Baseball Begins and the Seattle Mariners Reign!
As the 2012 baseball season opened, there were some truly incredible stories and highlights that will be placed on the historic movie reels for all future generations to enjoy.
But the most amazing story came from the Seattle Mariners. We are talking about pure Americana. We are talking about pride, loyalty, and standing up and screaming for a true hero who ‘gifted’ his child by making a truly memorable day even more memorable. Fans left the Mariner’s opening game with tears in their eyes and pride in their hearts for their team and their country – with the actual game taking a backseat to the beauty that played out before their eyes.
The Seattle Mariners have a variety of ‘notations’ in history. First, when thinking about the Mariners, most people would call out the words: “Rally Fries!” – something that became a baseball tradition in 2007. Mike Blowers, the Mariners’ broadcaster, was the centerpiece of the whole thing. It was during a game against the Cincinnati Reds that a fan reached out and tried to catch a foul ball along the right-field line. Unfortunately, he ended up toppling his tray of fries all along the track. Seeing the little accident, Blowers, who was talking to his on-air partner, Dave Sims, followed Sims’ suggestion that Blowers should send a new tray of fries over to the fan. After all, this is baseball – what’s a game without hotdogs, peanuts, crackerjacks and fries? Blowers did help the fan and sent one of his interns to deliver the replacement fries. Why is this a big deal?
Because EVERY time Blowers delivered fries to a fan from then on, magically, the Mariners scored, or actually came back from a deficit. They rallied the second an order of free fries were given out! Thus, “Rally Fries” came into being.
Although Blowers would not give out free fries when they were on the road, at home in Seattle he would always hand-pick a person or a group of people that appealed to him. He still has that ‘killer-eye for the fries,’ and whether its fans wearing elaborate costumes, or a group who has done a great deal of work making their signs, the fries are delivered straight to them from Ivar’s – which is a Seattle-based seafood restaurant that just happens to have a location at Safeco Field. The amount of fries given out always varies with the size of the group, and the ultimate winners are usually selected by Blowers around the 5th inning of play – although you kind of know ahead of time because the candidates that Blowers are considering are shown onscreen in almost every inning before they land the coveted award of “Rally Fries.”
The Mariners are also in the historical pages for something that occurred just recently in baseball. It was the 2011 season when the marketing wizards behind the Mariners came up with an idea to encourage the quickly growing fan base of Cy Young-winning pitcher, “King” Félix Hernández, to keep growing! So now, every Hernandez start at Safeco Field is accompanied by a ‘King’s Court’ section. In the Court, his fans sing, dance and cheer while wearing custom-made shirts. This is a personal rooting section, but also a huge trendsetter for Safeco Field. The team even gets into the act by encouraging fans to dress like Larry Bernandez, who is Hernandez’s alter ego stemming from a Mariners TV commercial. They also appear in wacky costumes, where the ‘best of the best’ is rewarded with a ceremonial turkey leg.
Seems fitting to call it the ‘King’s Court,’ considering that from 1977 until June 1999, they played at the Kingdome. They moved to Safeco Field in July of 1999. The ‘M’s’ didn’t really have any huge success, however, until 1995, when they won their very first division championship by defeating everyone’s beloved New York Yankees. The game-winning hit came along in Game 5 of the division series when Edgar Martinez brought home Ken Griffey, Jr. to win the game in the 11th inning.
It was in 2001 that the Mariners won 116 games and set the American League record for most wins in a single season, tying the 1906 Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, they remain one of only two MLB franchises to never have gone to a World Series.
This year, however, they made the history books and outshone the rest of the American and National League teams. Each one had their own mysteries, pomp, circumstance, etc., but what the Mariners did was help one of our own heroes surprise his little boy.
Friday, a thirteen-year-old boy by the name of Kyle Smerer was already gearing up for the night of his life! He was attending Opening Day to watch his absolute favorite team, AND he was going to participate in Steal-A-Base, which is a contest where a kid runs from the outfield wall and swipes second base.
But Smerer had no idea that he was going to get far more than that! After the fifth inning, Kyle sprinted to the infield and grabbed second base. As he turned to run back to right field, the boy was stopped. He looked as if he had seen Iron Man in the outfield; his eyes were wide and his mouth practically fell to the ground. Why is that? Because someone did appear – one of America’s very own Iron men – dressed as an umpire. This stranger ran from the middle of the infield to put a hand on the young boy’s shoulder.
Kyle said that when the man grabbed him, he was like, “What are you doing? I’m trying to run back in a little amount of time!”
He was in such shock, that it took him a few seconds to realize the person holding him was definitely not an umpire. It was his father, First Sgt. Steve Smerer, who Kyle believed was still deployed in Afghanistan.
The boy was absolutely beaming: “I was really shocked to see him. I didn’t know he was going to be here. I’ll probably never forget this.”
This surreal, beautiful moment is something the fans will never forget, as well. The entire family: Steve’s wife Trina, their two other children, and Steve’s parents, were waiting at the outfield gate to embrace their returned hero. It seemed that the children were the only ones not in on the secret, but both Kyle and his sister, Kayla, agreed that it was worth the surprise.
This was the very first time since early December that the seventeen-year Army veteran has been home from Afghanistan.
Steve commented: “The anticipation has grown in the few days since I’ve been back and not been able to see them. Just coming back and seeing my family again, and them seeing me after such a long time in such a crazy place in such a crazy world, is great. Just being able to see them again has been an amazing thing.”
This scheme was devised by one of Steve’s friends, who told him about a very similar plan that his buddy had done. Steve didn’t think it was possible, but he tried anyway, and he immediately received an email from the Mariners. The team wasn’t only interested in helping, but they wanted to go one step further and surprise Kyle on Opening Day. Steve said the Army was also very supportive and even worked with him to make this dream a reality.
Steve has little over a week left before he heads back to Afghanistan before coming home in June. So…from all of us who truly believe in the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” we all wish you a fantastic time with your family!
Be Safe, Steve! And bless you for allowing us to be a part of your truly amazing homecoming!