Lots of goodbyes going on here today, one of which came from Ken Griffey Jr. after being lifted for a pinch-runner following his eighth-inning single. Turns out, that post-game “victory lap” taken by the Mariners, when they saluted the fans, shook their hands and even hugged some of them, was all a spontaneous gesture thought up by Mike Sweeney down on the field.
Felix Hernandez was caught off guard by it. He was in the clubhouse in shorts when he saw what was going on and had to get dressed again and go running back out on to the field. The sight of Griffey gettting carried off the field was one many fans will remember.
But who envisioned the sight of Carlos Silva carrying Ichiro off on his shoulders? My, how things can change in one year.
The post-game hugs and camraderie continued well after the players left the field.
During the post-game press conference, when about 50 reporters, cameramen and technicians stood crowded together in the interview room listening to Don Wakamatsu, I felt something at my feet. I looked down and saw Sweeney, on his hands and knees, inching along the floor. Then, I saw the ice cream pie on a plate inching along with him and knew what was up.
I elbowed Larry Stone, standing to my right, and signaled him to step back so Sweeney could progress. Only Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune stood between Sweeney and a clear shot at Wakamatsu for Sweeney.
“Divish!” I whispered.
He looked, then followed my eyes downward and knew what to do. He stepped forward slightly, so Sweeney could ease around him and use him as cover before pouncing.
When a reporter asked: “Don, how much fun have you had this year?” Sweeney made his move.
Wakamatsu was about to answer when Sweeney splattered the ice cream across his face in full view of rolling cameras.
“I think that answers it,” Wakamatsu said.
That was the end of the press conference. Wakamatsu said he had a beer shower to attend.
Turns out, it was his own. All of the coaches got doused by the players.
Sweeney told me the the ice cream pie idea began after the game.
“I think the pie-face kind of took on a life of it’s own this year,” he said.
And what better way than to get the manager. But when? Somebody suggested Sweeney do it in the interview room. Ryan Langerhans apparently told Sweeney there was no way he could sneak in there, since Wakamatsu faces the door when he speaks. In essence, he dared him to try it.
But there were enough media members in there and crowding back towards the door that Sweeney figured he could sneak in low.
“It felt like one of those Arnold Schwarzenegger movies,” Sweeney said. “I was on my hands and knees, bobbing and weaving through the media.”
It wasn’t all laughter, post-game. There were some tears from Griffey as well. His eyes were wet, anyhow, as he described the emotions he felt during his final at-bat.
“It was probably the most nervous and emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever been on as a ballplayer,” he said. “You never know. You never know if it’s going to be your last one. And it was tough.”
In the dugout, after he was lifted, Griffey had been overcome with emotion when teammates began hugging him. For now, he says, he’ll head home, discuss his future with his family and later with GM Jack Zduriencik.
And that’s about it when it comes to the 2009 Seattle Mariners, an 85-win team that surprised plenty of people and undid a lot of the damage from that 101-loss club of 2008.
Many of you have written in to comment on how many words have been spilled about the “success” of a team that, in truth, really didn’t win anything this year. They don’t hand out trophies for third place, after all and this isn’t high school, where it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play. This is professional baseball and winning always takes precedence.
But I’ll tell you what, looking back on some of our blog posts from a year ago, I do feel a personal sense of obligation of sorts to tell you that this team is doing something right. One year ago, you might remember, the 2008 season ended under a huge cloud, the atmosphere on this blog was poisonous at times and there were a ton of questions being asked about the stuff we’d reported in the final week of the season. We had described the inner goings-on in the clubhouse and the toxic environment it had become. Some players tried to cover it up when giving public statements, while fans questioned whether it was possible it could be so bad.
It was. The team’s management knew it and set out to correct the problems.
Frankly, I didn’t think it was possible. Listening to all of the comparisons being made today between this year and last, I think it’s pretty clear just how bad the problems were in 2008. And I also think it’s clear just how massive an undertaking it was for this team to get that clubhouse under control and enjoy the type of season it just did.
Zduriencik calls it “character” and he says that talented teams will never win anything if they don’t have it.
These Mariners have it.
And since we led the way last year in spelling out the challenges faced by the Mariners going forward — in a five-part series, you might recall — I think it’s up to us to be among the first to congratulate people when they get something right.
Anyone can dish it out. But you have to be able to pat people on the back when they swallow their ego and do the right thing. Otherwise, the future criticism you dish out means nothing.
When you folks come on this blog and read the bad stuff, I want you to know that there really was bad stuff. And when I hand out the compliments to people, I want you to know that they deserved it and it was not gratuitous.
You’ve seen us dish out the bad. But right now, this team and the people running it deserve our applause.
It’s been a fun season. More fun than 2008 ever was and a lot more fun interacting with many of you. We’ve heard a lot about the “trust factor” going on with the Mariners and I want it to be that way with us.
I want you to trust in what you read here. And I want to be able to trust in some of you to keep up the good rapport we’ve had going these past eight months. This blog has grown into something special the past three seasons and you’ve all helped that happen. We don’t always agree, but I think we’ve reached an understanding of sorts about where we’re all coming from.
And not just on this blog. I’m talking about others in the Seattle blogosphere, like U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing. I think it’s been a fun year, a better year of understanding for all of us.
And now, it’s time to go home. I’ve got someone waiting there for me and she’s had to share me with the rest of you for the past eight months.
Until the next time.