Thursday was not a great day. I had to leave work early to go to the doctor in Northgate, which took a couple of hours. I had determined a few days before, however, that I was going to make the trek to Cheney Stadium to see the Tacoma debut of Mariner first-round pick, Danny Hultzen. As it turns out, he would end up facing the winningest pitcher in Mariner history, Jamie Moyer, as he made his debut with the Blue Jays’ AAA affiliate, hoping to earn a spot on Toronto’s injury-laden rotation. Over 25 years separated the two pitchers and it was sure to be a game full of intrigue and emotion – both over the past and the future.
After the doctor appointment (which included far too many needles), I set out for Tacoma. I left Northgate, still without a partner in crime for the Tacoma adventure, and had resigned myself to enjoying a fantastic pitching match-up alone. Since I left Seattle at 4:30, I expected to be in Tacoma around 5:30, in plenty of time to explore the recently-remodeled Cheney Stadium and take in the atmosphere.
If you haven’t tried to drive from Northgate to Tacoma at the beginning of rush hour, don’t. It took over an hour just to get in sight of the stadium and because of the sellout at Cheney, the backup on the exit ramp took over an hour to get through as well. By the time I parked a mile away (because the Cheney lot was full) and made the trek over to my seat… it was 7:25. I had missed the introductions and the entire first inning, which included a Tacoma homer off of Moyer to give the Rainiers a quick lead.
The pitching duel I anticipated never materialized. Hultzen was all over the place, only making it through four innings. While he did only give up one run and struck out six, his performance wasn’t much to write home about. It doesn’t make Hultzen a bad pitcher or this outing a necessarily bad one, it just wasn’t anything special.
While it was cool to see Hultzen make his debut, however, there’s no doubt that the vast majority of the crowd was there for Jamie, and he knew it. A standing ovation greeted him nearly every time he walked off the field after an inning, and he acknowledged the crowd every single time with a tip of his cap. Through both his pitching ability and contributions to the community, Jamie Moyer is a legend in Mariners and Seattle history.
After his rough start, Jamie settled in against the Rainiers’ lineup. He made hitters look foolish with the change in speeds between his pitches and generated a constant stream of oohs and aahs from the crowd with every swinging strike. He made it through the fifth only giving up three runs, leaving him the pitcher of record.
And that was that. With the beginning of the sixth inning, Hultzen and Moyer were both gone. The score was 7-3 and the magic that brought over 7,000 fans to a sold-out Cheney stadium was gone. The rain started falling and so did the Rainiers’ hopes of staging any kind of comeback. The kiss cam made an appearance. There were failed attempts by what looked to be Rainiers’ cheerleaders to get the crowd excited about the game. A couple of hours later, the Rainiers finally took the loss, 11-3.
I had been waiting for the end of the game for a while. I had heard stories of Jamie Moyer signing autographs after games and figured it would be pretty nice to meet one of the greatest Mariners of all time. Along with 15 or so other fans, I headed straight for the top of the visitor’s dugout to await the exit of the players after the customary high-fives on the infield. When the players came back, however, there was no Jamie Moyer. The team disappeared into the clubhouse.
I was disappointed, but at the same time I find it nearly impossible to leave a stadium before I’m told that I absolutely have to… and this second emotion won out, not surprisingly. Five or six of us stayed in the stands around the tunnel from the dugout to the clubhouse, hoping that he would make an appearance. Things looked bleak.
I was about to leave the stadium when I saw Larry Stone, Ryan Divish and a group of others armed with microphones and cameras walking towards the very tunnel we were standing by. They formed a semicircle, and as if right on cue, Jamie Moyer walked out and stood in front of the reporters and began a postgame interview.This was going to work out after all!
Not quite. About five minutes after Moyer started answering questions, an usher came down to the six of us who remained and let us know that we needed to leave the park. One of the others (who may have been a bit under the influence of alcohol) challenged the usher and advised him that there was no way he would leave until he got to meet Jamie Moyer. The usher replied back that it wasn’t his decision, after which the fan said that it would take security to make him leave. The usher said he would be more than happy to bring security.
I’m not usually one to go against authority… but I decided this would be an appropriate time to live a little. I stayed, hoping that the interview would conclude soon and we would get to meet one of our generation’s childhood idols.
Unfortunately, the usher wasn’t joking. The real security guards moved in… which was my cue to leave. I said ‘live a little…’ not live a lot. On my way out, another usher made a comment about waiting by the fences in the parking lot – I shrugged this off, doubting that a weary Jamie Moyer would stop his car to sign autographs for fans on his way out.
As I exited the park, I saw the fences the usher was talking about. There were probably about 100 people huddled up near the exit to the park, presumably hoping to catch one last glimpse of Jamie Moyer before he rode off into the sunset of retirement. We stood there for about ten more minutes when somebody walked towards us from the field. It was him.
Jamie Moyer, he of 269 career wins, walked right up to all of the fans who had traveled and waited for hours to see him and signed autographs. For every “you’re the best, Jamie,” there was a “thank you” on his part. For every “thanks for signing my ball,” Jamie responded with a sincere “you’re welcome.” He signed for every single fan that had waited around for him. He asked kids what their names were and joked around with them, sending them back to their parents beaming.
One girl asked, “Jamie, are you gonna retire as a Mariner?” He stopped signing, looked right at her and matter-of-factly stated “I’m not gonna retire,” garnering applause and laughter from the crowd surrounding him.
As the fans got their autographs and the parents decided it was time to head home, the crowd dwindled. I had never seen anything like this, though. A professional baseball player – one of the best – was just chatting with fans as if he had known them his whole life. He was talking with kids and engaging them in conversations that they won’t soon forget.
The team bus, which had been waiting for him for half an hour, finally pulled away as it was apparent Jamie wasn’t ready to go and was going to stay with his new friends until they called it a night.
After about 45 minutes and with the crowd almost gone, Moyer said his goodbyes. He took his final pictures, gave a few hugs, and shook a few hands (including mine).
Even now, 24 hours later, I’m blown away by what Jamie Moyer did last night. It wasn’t the five innings in a AAA game against the Rainiers. It wasn’t even the amazing story of his seemingly never-ending career. Jamie Moyer could have easily gotten on the bus with the rest of his teammates, but he decided to spend the time getting to know the people who wanted to know him.
Thursday started out pretty rough, but the last hour and a half of the day made the whole thing worth it. Jamie Moyer is without question one of the classiest people in the game and the mutual respect between him and his fans is unparalleled. I can’t imagine this is the first night Jamie Moyer has had that ended with an impromptu meet-and-greet with his fans, and here’s hoping it won’t be the last.