A Kinder, Gentler Ballgame
What are my enthusiasms? What is that which gives me joy?
I love the pointless stats, the age-old rivalries, the lunkhead ex-jock broadcasters and the players who know to wear their pant cuffs up high so their socks show. But I also love sitting in the stands at a game, an experience which brims with its own rituals and charms. If you too have a major league jones for the boys of summer but find your finances dipping below the Mendoza Line, consider a jaunt north to check out the Mariners’ Class A affiliate, the plucky Everett AquaSox.
Maybe you’re disgusted with the paltry return on your investment in an evening with the big leaguers — and if you’re a Mariners fan, this season you should be disgusted. But while Wakamatsu’s boys flounder in the cellar, their farm team has already earned a spot in the Northwest League playoffs in September.
Less than an hour from Safeco Field sits Everett Memorial Stadium, home of the Sox. Take the bus, take the Sounder train, take the wheel. However you get there, the team will be happy to accommodate you. I walked up to the gate at game time this week and got a sixth-row ticket behind home plate for $16.
What kind of people trek to Everett on a weeknight to watch hopefuls and wannabes take the field? Fear not—all your fan favorites will be there with you in the stands, from the know-it-all monologists to the little kids learning the game at their dad’s side. The beer line swells with middle-aged guys in tank tops, looking like Tor Johnson on spring break. And no contest would be complete without the professional fans scoring the game, program sprawled across the lap and pencil behind the ear, eating peanuts from the shell bought from roving vendors.
The atmosphere in Everett’s 3,600-capacity house is a pleasing step or three removed from the majors. The outfield signs don’t flash or move or alternate, but just quietly advertise local businesses. The old-fashioned scoreboard, updated manually with numbered slats, entreats batters to “Hit the Sign — Win a Suit.” There was some debate in my section at a recent contest over whether this prize was of the wet or the business variety.
It’s not all a throwback to simpler times, though: “Fans, don’t forget iced lattes and Italian ices on this hot day,” intones that PA announcer who sounds the same at every game you’ve ever been to. The beer comes at big league prices, but since it doesn’t take you a half-inning to get through the line and back to your seat with one, it seems to last longer.
My favorite part of any AquaSox game is Webbly, the team’s mischievous frog mascot. With his bulging red eyes and swinging gait, he’s an arresting blend of creepy and mesmerizing. Webbly has boundless energy, and it’s an activity in itself to try to keep track of him as he moves from section to section, signing autographs for kids and taking a seat in the crowd for a few at-bats. When he’s joined by his sidekick Frank, a hot dog with cool black shades and a toothy grin, sit back and let the surreal joy wash over you.
Webbly also assists with the refreshingly low-tech between-inning shenanigans. Kids compete for savings bonds in the Fishin’ for Tuition giveaway, while adults try their hand with the giant props of the Lucky Dice Roll, sponsored by a local casino known for its insistent claims to be the number one place for fun. The JumboTron, a new addition this season, hasn’t yet become the focal point of the proceedings; it’s much nicer to look beyond it to the snow-capped mountains, bathed in pink by the setting summer sun.
What’s that — the game? Oh, well — you get your three-run homers and your pathetic dropped flies to left. The main gate is adjacent to the clubhouses, so on your way out, you’ll often cross paths with the teams as they exit the field. And there’s something about a professional baseball player in uniform at close range, even if he is only a season or two from clocking in at Jiffy Lube.
But a day at the ballpark is about so much more than the box score. It’s about a well-groomed field and too much sun. The banter of the armchair experts surrounding you. And daring to dress your dog with the kraut and onions sitting out in the bins by the napkins and ketchup — damn the consequences.
Let’s play two.
PHOTOS BY THE AUTHOR