I was pleased to learn today from Greg Greene of the Mariners that Ford Mullen, the 94-year-old former major leaguer (and a member of the Oregon Duck national championship basketball team of 1939) living in Stanwood whom I profiled this past winter, will be introduced at Safeco tonight at the end of the fourth inning. If you’re in attendance, give him a nice hand!
I’ve covered a lot of home openers over the years since I first began as a baseball writer in 1986 — about 30 of them, if you count the years in the Bay Area when I was doing both the Giants and A’s.
The one that stands out most vividly was the very first one — April 8, 1986 at the Kingdome, one of the most memorable games in Mariners history. I had recently been hired at the Bellevue Journal-American to cover the Mariners. I was a young pup with a pregnant wife, expecting our first child in July (Jessica turns 25 this July and is getting married in September. Time does fly). I had spent six years at the Yakima Herald-Republic and was eager for the “big time.”
The names from that team still resonate with a distinct fondness — Spike Owen, Dave Henderson, Mark Langston, Phil Bradley, Alvin Davis and the rest. And that night belonged to Jim Presley, who hit a game-tying, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth off Angels closer Donnie Moore (who would give up a much more famously distressing homer, to Henderson (by then traded to the Red Sox), in October.
Presley then capped the night with a walk-off, game-winning grand slam in the 10th off Ken Forsch. At the time, Presley was just the second player in history to hit a game-ending grand slam on Opening Day, the other being Sixto Lezcano of the Brewers, off Boston’s Dick Drago in 1980.
My still-vivid memories of that night are two-fold — the ecstasy among the 42,121 at the Kingdome (or at least the portion that stuck around until the end), and my utter panic at trying to make sense of it all in time for my deadline at the now-defunct Journal-American.
Somehow, I fumbled out a story on time, the first of what by now must be hundreds of such deadline challenges. It was a valuable learning experience — and a great night in Mariners’ history (though not indicative of great things to come; manager Chuck Cottier was fired in early May with a 9-19 record, and the M’s finished last in the AL West with 67-95 record). By the time I filed the story on my primitive Radio Shack computer — it probably took about six attempts before it was successfully transmitted — I was a nervous wreck.
I hope tonight’s home opener at Safeco Field provides as much drama — but not quite as much personal angst — as that one did.
(In the photo, Jim Presley celebrates his walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning of the 1986 Mariners’ home opener at the Kingdome. He’s congratulated by Matt Young and Phil Bradley (No. 29). I believe the guy in the middle is Ken Phelps, but I’m not positive. Seattle Times photo).