I went to a baseball game alone on the Fourth of July in 1991. I’d ridden a Greyhound bus two hours to Seattle for the privilege of spending a holiday afternoon in the Kingdome. From my seat about thirty rows above 1st base, I caught the tail end of White Sox batting practice. Then I walked down the stairs and watched Tim Raines, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, Carlton Fisk, Ozzie Guillen, Dan Pasqua, and the rest of the team jog into the dugout directly in front of me. I had only been to a handful of major league ballparks, but none had prepared me for the Kingdome. The playing surface was a peculiar shade of green, in the way greens and yellows are always peculiar in the Pacific Northwest. I remember the hue shocked me in its fluorescence, confirming what I had seen on television but hadn’t accepted as truth. The lighting gave a blue-green tint to the atmosphere. Shouts and laughter carried across the hundreds of empty rows of seats, echoes careening off the concrete and vinyl surfaces that defined the space. Minutes earlier, I’d enjoyed bucolic conditions as I walked around Seattle, 75º and breezy on a cloudless summer day. I had never seen indoor baseball before. I had never seen the White Sox play anywhere but Chicago. I had never been to a game alone. Everything felt unfamiliar and untethered. Until the game began.
Washington had only been my home for about three weeks, since the day I bailed on my buddy and his girlfriend. I wasn’t angry and I didn’t want to make a scene, I just decided I didn’t want to be the third wheel any more. We had left Boulder in mid May. At Casper we turned west, crossed Wyoming, meandered around the Grand Tetons up to northern Montana, then Idaho, and into the Cascades, camping and fishing along the way. We reached Bellingham in the middle of May. It had stopped raining and fast, low clouds dragged their shadows through the downtown streets. When we stopped for lunch I told my friends I was staying. Bellingham looks cool, I probably said. I found a room for rent that afternoon and we unloaded my bike and backpack, a portable stereo and a duffel bag of cassette tapes. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and I didn’t know anybody in the Pacific Time Zone.
I landed a job at the Greyhound terminal a few days later, tagging luggage and selling tickets. After work, I’d go out for a beer and a sandwich. I read Baseball Weekly while I ate and stayed to watch the first few innings of the Mariners game on the bar’s TV. I listened to the rest on the radio in my room. Then I’d fall asleep reading Love in the Time of Cholera. That was my routine. I had always been a baseball fan, but that summer I became a different kind of fan. Before then, baseball, like nearly everything in my life, had been a social activity. That’s the way it is when we’re young. We form personalities in packs and avoid solitude. At least that’s how it was for me. I learned about baseball alongside my brother. We read The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News sports pages, quizzed each other in the dark of our suburban bedroom, played whenever and wherever we could: spring teams, summer teams, at parks, in our backyard or front yard, on Little League diamonds, and on the school playground, Most Precious Blood’s parking lot. In the fall and winter, we invented miniature baseball games to play in our basement, on carpet just a shade darker than the Kingdome’s.
But unlike those elementary days with my brother, I was alone in 1991—alone at the ballgame and the bar and in my room. Alone with my thoughts. That was the summer I learned how to be alone and, in certain situations, I learned to enjoy it. The Mariners pulled me in and helped me through it. 1991 was Ken Griffey Jr.’s third season. He ignited the team and its fans with his highlight-reel catches and fluid, powerful swing. The Mariners finished in fifth place, but they were fun to watch and they showed promise. Edgar Martinez, Harold Reynolds, Jay Buhner, Omar Vizquel, and Randy Johnson were at the core of the team, the first in franchise history to finish above .500 (83-79).
1991 was the year the Mariners learned how to win.
They beat the White Sox on the Fourth of July by a score of 3-2. I was one of only 15,104 people who paid to see the game. Jay Buhner’s two home runs accounted for all the Mariners runs, while a Frank Thomas double was the only extra-base hit for the visitors. Rich DeLucia went 6 innings for the win, Sox starter Greg Hibbard gave the Sox bullpen a day off and took the loss in a game that lasted two hours and twenty-five minutes. Shortly after the final out, the outfield seats were cleared and a series of loud, colorful fireworks soared in low arcs towards center field. The crowd cheered until the billowing smoke drifted across the green carpet, driving us to the exits and out to a perfect afternoon.
T.S. Flynn (aka Mighty Flynn) is a writer and teacher who lives in Minneapolis. He blogs at It’s a long season., tweets @mighty_flynn
Photo by the Bouwman family
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