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Originally published Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 8:03 PM

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Why I still love baseball and the Mariners

Reader and lifelong baseball fan Bill Knudsen explains why he is still loyal to the Mariners.

Special to The Seattle Times

Editor's note: Kirkland resident Bill Knudsen sold advertising for the Mariners Radio Network on KVI from 1977 to 1980. He later served as Mariners Vice President of Marketing and Sales from 1983 to 1989. In the mid-1990s he managed the teams direct mail season/group ticket database marketing programs. And in 2006 and 2007, Bill sold Mariners advertising for KSTW-TV.

My love of baseball — and especially the Seattle Mariners Baseball Club — began in the early 1950s on Rainier Avenue, the home of the Pacific Coast League, Seattle Rainiers. I grew up in North Seattle, in the Shoreline area, and back then there was no Major League Baseball team.

Until my dad took me to Sicks' Stadium, I'd never been to a professional baseball game. But when I saw that freshly mowed green grass, smelled those hot dogs, and heard Leo Lassen doing play-by-play on the radio, well, I was mesmerized. And then I watched first baseman, Joe Taylor, hit those mammoth home runs. And saw center fielder, Bobby Balcina, run the bases like a deer. Much to my delight they both signed my Rawlings baseball glove. (Which my mother unceremoniously gave to the Goodwill when I was away in school. I still haven't forgiven her for that.) And it didn't hurt that both America and I watched and listened as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were locked in a herculean home-run battle for the entire 1961 season.

I remember that Western Airlines had drilled a hole in the outfield fence. And if a ballplayer hit a ball through that hole, he would win a trip to anywhere that Western Airlines flew. I never saw it happen, but man was it exciting for this long-legged, 7-year-old, when they'd get one close. They sold seat cushions as you entered the park for a nickel, and Dad always bought one for Mom. And Charles E. Sullivan, the local Seattle florist, a huge baseball fan, sat in the first row by third base at every game and gave the hometown ballplayers a few bucks when they hit a dinger. Before they went into the dugout they'd swing by his seat and pocket a little cash. Can you imagine that happening today? As I got older, I would catch a bus in North Seattle, and sit up on the grassy bank, just above left field, and watch the game for free.

The last time I actually saw a game at Sicks' Stadium was in the summer of 1961, my senior year, when my buddy Stu McDonald, a friend who earned nine varsity letters at Roosevelt High School, came through Seattle pitching for the Red Sox farm team. Stu, who was Roosevelt's starting quarterback in football, their strong forward in basketball, and a "lights out" pitcher in baseball, had signed a baseball contract right out of school, for like, $40 grand. As a result, he owned the coolest set of wheels in town. He later married cheerleader, Leslie Robinson, one of the cutest and nicest girls at my school, Shoreline High.

This love of the game was also fueled by movies. Some of the best sports movies of all time have been baseball movies: "Bull Durham," "Pride Of The Yankees," "Bang The Drum Slowly," "Eight Men Out, "Field Of Dreams, "Fear Strikes Out." So I was primed to love baseball when I entered the Kingdome in April 1977 and sat in the front row of the upper deck, just past first base. I came back a few days later. And then again. And then again. At the time I was working for Gene Autry's KVI 570, the first flagship radio station of the ballclub. Tickets were plentiful and, clearly, the price was right. Rupert Jones, ol' "ROOP" — man, that guy could play some terrific center field. And I remember, he drove a bright, gold colored, Mercedes Coupe with "ROOP" license plates. The following season I went to upward of 50 games and whenever possible I migrated to the bleachers, where the real fans are located. It quickly became my observation that the fans actual knowledge of the game was usually in inverse proportion to the price they paid for their seats. The corporate types in the suites, and the people behind home plate, were generally "fair-weather friends." And were mostly clueless as to the intricacies and nuances of the game. But the folks in the bleachers, the ones keeping score knew the game inside and out. And man, this was when it took dedication to watch our team. A team that had yet to even win 50 percent of its games. But I was totally hooked on the game. Hooked for life.

First, it was the excitement. But now it's the lulls as much as the hits and strikeouts, the chance to chat with lifelong friends I've made in the good seats, cheap seats, executive suites, owners box, bleachers, wherever. I call it urban fishing. You sit and relax and chat and show a little patience and every once in a while something truly historic might happen. A triple play. A mammoth dinger. A suicide squeeze. And this is the amazing part: time after time, you see something you've never seen before. There is no clock in the game. And thus it moves at a leisurely pace. No obnoxious cheerleaders, trying to get you to do cheers. And, the best part, the game runs at a pace that allows you to get to know your baseball neighbors.

Until baseball, I never realized how much satisfaction you could receive out of cheering others on. I enjoyed watching sports but always preferred to play them. I never imagined I would be so obsessed with a team, feel such joy over winning a game or clinching a postseason berth. Baseball fans don't say, "They won!" Fans say, "We won!" And we mean it.

The winning is sweet, naturally. But that's not why I go to games. Or watch on television, 50 to 75 games a year. I love it because...

• It's the humbling awareness that I have studied baseball all my life and still have more to learn.

• It's the mini-dramas that take place during every at-bat.

• It's watching the veritable on-field chess game, as the manager moves his players to different positions on the field, based on the tendencies of the various hitters.

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• It's watching a player grow and apply themselves and become a star.

• It's pinpointing the ones that don't apply themselves; the ones who drive you nuts by squandering their chance.

• It's raging at a move of the manager or a trade by the owner.

• It's insisting the moves and trades that do work out were ones you championed all along.

• It's high-fiving the person next to you when you've never seen them before and don't even know their name.

• It's watching and trying to understand the in-game strategies, and second guessing the decisions.

• It's the game's fascination with statistics, and the incredible written history of every game, every player and every pitch and hit.

• It's starting fresh every spring training.

• It's the ballpark smells — aah, the smells • barbecue, fresh hot peanuts, garlic fries, Ivar's fish and chips, beer, fresh coffee and more.

• It's the history, having been played in this country ever since the late 1800s.

• It's baseball. Unquestionably the greatest game ever invented!

If you're a real fan, your there, win or lose.

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