The Baseball Chronicle

Personal stories, February 2010

Stealing Grass from Safeco Field

By Elliot Robins

In ripping up a handful of grass as a souvenir from Safeco Field in Seattle, I surprised myself. To take grass from a baseball field is a bit like taking a crucifix from a church: It’s just something you don’t do. The green blades, about thirty in all, remain safely stored in a plastic bag in a notebook. Every month or so, when I open the notebook and hold up the bag to gaze at the grass, I am taken back to that sunny afternoon in Seattle. I feel wistful, almost nostalgic—and then I remember that the security staff wasn’t so enthusiastic.

I traveled with my parents and girlfriend from southeastern British Columbia to Seattle in the summer of 2009 to see the Mariners take on the Arizona Diamondbacks. We drove west through the grizzly-backed Cascade Mountains, a land of Dr. Seuss trees where moss runs halfway up the trunks of massive Douglas firs, a land where Jack Kerouac went to brood on Desolation Peak, where he worked as a fire lookout high above Ross Lake in 1956, a land where filmmaker David Lynch shot the misty and surreal TV series “Twin Peaks.”

On the way, signs like ‘Litter and it will hurt’ kept us amused, while my parents’ front seat banter—“Oh, Gary, I think we’re in Leavanworth now,” my mom would say to my dad when we had obviously just passed a sign that said ‘Welcome to Leavanworth’—had us rolling our eyes.

When we reached Seattle we checked into our hotel in the old part of downtown. The hotel room directory binder indicated that Kerouac loved Seattle because it was a place, he once said, “where I know I’ll find a good clean Skid Row room with a bed and hot bath down the hall…” We thought it funny that a writer with skid row preferences was referred to amongst the heavy, glossy pages that encouraged tourists to explore Seattle.

That afternoon we headed to the ballpark. Outside the stadium, a neon sign urged us ‘be sure to EAT A LOT at Safeco Field.’ Once inside, we walked around the concourse to check out the different sightlines. We looked out at the railyards behind centerfield. Somewhere in my imagination, there is a ballpark where, once or twice a game, trains rumble through the outfield. And Kerouac is hopping those freights, watching the game from the top of a boxcar.

As we toured the stadium we saw fans walking the perimeter of the field. An attendant told us that it wasn’t an exclusive event, that anyone could walk around the field. We were guided underneath the stands and walked by offices and equipment rooms in the bowels of the stadium. We reached the field and collective awe spread around us as players like Felix Hernandez and David Aardsma were playing catch. Fans walked a mere five to ten feet behind the players. I was amazed we were granted this close proximity; I wondered what would have happened if a player missed a catch and a ball hit a fan. As we reached the outfield I overheard a woman talking to her son.

“It’s okay, Dave. You can touch the grass.”

I had already done so, but, as if guided by her words and entirely unconscious of what I was really doing, I suddenly bent over and tore up of fistful of centerfield grass to take home. My eyes came up to meet those of one of the many security staff manning the perimeter of the field.

He was stunned. The look on the security worker’s face, a mix of shock and anger, seemed to indicate that I may be asked to leave the ballpark. I kept walking like nothing happened. I glanced over my shoulder—I was safe. The security worker hadn’t even moved. I had frozen him in disbelief.

We were treated to a great ballgame that the Mariners won with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Felix Hernandez, the Mariners young star pitcher, had a shutout until the eighth inning, when Arizona slugger Mark Reynolds hit a two-run home run to tie it 2-2.

With the score still tied in the bottom of the ninth and a man on first and one out, Ichiro came to the plate. To look at him, you wonder how a guy like that could hit: an awkward batting stance, knees almost together, feet splayed out a good two feet from one another. Before each pitch he lifted both arms over head, spun them in a circle, paused and held the bat straight up and down with right hand as he settled into his stance. There was an unexplainable mystique about the man.

The first two pitches were strikes, 0-2. He worked the count to 2-2 and fouled off six straight pitches. Ichiro hit the next pitch up the middle and motored to first on an infield single. Later in the inning, Franklin Gutierrez came up with the bases loaded. He hit the ball to third, Mark Reynolds threw to first and it looked like extra innings. But Diamondbacks first baseman Tony Clark dropped the ball for an error, a run scored, and the Mariners won 3-2. Pandemonium ensued at Safeco Field and everyone was on their feet clapping and yelling. The portly man beside me dropped his hot dog as he stood up, and ketchup ran down his short, round legs.

Back in the hotel room I opened my notebook and smelled the blades of grass. I found a clear plastic bag to put them in, gently pressed the notebook together and was taken back to childhood days when we collected leaves and put them between pieces of wax paper and then ran an iron over them to seal the leaves inside.

As we traveled home through the brown canyons near the Grand Coulee Dam and the rusting train bridges that spanned wide bodies of water back-dropped by mountains, I considered whether I should put the grass up for sale on eBay. Someone out there would pay money for it. I opened my notebook and looked at the grass. I decided against it.

About the author

Elliot Robins was born and raised near Toronto and was a huge Blue Jays fan as a child. Now that he lives in the Pacific Northwest, his allegiance has shifted to the Seattle Mariners.

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