Unless you live under a rock, or are a member of one of the remaining uncontacted aboriginal tribes, news of Felix Hernandez’s perfect game has reached you.
You’ve heard it through innumerable articles, countless interviews and an unwanted amount of royalty metaphors. It may have been the game of a lifetime, but you’ve probably heard enough about it to last three.
But don’t write this off as yet another addition to the “perfect” heap. You see, nearly all the news has been secondhand. I doubt there’s been a story straight from the source, with the middle man cut out. That is, until now.
I was lucky enough to be a part of that intimate crowd of 21,000, lucky enough to witness the creation of the masterpiece.
It was my first Mariners game in many a summer. The last time I attended a game, Ichiro was still with us, optimism didn’t go hand-in-hand with naivete and Ken Griffey Jr. had yet to take his fateful nap. There was no risk of me nodding off either, as I was excited to be back in Safeco, even if during a day game against Tampa Bay.
My brother and friends followed their usual routine: park two miles away in a Jack-in-the-Box parking lot. Avoid eye contact with the street musicians and scalpers. Evade the class of children coming at us like an unrelenting herd of bison in matching purple shirts.
We entered the ballpark having purchased nosebleed tickets, but headed straight toward the first-base line. We came to an unoccupied row, glancing back and forth from our tickets to the seats as if determining which seats were the right ones. The moment we sat down in our upgraded seats, an usher materialized. He sent us off, though complimenting us on the quality of our performances. Certainly not Oscar material, but maybe Golden Globe caliber.
We finally settled into our correct seats and sat down to watch the game. The defining theme of the first five innings was monotony. The problem with a perfect game is that until you realize it’s going on, you’re bored to your wits’ end. The prowess of Felix’s ability, coupled with the ineptitude of any Mariner with a bat, gave the offense more zeros than a Paul Allen bank account, more goose eggs than an avian specialist’s dream.
Around the sixth inning I noticed Felix’s perfection in progress. I wish I hadn’t. My next action was so stupid, so unforgivably moronic, and I still can’t comprehend what possessed me to utter the words that would make me SoDo’s village idiot on that day.
“Wait, have any of the Rays gotten on base yet?” I asked, obliviously nonchalant.
In an instant, every fan in our section turned toward me. So collective was the gasp, I’m surprised there was any oxygen left in Safeco. The audacity of my jinx-enticing comment left some furious, others simply dumbfounded. Suddenly, this once jolly crowd looked rather mob-like. It seemed a swell time to walk to the bathroom.
Once out of harm’s reach, I frantically said a decade of the rosary while searching for some wood to knock on. I promised Zeus I’d sacrifice a goat the next time one was in my possession. My brother then called me on my cellphone, telling me that the crowd had calmed down, torches put out and pitchforks laid at their feet.
Our group decided to move to King’s Court, which with its yellow vibrancy beckoned us like moths. We discovered the court wasn’t an exclusive monarchy, but consisted of all walks of life, from tranquil old women to slightly buzzed frat boys. My favorite was the jester, who looked rather historically accurate despite the yo-yo.
With every strike thrown and each inning down, the court’s volume grew. With each out, the disharmonious chanting seemed to sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. That is, until the 27th out.
Felix threw two balls, and that one-two punch sent the sound plummeting. But the anxiety didn’t last long. Wind-up. Pitch. Strike. Out. Perfect. Pandemonium.
It is my deepest regret that Middle Eastern leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas didn’t attend this game. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have ended in a unified heartbeat, as all around me strangers were embracing and high-fiving with the greatest of gusto. My right hand still tinges red from the numerous slaps that day.
Our group left the stadium changed men. We seem to have become nobler, born anew in the glory of Hernandez.
We are understandably protective of our game tickets, the only proof of our being at Safeco that day. Mine rests under lock and key, buried in the backyard and guarded by the finest German shepherd dog that deutsche marks could buy.
(Note to readers: I’m also in the market for a witch doctor, or maybe a shaman. Experience with protective curses needed.)Joe Joyce of Tacoma, one of six reader columnists whose work appears in this space, is a senior at Bellarmine Preparatory. Email him at joeA.firstname.lastname@example.org.