Why, Of All People, I Should Be Pumped for Mike Morse

The Mariners traded for Mike Morse in exchange for John Jaso. Here are full details of the three-way trade, but from the M's end, it was Morse for Jaso.

I really should be excited about this deal. Allow me to explain.

June 4, 2005, I threw out the ceremonial pitch at Safeco Field. The Mariners played the Devil Rays that night, which is the only detail my memory preserved from the contest itself*.

* A few more leaked to my consciousness as I looked over the box score. The error by the Rays center fielder in the eighth inning, the one that let the Mariners win, was egregious if memory serves me right. He charged a pretty routine line drive straight at him, and somehow the ball got past him untouched. Oops.

I know this was the game I threw the first pitch out at because I remember the Mariners were playing the Devil Rays, and the game was on a Saturday night. I also remember the game was close to my high school graduation. Those details are enough to essentially triangulate and come up with June 4, 2005 as the only possible date. I suppose the exact date of this game is unnecessary, but it was a fun 90-second research project for me. This is my blog so I will write whatever I want, and so now you know this game happened on June 4, 2005 too.

My opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch was about as serendipitous as they come. It had nothing to do with how big of a baseball fan I was (and I was an avid Mariners fan by then), though maybe it did if you are a strong believer in destiny.

One of the Mariners promotions in 2005 was a high school graduation night. They called it, oh so creatively, "class of 2005 night." Game tickets were sold through local high schools. The promotion had been done for a few years by then, and Auburn High School was always among the top sellers. Auburn is a 30-60 minute drive (if you are from the area, and have every been on I-5, you understand EXACTLY why the range is so large) from Seattle, so within reasonable driving range for a game. More importantly, Auburn High School was badly overcrowded at the time. A new high school opened up in the district the year after I graduated. As a result, the graduating classes from Auburn High were among the largest in the state at the time. The math is simple to understand: driving range + overcrowded school = great chance at winning a ticket-selling promotion. Auburn High School, at the time, was always among the top ticket-sellers to these "class of" nights.

Since I was a big Mariners fan, I purchased a ticket to class of 2005 night through Auburn High. You probably saw that coming, based on what you already knew about this story.

Auburn High School won the competition in 2005. You probably saw that coming too, based on what you already know about this story.

Five students from the winning school were allowed on the field, with one throwing the ceremonial first pitch. Auburn High decided to randomly choose five students from the ones that bought tickets. I was one of the five chosen. This was a stroke of good luck, but hardly surprising to you at this point, given what you already know about this story.

I was not the person randomly chosen to throw the first pitch though.

I wasn't disappointed. How could I be disappointed? I wasn't a math major at that point in my life, but I was in AP Calculus. I knew something about numbers, and I knew the odds were well against me even getting on the field. I was lucky, and I knew it.

I was an AP Calculus student though. I ended up getting a 5 (the max score) when I took that test. I was also going to PLU, with a music scholarship. I lettered in band all four years of my high school career, and went to the state solo ensemble competition on three different saxophones. I knew a thing or two about preparing - and, really, probably another three things about over-preparing. So, naturally, I had to practice for the ceremonial first pitch, just in case.

My dad and I hit the back yard with our baseball mitts and a baseball. We guesstimated 60 feet and 6 inches. I quickly realized that ceremonial first pitches are awkward things to practice. How hard do you throw the ball? Lob it too high and people wonder if you have any sort of arm. Fire an aspirin tablet and you look like you take it way too seriously - especially because an 18-year-old that hasn't played competitive baseball since a fourth grade parks-and-rec league** probably isn't going to fire a ball with some serious mustard anywhere near the plate. I was convinced that there was some sort of goldilocks zone for ceremonial first pitches, a zone that says, "Yeah, I know how to throw a ball, but I'm also aware that this is merely a ceremonial pitch. I'm cool like that."

**we were the Mole Masters, FYI

My dad retrieved my lobs for a solid 45 minutes as I searched for the perfect ceremonial trajectory. I decided at some point that I had found it, or maybe dinner was on the table. Or lunch. I don't really remember why I stopped. Why would I? I only practiced just in case.

The game came and the five of us chosen met at a predetermined spot and time given to us by the Mariners PR department. We were escorted behind the scenes to get on the field.

I thought the walk was awesome enough. I peaked in every open door I could as we went through a concrete hallway. In one I saw rows of chairs, a table, a navy blue background behind the table...oh my goodness, that was the press conference room! A real, bona fide, Major League Baseball press conference room! I had seen that room on TV multiple times! If it was on TV it had to be really, really important and famous. Now I had seen that room with my own two eyes.

I swear that's what I thought in my head as I walked by the press conference room. It was a really cool experience. On the other hand, I realized just how excited that had made me. What was going to happen when I got on the field? I wondered if I would faint. I was really happy that I didn't have to throw at the first pitch. That would be too much.

We briefly waited in a green room of some sort. I hadn't seen that room on TV, so I don't remember anything about it, other than it wasn't the press conference room or the field. What I do remember is that someone with the M's PR staff went over pre-game ceremony plans. There wasn't any new info. We went through who would be on the field when, and who would do what when. Things like all of us going on the warning track, waiting for a few other ceremonial first pitches, and then me throwing the ceremonial first pitch.

Rewind: I was throwing the first pitch?!

Somehow, the Mariners had me as the pitch-thrower. I spoke up and said that I wasn't the one picked. The employee said that I was who they had written down. I looked at the person that was supposed to throw it, and he didn't care, or at least he said he didn't care (I really don't think it was a big deal to him). The pitch. was. mine.

I still don't know for sure how the miscommunication happened, and I'll probably never know for sure. My theory is that Auburn High sent in our five names in alphabetical order and did not designate who was supposed to throw out the first pitch, or did not make it clear. Chalberg doesn't top a ton of alphabetical lists, but with a list of only five, "Cha" was good enough to be first, and thus perhaps good enough for the Mariners to assume I was the one that would throw the pitch.

I don't remember anything between finding out I would actually throw the pitch and getting on the field. There could have been 2 seconds or 2 hours between those moments. I remember coming out on the field between third base and home plate, where the umpires come out to the playing field. The first view of the field was surreal. There is a camera well next to that entrance, so I had seen shots of Safeco Field, basically from where I was standing, countless times as transitions to and from ad breaks. My eyes weren't overwhelmed. They didn't see anything out of the ordinary. What I distinctly remember is expecting to feel my living room's carpet underneath me as I took the view in, but instead I got this course, clumpy mess. It wasn't as comfortable. It was also warning track dirt, so I wasn't about to complain. It was pretty awesome, actually.

We were instructed to stay off the grass. Only the person throwing the first pitch would actually get on the grass. I was going to get to go on the grass! I was so excited, but I also felt a twinge of guilt. This wasn't supposed to be my pitch, and I like to fancy myself a nice guy. I was stealing someone else's chance to go on Safeco Field's grass. Is that mean?

Then I remembered that it was just grass, and that there was a 99.99% chance that I was the biggest Mariners fan among our quintet. Maybe others saw the grass something like what they see in their lawns, but I was staring at the verdant blades of a cathedral I dreamed about from an untouchable distance, yet in that moment I was close enough to touch it.

I made it to my ceremonial first pitch without incident, although just barely. I took a few steps back at one point and bumped into someone. I looked over my shoulder and realized I had almost knocked Sam Reed, Washington's Secretary of State, over. He threw a ceremonial pitch before me. How rude would that have been? Why did I get a ceremonial pitch closer to gametime than him? I was just a random high-schooler. He was Secretary of State. How bad would it have looked if I threw my pitch after him and knocked him over on the warning track? I would've been just another oblivious, inconsiderate high-schooler.

Another honest question about ceremonial first pitches: Is their a ceremonial first pitch hierarchy? I think so. Ones closer to gametime, and in bigger games, are bigger, right?

The moment came for me to go on the field and throw the first pitch. Walking onto the grass was a bizarre experience. I was used to my back yard, which I knew had a few dips and creases. I realized just how uneven my own yard was with every step I took towards the mound. Was I even walking on the ground? It felt too level. I thought about how much easier it must be to field grounders at Safeco Field than in my backyard. I pondered if that was a good thing or not. It is fun trying to guess which way the ball will bounce when it skips across the ground.

My first pitch was caught by the Mariners Moose - or more accurately, retrieved. The sequence of pictures I have of my first pitch clearly show me opening up my shoulder much too early. My whole arm followed, and the result was a "pitch" closer to the left-handed batter's box than the plate. The good news is that I achieved a lob in the goldilocks zone. The ball didn't sail over the Moose, but breezed past, hit the warning track before the backstop, then went up against the back stop, and calmly nestled to a stop on the track. I have adopted this as the official definition for the goldilocks zone on a ceremonial first pitch. Any throw that would make it to the backstop but rest on the warning track is in the goldilocks zone.

I remember a couple moments before the pitch as much as the pitch itself. Jorge Cantu was the first MLB player ever to acknowledge my existence. He was playing catch along the third baseline and motioned me past him. I remember thinking that was so cool. Jorge Cantu noticed that I was on the field. WOW.

The last moment before the first pitch was actually the signature of the baseball. The Moose did not sign it afterwards. Mike Morse did beforehand***.

***The ball got scuffed when I threw it past the Moose. I'm actually really proud of this because it feels like tangible evidence that I was on the field for the pitch. I worried that I had soiled the signature, but as luck would have it, the scuff was on the opposite side.

Mike Morse made his Major League debut on May 31, 2005, just 2 games before that night's contest. I was a crazy Mariners fan back then, and we've already been over my number-crunching capabilities back then too. I saw Morse walking out to me, thought about his MLB debut, and thought to myself what are the odds that Mike Morse has done a ceremonial first pitch in the majors before? I figured the odds were slim.

Morse continued to saunter towards me. I already knew I had no idea what I was doing on the field. Then I imagined myself as Mike Morse. He had just been called up, and now he was going on the field for a ceremonial first pitch, maybe his first one ever in the majors.

I imagined what might be running through Morse's head:

Would this stranger, a high-schooler no less, have any idea who I am?

I've only been up for a few days, and I've barely played. Is he going to ask for his favorite player?

What am I doing out here?

Morse reached where I was standing. He was quiet. I handed him my ball. He signed it. We posed for the picture. He still hadn't said anything. I don't know what I expected him to say, but I know when I'm nervous I tend to clam up. Was he nervous? Did he wonder or worry that I didn't know him? I had no idea - but I was nervous, so I was clamming up, and I wasn't about to say anything and find out.

Our snapshot was taken, and that was it for Mike Morse. He started to walk away.

It dawned on me that I had been right next to a living, breathing, MLB player and we hadn't said anything to each other. I didn't want that moment to end. I wanted to have some sort of story to tell. I wanted to be able to say that I had met a real big-leaguer and be able to recall some sort of conversation of him.

I mustered up all the courage I had in my butterfly-riddled body and opened my mouth. I hoped that something would come out.

"Hey, I'm glad you made the major leagues."

Mike Morse turned around, and our eyes met. I searched them. Who knows what I actually found. I sensed some surprise, maybe a little fear, and more than anything, curiosity. He responded.

"Thanks."

I have kept tabs on Mike Morse's career. Loyal readers of the Musings know that this isn't a real interesting fact though - I keep tabs on lots of player's careers. I can't say that I've kept a closer eye on Mike Morse than many other players. I am happy that he has carved out a career for himself though. I have rooted for him more than other players. Somehow, the legitimacy of my ceremonial first pitch feels connected to how substantial his career turns out. Morse has 70 home runs in his career, and he might make it to 100 before he retires. That would be pretty cool for my own story. I'd like to see that happen.

Every now and then I wonder if Mike Morse has some distant memory of me kind of like I have a distant memory of that Devil Rays game on June 4, 2005. I like to think that he went back to the clubhouse, and someone passively asked him how the pitch was. Maybe he said this kid knew he had just made the majors. Maybe they laughed and called me a creeper. Maybe someone said that was cool or neat, and then continued to lace up their cleats. I'll never know. I don't really want to know. It would stop being fun to think about if I really knew.

I could provide a more concrete, statistical argument for why the trade might be good or bad, but you can find that elsewhere. How many other people might have been part of Mike Morse's first ever ceremonial first pitch in the majors?

I feel like I should be really excited that Morse is back with the Mariners, but to be honest, I'm not. I'm rooting for him, and I'm not disappointed, maybe even kind of excited, but I wouldn't go as far as saying I'm excited. The best thing I can think of to say about this trade is that it was a convenient excuse to share a rather random story from my high school days.