting, but generally only 2-3 guys in a given year would see the majors; it would take them perhaps 4 years to even get to that point.  With our level up, we should start seeing a team where perhaps 30% of the team will make some noise within 2 years at Triple A Tacoma.

Additionally, with the promotion, the AquaSox will play a longer season and start in May rather than late June.  More games, equals more fireworks, Funko Pops, brats and beer! The measure of success also exceeds our enjoyment as fans. With more games on the schedule, there will be more employment opportunities at and around the stadium. There will be more revenue for the team and perhaps most importantly, there will be more relevance to the games as the more talented players will come through Everett.

Excitement swells

Yes, I am getting excited for baseball and I can’t even say it is a cautious excitement. Twenty months without setting foot in a stadium and this is a simmer that is finally coming to a boil. I am blessed enough to have work thru the pandemic so I do not expect any sympathy; however, for over a year, I sit at the same desk in my house every day looking at the same computer screen and venturing out of my house to walk to the grocery store or drive to the local teriyaki joint.

By and large, my conversations with friends is all digital these days and the mundane conversations about the same 3 subjects over and over again are coming to an end. I love my friends, but if we don’t have baseball to debate we end up talking about depressing things like politics, religion, or our feelings. Who wants that?!

I am noticing a trend though, as we are starting to get vaccinated, we as a community are starting to venture out a little bit. We are starting to get some pep in our step and with calls out for season tickets, I went ahead and put my deposit in. And this feels like step closer to normalcy.

A new normal

Who knows what the new normal is? Maybe it is a mask, maybe we have to have vaccines by the season’s start, at this point I don’t care, I want back what is important to me and that is my summer.  In addition to lacking the sport itself, I lack the personal interaction with other people at the stadium, I miss the community and I am willing to do what it takes to get to the game.

I miss the crack of the bat, I miss the smell of kettle corn, and I even miss the occasional cold when the sun sets. For goodness sake, we took summer of 2019 for granted, I don’t intend to do that again in 2021! The new normal most certainly is that that I will take advantage of each precious moment that we get at Funko Field and the time with each other.

Play Ball!

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