Mario Stories

The West Seattle Baseball Game

THE REQUEST: Write a funny story about playing baseball

First off, let me say that the four best topics when it comes to my childhood stories are always going to be A) my mom, B) my dad, C) me being awkward around girls, or D) my experiences in baseball. And because I wanted to start you off with a bang, I figured the first baseball story I'd post on this page is also going to be my best one. This is one of the single greatest youth baseball stories of all time, and I defy anyone to say otherwise.

This is the infamous "West Seattle Baseball Game."

Me at sixteen, on Kenmore Pre-Mix

This story happened in 1990, when I was sixteen years old, and I was on a Bellevue Colt team (15 and 16 year olds) called "Kenmore Pre-Mix." Which happened to be the greatest team I ever played for, by the way. I believe Kenmore Pre-Mix went something like 32-0 that season, and we outscored our opponents something like 486-50. We absolutely steamrolled EVERYONE we ever played that season. It was awesome.

But this story isn't about us just steamrolling everyone. This story is about the time my friend Justin almost got us all killed.

Sit back for this one. It's a fun one.

So, back in high school, one of my best friends (and teammates) was a kid named Justin Riggs. Super nice kid. Super BIG kid, too. Justin was the biggest kid on our team. At the age of sixteen, I would guess he was about 6'3" and maybe about 230 pounds. He was so big that our coach didn't even call him Justin, he just referred to him as "House." As in "House, this kid is as big as a."


In any case, Justin was our first baseman, and I was our center fielder. And I would say we were probably the two best hitters on the team. If he and I ever got hot at the same time (which generally happened a lot that summer, I mean we were 32-0 after all)... if House and I ever got hot at the same time, WATCH OUT. That's when our offense got scary.

But this story isn't about Justin's hitting. Nope, this is a story about Justin's pitching.

Which, I should probably point out to you ahead of time... was not great.

Side note: I actually asked Justin about this story prior to me writing it up. I needed him to remind me about some of the details, about what had really happened in West Seattle that fateful night back in 1990. And Justin's response is something you should probably factor in before you read the rest of the story. He told me, "I didn't even know I was pitching that night! Coach Holmberg just told me about ten minutes before the game started, "House, you're pitching." I barely even had time to warm up!"

That's how Justin remembers it. How I remember it is a little bit differently. What I seem to remember is Justin begging our coach to let him pitch, for weeks and weeks and weeks. But our coach would never do it. He'd always say, "You're a first baseman, House. We need you at first." So he'd never actually put him out there on the mound. But then I guess, on THIS night, when we were driving to THIS particular game (in West Seattle), our coach was feeling a little bit cocky about how well our team had been playing lately, and how good we actually were. So on a whim, he just decided you know what? What the hell, let's try it. And that's why, when we got to the field, he announced that Justin was going to make his big pitching debut. That's how I remember it going down.

And oh yeah, about that drive to the field...

Take note of this next particular detail. Because this is important for the story.

Our ride

Because the kids on our team were fifteen and sixteen years old, that meant that not everyone on the team actually had a driver's license yet. We were smack dab at that weird baseball age where some of us could drive to the games, and some couldn't. Which meant that for our away games that summer, our coach had to drive the majority of our team to whatever field we were playing at. In a van that can only be described as...

Well... I hate to be blunt... but in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, it was an Uncle Rico Creeper Van.

I mean, look at that picture above. That's EXACTLY what Coach Holmberg's van looked like. His creeper van was silver, instead of orange. But it had all the windows. It had an actual bed in the back. It had a big soft rug and all these big plushy chairs. It had a killer, state of the art sound system. You could fit like ten different people in there, if you really wanted to. Of course, we had never heard the term "creeper van" back in 1990. At the time, we just referred to his car as "The Love Van." As in, "Man, I bet Coach has banged so many women in this van over the years. This van is incredible."

And anyway, that was our ride. It was always an honor when Coach drove you to the game in his Love Van.

Man, I wish I could go back in time and manage Kenmore Pre-Mix. I'd take State.

But anyway, enough about the van. Let's get back to the game.

So anyway, it's the summer of 1990, and one night our team is driving out to an away game. At some no name field in West Seattle none of us had ever actually been to before. Some of us (like me) are driving our very own cars. Others of us (like Justin) are lucky enough to get to go to the game in The Love Van.

And around dusk, we all arrive at the field.

And this is where we get our very first look at the absolute SHITHOLE of a neighborhood we are about to be playing in.

Unbeknownst to any of us, out coach had booked us a game in the single scariest ghetto in Seattle.

Side note: Here's a direct quote from my wife. "Dude, you grew up in Bellevue. When you were sixteen, you probably thought anything that wasn't Bellevue was the ghetto. You probably thought that Redmond (where the Microsoft campus is) was the ghetto." And she's correct about this. Admittedly, I have always been a little Bellevue-centric in my view of the world. I don't really get how the world works, I'll admit that. But in regards to this particular story, THIS REALLY WAS THE GHETTO! THERE WAS LITERALLY A SHOOTING RIGHT DOWN THE STREET IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR GAME! THIS FIELD WAS TERRIFYING!

So we all got out of our cars, at this field that none of us had ever been to before. And I know the team we were playing that night was called "West Seattle." But this field, this was most definitely NOT West Seattle. I mean, I've been to West Seattle before, West Seattle is actually very nice. This was NOT West Seattle. This field was much closer to Worst Seattle. This was one of those neighborhoods where the cops won't even go in. 

Oh, and also, the MINUTE I saw the field we were going to be playing on (which had no fence around it, no grass, no dirt, it was basically just a soccer field made up of crushed brick), I wanted to nope right the hell out of there. I didn't want ANY part of that field. And I know that I wasn't alone. Most of the kids on our team (especially our infielders) saw this field, saw it was made up of brick, and instantly wanted to get back in their cars and go home. Because seriously, how the hell do you play a baseball game on crushed brick??

Ever played baseball on brick before? Those bounces aren't fun.

But our coach persisted. He persuaded us. He was like come on guys, give it a chance. Maybe this game will be fun.

And hey, guess what? As it turned out, it was NOT fun.

And from here on out, I'm going to turn this story over to Justin Riggs. Who made his pitching debut that night. On ten minutes notice, with absolutely no time to warm up. On that crushed brick field, in the middle of the ghetto, in what I still believe was the single scariest part of Seattle. And if you're my wife who is reading this story, NO I'M NOT EXAGGERATING ABOUT THIS. THIS WAS THE ACTUAL GHETTO. THIS WASN'T JUST ISSAQUAH!

And anyway, take it away, Justin.

"So I get up on the mound, and it's the bottom of the first. And the first batter for West Seattle is this black kid who looks like Rickey Henderson. In fact I remember you and I pointed him out before the game. He looked just like Rickey Henderson. And anyway, my first pitch hits this kid right in the back."

That's right. First pitch. Hits the kid square in the back.

Way to go, Justin.

Now keep in mind that I wasn't anywhere near home plate when this happened. I was our center fielder, so I was waaaaaaaay the hell out in center field. Just standing by my lonesome way out on the brick. So all I can do is comment on what I saw from way out in center.

And what I saw was...

So Justin hits this kid in the back. Right in the numbers, right between the two and the four. And you could hear it all the way out in center. SMACK! It sounded like it really hurt. Because keep in mind, Justin was a really big kid. So Justin threw HARD.

So this kid gets hit with the very first pitch, and he's PISSED.

The minute the kid stops wincing in pain, he throws his bat down, and he looks like he's going to come charging out at the mound. And it was like oh crap, one pitch into the ghetto game and we already have an incident. This is going to be fun. And I immediately start looking around to see which direction I'm going to run if this actually turns into a brawl. Because you know, I liked Justin, and I liked my teammates and all. But I'm not going anywhere NEAR that mound if a fight breaks out. Not out here in the ghetto, I'm not. If a fight breaks out, and the fists come out, I'm just turning around, and I'm running.

The first kid never actually charged the mound. He just stood there after he threw down his bat, and he just sort of stewed for a minute. And I remember the umpire had to come out and stand in front of him, just so there wouldn't be any trouble. And even though I couldn't hear it from center field, I heard later that the kids in the West Seattle dugout were already screaming at Justin. Telling him that if he did it again, they were going to wait for him out in the parking lot. And oh, good. One pitch in, and this is already one of THOSE games.

And that's why the NEXT part of this story became unintentionally hilarious.

Justin? Care to narrate?

"I didn't mean to hit the first kid, I didn't mean to hit anyone. I just hadn't pitched for a couple of years. But anyway, after I hit the first kid, the next kid comes up to the plate, and this kid was white. And I strike him out on five pitches. I basically just overpower him. So I was starting to think that okay, maybe this might actually be fun."

And good. Good. More of THAT, please.

"And then the third kid comes up to the plate. And this kid was black. And I also hit him with a pitch. This kid, I hit right in the head."

And ohhhhh shit.

Let me paint a picture for you at this point. So my friend Justin, who is not only a lily white kid from the suburbs, but who is also Mormon, has now apparently decided he's going to start a race war tonight in Seattle. Here, on this field. In this neighborhood. At nighttime. In the ghetto. It was, uh, an interesting choice.

It was SUCH an interesting choice that our coach now comes RUNNING out of the dugout, towards the mound, as fast as he can. Just so he can get to Justin before every kid on West Seattle can.

And again, I'm out in center field, and I'm now SERIOUSLY looking around and searching for my exit strategy. Just figuring out which way is the safest to run. Not even caring what happens to Justin anymore. At this point, I'm only worried about ME!

I don't remember exactly what happened after Justin hit that second black kid with a pitch. I just remember there was a LOT of yelling involved. And I remember our coach basically had to stand in front of Justin and tell everyone who was watching that he didn't mean to hit anyone, it was only his first time pitching. And I remember Justin looking absolutely terrified. This wasn't how he had expected his pitching debut to go AT ALL. The poor kid was just shell shocked.

And why our coach decided to leave him in the game, I will never know.

Because you know what? The inning wasn't over yet. And this team still had PLENTY of black kids.

And now I'll go back to Justin to continue the story.

"So I've hit two kids, and now I have runners on first and second. And then the fourth batter comes up. And he's this big fat white kid. REALLY big. Nearly three hundred pounds. (Mario's note: Justin isn't exaggerating, their fourth batter was essentially Chris Farley). And I strike him out. He can't even get around my fastball. And again, I'm thinking sweet, maybe I'm going to get out of this."

And then HERE comes the moment that will forever go down in youth baseball history. Here comes the big one.

The fifth batter of the inning now steps up to the plate.

And this kid is black.

And man, when this kid stepped up to the plate, and you saw he was black, you could have cut the tension at that field with a knife. Because EVERYONE who was watching that game was just holding their breath now, waiting to see what would happen. Waiting and watching. Watching and waiting. Wanting to know if my friend, Justin Riggs, had the ability to actually throw a strike to a black kid.

And I specifically remember seeing Justin taking a big, deep breath on the mound. Trying to calm himself down.

And THIS, of course, is where our coach decided to call time, and walk out to the mound. Because he wanted to come talk to Justin before he pitched to this fifth kid. And, I guess, also, deliver some sort of a Ted Lasso inspirational pep talk.

Now... sadly... I wasn't close enough to hear the single greatest pep talk that has ever been given in youth sports. I was too far away, way out in center. But Justin was kind enough later to share Coach Holmberg's wisdom with me, and tell me what he had said. And now I'm happy to share it with you.

Behold the single greatest pep talk this side of Ted Lasso.

"So Coach Holmberg comes out, and he pats me on the shoulder, and he says he knows something that will calm me down. And I say what. And Coach says well I know that if you hit this next batter, I can run to the van a lot faster than you can. Because I'm all the way over in the dugout, so I'm closer to the parking lot. And I'm very fast, and you're very slow. So if you hit this next kid, I'm running to that van, and I'm driving home, and I'm leaving you all here. Good luck."

And then Coach offered one last piece of advice. Which, to be honest, I feel is just good life advice in general.

"If you can't find the plate, at least just hit the white kids."

P.S. What's funny about this story is that Justin and I have COMPLETELY different memories of what happened after that pep talk. I remember him hitting the next batter, and then immediately getting pulled from the game. But Justin remembers making it out of the inning, and eventually striking out the side. What REALLY happened that night in Seattle? Who knows. It was thirty-three years ago at this point, and memories eventually grow fuzzy. All I can tell you for sure is, seriously, for all you young pitchers out there. If you're gonna be wild, at least just hit the white kids.

P.P.S. Oh and also, we won this game. I mean come on, of COURSE we were going to win this game. Even Justin and his wildness couldn't stop us. We were Kenmore Pre-Mix! We were 32-0, baby!

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