The Mariners play their 38th home opener Tuesday night at Safeco Field, and I’ll be there as a spectator. I plan to make an appearance in the press box. Mostly, I’ll stop by to say hello to The Seattle Times’ reporters, columnists and photographers covering the game (along with many old media friends).
But I’ll also pay a visit for old times’ sake.
I was in the press box in 1977, when the Mariners played their inaugural game. The opponent, like Tuesday night, was the Angels, although they called themselves the California Angels, morphing into the Anaheim Angels and eventually the Los Angeles Angels.
I was a rookie reporter, less than a year out of college, covering my first Major League Baseball opener. I don’t remember a lot about it, to be perfectly honest. Thirty-seven years is a long time.
The Kingdome, where the Mariners (and Seahawks and original Sounders) played their home games back then, was huge, gray and loud. I was nervous. I was 23, a small-town kid from Idaho who felt completely out of place alongside the big-city sportswriters from Seattle and Tacoma.
I talked my boss, Jim Scoggins, the longtime sports editor of the Yakima Herald-Republic, into letting me cover the game, just as I had covered the Seahawks’ inaugural game seven months earlier. I drove across the mountains feeling a very long way from home. I was given three rules: 1) No overtime. 2) Cheap hotel. 3) Make deadline.
Here’s exactly what I remember about the game without looking it up on Wikipedia (which didn’t exist, by the way): Diego Segui threw the opening pitch for the Mariners, becoming the answer to a great trivia question that will impress your friends (Q: Who pitched in both the Mariners’ and Pilots’ first games?). Frank Tanana pitched a complete game for the Angels. Joe Rudi hit a home run. The Mariners lost, 7-0.
Sadly, that’s about all I remember. Did I mention that was a long time ago?
Some other facts, thanks to Wikipedia and seattlemariners.com (which also did not exist in 1977): Tanana struck out nine and scattered nine Mariner hits. Segui, later known as the Ancient Mariner, lasted just 3.2 innings, and reliever John Montague mopped up. A very forgettable Mariners team included center fielder Ruppert (“Roooop!”) Jones, who would become their first All-Star, first baseman Dan Meyer and shortstop Craig Reynolds, along with pitchers Glenn Abbott, Rick Honeycutt and Mike Kekich.
But mostly what I remember has little to do with the game but how I wrote and filed my stories. This will be hard to believe, but I had no laptop computer, no email and no cellphone. These were prehistoric times, and I actually wrote on a typewriter (look it up in Wikipedia if you’re under 30), a gigantic IBM Selectric that weighed about 45 pounds. I pounded out two stories, a game story and a sidebar (an old newspaper term, but one that survives into the 21st Century). I sent the story on something called a Telecopier, a precurser of the Fax machine (which is now pretty much outdated).
Gather round, kids, and I’ll tell you how all this amazing technology worked, and it’s quite fantastic: The Telecopier included a small drum into which you inserted funny-smelling paper. The drum rapidly spun, making high-pitched noises that miraculously transmitted what I typed to another Telecopier in Yakima. (I told you it was amazing, didn’t I?). But here’s the really incredible part: Each page took six or eight minutes, depending on how big of a hurry you were in. I’m pretty sure I was in six-minute mode on April 6, 1977.
Then I picked up a phone that actually had wires coming out of it to call my my editor in Yakima to make sure the story had arrived.
Now all of this may seem like something out of a bad Sci-Fi movie, but it actually happened. And the really amazing part is this was all very high-tech back in 1977. When I covered a high-school or small-college game, I either had to drive back to the office and write or I had to pick up a phone with wires coming out of it and dictate my story to a grumpy editor on the other end. You actually had to spell words out, and say “comma” and “period” and “close quotes.” It was all very dramatic.
I am now a lot older, and presumably a little wiser, than the 23-year-old (I’ll save you the math: I just turned 60), who wore shoulder length black hair, a bushy mustache and bell-bottoms. What hair I have left has turned white, and I traded in the mustache and bell-bottoms a few years back.
I’m now the boss, the sports editor. Put another way, I’m the cranky, old editor on the other end of the phone, a phone that usually has no wires coming out of it.
Some things never change, though, which is what I love about baseball openers. Just like in 1977, the Mariners are an unproven team with high hopes.
Don Shelton is the sports editor of The Seattle Times, where he has worked since 1987, which is before cellphones, email and Wikipedia, but after Telecopiers and typewriters. He uses a telephone with wires and one without.
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