The one that got away
When I was 10 years old, I spent much of the summer of 1969 in the left-field bleachers at Sicks' Stadium with my younger brothers Tom and Chuck. We were able to watch about two dozen Pilots games, thanks to the 10 bleacher tickets for $10 packets they sold, as well as the fact that Sicks' Stadium was only a few blocks from our home.
My brothers and I were sitting before the game in the first row of the bleachers when Jim Bouton and Marty Pattin just walked up to us with big smiles and began talking to us. We were thrilled and awestruck, especially after Pattin did his Donald Duck imitation (described in "Ball Four") and Bouton tossed me a baseball.
Unfortunately, after they left, my brother Tom asked me for the ball, then dropped it through a gap between the left-field wall and the chain-link fence that topped it, back onto the field. While I eventually got over the youthful trauma of losing my "Jim Bouton ball," I have periodically ragged Tom over the years for dropping it back onto the field.
I guess Tom felt it was time to make amends, or just wanted to shut me up, because 35-odd years later, I opened my Christmas present from him. It was a baseball that Tom had arranged to have Bouton sign as follows: "To Mark. For the one that got away. Jim Bouton."
— Mark V. Watanabe, Seattle
The fun bunch
I was a fledgling motelier and restaurateur during Seattle's inaugural Major League Baseball season. I, along with two partners, owned what we hoped would have been the world-famous Bellevue East Inn, a 50-unit motel with restaurant and bar, overlooking the old Bellevue airfield along I-90.
I had just graduated from Seattle University and this was my first fling at entrepreneurship. Boy, was I excited when one afternoon, the Sonics' Lenny Wilkens showed up in the motel lobby asking if we could put up one of his childhood friends from Brooklyn — the Pilots' newly acquired outfielder from the Dodgers, Tommy Davis. Of course, we obliged, with much enthusiasm (that's all we had then!).
There was just one hitch in the deal: Once a Pilots homestand would end, we would have to move all of his stuff out of his room and store it elsewhere while the team was on the road. Then, before we knew it, nearly every new Pilot was showing up on our doorstep for the two-weeks-a-month room rate. I think we ended up with five or six guys. And boy, were they characters!
On many game nights, the guys would not return to the motel until after midnight, and of course they were always hungry and thirsty, so after awhile I would just give them the keys to the kitchen. Greg Goossen, the first baseman who was a pretty good cook, became the honorary chef for the team. Really, it's a miracle they didn't burn the place down! But they would always leave me a list of what they used and a basket full of cash when they were finished.
We had an old surplus U.S. Navy Chevy station wagon that we used to make our weekly liquor runs. Late in the season, the players asked me if they could borrow our old gray goose to drive to their game. When they got back that night, they told me they had a hell of a time convincing the security guard at the players lot that they were all, in fact, players. They sure got a kick out of that.
They were a fun-loving bunch, making the most out of a tough situation, and very grateful for all we did to make their Seattle experience a memorable one.
— Mick McHugh, Seattle
A simple plan
As a 10-year-old Little League player in the summer of 1969, baseball was everything to me. The one and only Seattle Pilots game I saw was against big Frank Howard and the Washington Senators. My father, brother and I arrived early to see the batting practice. After finding our seats along the first-base line, I left my dad and brother and walked out to the right-field bleachers with the hopes of getting a home-run ball — even if it was from batting practice.
As the game drew closer it didn't appear that a ball was going to find its way to me so I had to opt for Plan B. Basically, Plan B involved stealing one off the field.
I had noticed a small unlocked gate that opened directly to the warning track. There were a couple baseballs on the field. It was much too tempting for me to ignore. Knowing that everyone would see me run onto the field, I had to drum up the nerve to make a run for it.
One of the Senators was walking over to pick up the stray balls, as batting practice was ending. I knew that it was now or never. I bolted through the small gate onto the field, grabbed a ball and jumped back into the stands. The player yelled at me to throw it back. A couple dozen fans behind me were yelling at me to keep it. I was in the middle of a moral tug of war. After quickly considering my options, I decided to repent another day and keep the official major-league ball for myself.
Upon returning to my seat my father said, "Hey, you must have got one of those balls hit into the right-field bleachers." I allowed him to think that that was exactly how it happened, but I couldn't figure out how he didn't happen to notice me on the field.
During the summer of 2002, a couple months before my father's death, I asked him about that day at Sicks' Stadium. I wondered if he knew the real story of how I ended up with the baseball. It took me 33 years to fess up to my dad about the ball, only to find out that he had seen me on the field that summer evening in 1969.
— Scott A. Douglas, Seattle
His hero, up close and personal
I was a 9-year-old Rainier Valley kid in 1969, and had been a baseball fan since the age of 6. My uncle Leon Alhadeff was (and is) a lifelong Red Sox fanatic, and early on, he expertly indoctrinated my older brother Drew and I as Red Sox loyalists.
When the Red Sox came to Seattle in July, I had a hard time sleeping the night before the first game. I begged and pleaded with my mom to get us to the ballpark right when it opened, bound and determined to meet my favorite player, the Red Sox's Tony Conigliaro. I could scarcely believe that I would see Yaz, Reggie Smith and George Scott, et al, play our brand-new Pilots in good old Sicks' Stadium.
We were there when the gates opened, my brother and I brimming with anticipation. During Pilots batting practice, I chased down a ball hit into the stands by Tommy Davis, which I have to this day (I was small for a 9-year-old, but my speed served me well).
When I saw my hero Tony C. warming up in center field, I bellowed his name incessantly from my perch by the railing between third base and left field. Much to my surprise, he trotted all the way over, smiled, asked how I was and scrawled his autograph on a hastily attained piece of paper. Pilots pitcher Marty Pattin later added his pencil signature to this small sheet of notebook paper, and I treasure this artifact of my youth to this day.
I've shared this story and these keepsakes with my two boys (ages 13 and 8), and I hope and suspect that they will have similar Kingdome and Safeco Field Mariners stories to share with their kids one day.
It was devastating when the Pilots left after only a year, but I remember as the glorious summer of '69. I saw my larger-than-life baseball heroes up close, roamed the dark concourses and sun-soaked bleachers at Sicks' Stadium, and rooted for Tailwind Tommy, Don Mincher, Ray Oyler and the rest of my newly minted hometown heroes. Despite the pain and bewilderment I felt as an almost-10-year-old when they moved to Milwaukee, I wouldn't change a thing.
— David Eskenazi, Seattle
They were just two of the guys
I was 8 years old when the Pilots organization held a contest to name the new ballclub. My dad, Don Nelson, submitted his entry and won! The team offered him a two-week trip for one to spring training in Tempe, Ariz. He requested that the organization change the trip to one week for two, so that he could take me along. The team agreed.
We flew to Phoenix and rented a convertible '68 Mustang. Cruising town in style, playing shuffleboard at the hotel and hanging out with professional ballplayers. I was in heaven.
At one of the training sessions, Pilots manager Joe Schultz taped up a broken bat, signed it and gave it to me. Dad got a picture of me sitting on Joe's leg. (That was a little embarrassing for an 8-year-old.)
The highlight of the trip was flying with the team back from an exhibition game in Holtville (where it was 102 degrees in the shade). I walked up and down the airplane aisle, getting signatures from guys like Lou Piniella, Ray Oyler, Diego Segui, Don Mincher and Tommy Davis. (Dad reminds me that Tommy kept me under his wing, keeping me away from the bad influences like Piniella.)
The trip gave me a new appreciation of baseball, as I'd never seen a big-league team before. It was also the blossoming of a brand new relationship with my dad.
— Chris Nelson, Shoreline
I had just finished my junior year at the University of Washington, and Sportservice, the company that ran the concessions, needed someone 21 years old to help with the beer sales. An ex-tavern owner named Spin was in charge of the operation, and my principal duty was to help him lift the heavy beer kegs and cart away the empties.
Before each game, I wheeled cases of beer to the two clubhouses and the press box. I was instructed to give them the cheapest beer, locally produced Olympia and Rainier, and save the more expensive Budweiser for the people who actually paid for the beer.
On my second day, this instruction was modified — I was told that when I delivered the three cases of beer to the Seattle Pilots clubhouse, one of the cases had to be Budweiser.
That was for Pilots manager Joe Schultz, whose "pound the old Budweiser" quotes can be found all over "Ball Four." Let it be forever known, it was I, Bruce Kitts, who brought the old Budweiser to Joe Schultz each day.
— Bruce Kitts, Bothell
Proud to hang in there
I had just gotten my driver's license the year the Pilots came to town, and my dad was just open-minded enough to let me go off in his big Oldsmobile station wagon — into Rainier Valley at night, no less — almost any time I wanted to take in a ballgame.
I remember just how cool I felt to be humming along Umpire Way (that's what we always called it; it was the road to the ballpark, after all), an excited kid from backwater Seattle headed off all by himself to an actual major-league game. It seems like I always went to the games by myself. I still do, as a matter of fact. Just the sight of that "Sicks' Seattle Stadium" sign coming into view practically took my breath away every time. It's amazing I didn't put more dents into my dad's Oldsmobile than I did.
I watched about 20 games that summer, picking up slivers out there. (Management never did get around to sanding those bleachers.)
I remember sitting through an entire doubleheader against the White Sox with the rain pouring down the whole day. Both teams' uniforms were drenched before the first game even began, and the rain continued to pound down the whole rest of the day. In early afternoon, the lights went on, but it was still too dark to see much of anything. Rivers of water flowed down the aisles onto the field. The Pilots were getting pummeled, as well.
I think it was somewhere about the third inning of the second game, I asked myself the question, sitting out in the open on the bleachers, with no umbrella, "What the heck am I doing here?" A couple hours later, I was proudly able to count myself as one of about 100 fans who had stuck it out to the bitter end.
— Lile Anderson
This magic moment
It was June 1969, I was 11 years old, and the school year was almost over. Summer vacation was about to begin. I was in the sixth grade when my elementary-school teacher, Mr. Pratt, invited several kids to a Pilots game. I had never been to a baseball game before and wasn't even sure what a Seattle Pilot was.
When we arrived at the ballpark it felt as if I had walked into a magical kingdom. The smell of grass, hot dogs and Cracker Jack filled the air. Then the real magic began as the players took the field.
During the game, I became fascinated with Tommy Harper. Tommy stole a base that night, and I thought he was the fastest person on the face of the earth. That night at the ballpark was the start of my lifelong love affair with baseball, and I'm proud to say that I have passed along this devotion to my three grown children.
Years later, when Tommy Harper was the first-base coach for the Boston Red Sox, I got to meet my first baseball idol. With the help of my daughter waving a "We Love Our Seattle Pilot Tommy Harper" sign, I was able to shake hands with Mr. Harper and have him sign my favorite Pilots baseball card. And for a moment, I was 11 again.
— Ray J. Fiorini, Auburn
A soggy ending
I was 9 years old that year and was fortunate enough to have a sister old enough to drive who liked baseball. We paid 50 cents to sit in the outfield bleachers and had a blast at almost every game.
I remember attending a doubleheader when a pitcher named Miguel Fuentes made his debut in the second game and won his first major-league game. The Pilots thought they might have a future ace, but he was shot to death in the offseason.
The most memorable day, though, had to be the second of two Bat Days. It was the only sellout of the year at 23,600-plus. The thunderous sound of the Rally Bats banging against the wooden bleachers was a near-tribal experience. Once the crowd realized how much sound it could make, it seemed like we had a Rally Bat experience every inning.
After supporting the team through thick and thin, I made my sister take us to the last, wet game against the A's. All of about 2,000 were there for the town's farewell to the team. I don't remember much other than they lost.
— Tom Navarre, Kirkland
There's always next season
I remember watching young couples in the bleachers. Next season, I vowed, if I could work up the courage, I'd ask a girl to come to a Pilots game.
My best friend, Craig, got a job selling hot dogs in the stands. I was so jealous of him, as I watched him going up and down the aisles, yelling out, "Hot dogs! Who wants a hot dog?" Next season, I vowed, I too, would get a job selling hot dogs.
The season wore on, the Pilots faded into last place. As I hopped aboard the No. 7 Prentice Street bus after using my last coupon, I was filled with optimism. After all, if the Miracle Mets could make the World Series, why not the Pilots?
At the end of spring training the following season, the Pilots headed for Milwaukee. I got my first job in 1970, not selling hot dogs but hamburgers for Jack in the Box. I met my first love of my life there. She would've been the girl I asked to a Pilots game.
— Duane Keyes, Bellevue
Very special visit
My twin boys and I remember a Baltimore series; there was a Sunday day game. My boys loved Boog Powell. The Orioles bus arrived in front of Sicks' Stadium, and as the team got off the bus, my boys spotted him and yelled, "Here comes Boog!" My boys were 5 years old at the time. Here is Powell, all 6-4 and 230 pounds, asking me if he could take my kids for a few minutes. He took them into the Orioles' clubhouse and they came out 20 minutes later. My boys Aaron and Dave are 42, and they still remember that day with Boog Powell.
— Rick Enright
A dream summer
I was a 14-year-old boy from Rainier Beach the year the Pilots played at Sicks' Stadium. During that summer, it was a dream come true to just jump on the 42 bus and go to any game I wanted. My friend and I bought several 10-game ticket packages for $10. Any 10 games in the outfield bleachers at a buck apiece. I remember going hours early to bask in the sun in those bleachers and chase batting-practice homers. After the game, I would wait near the team buses and get autographs. I managed to get one from the manager of the Washington Senators on the ball's sweet spot, a guy named Ted Williams. I still have the ball. Many nights I would get back home around midnight. I'll never forget watching Tommy Harper steal home or Mike Hegan spraying singles all over the field. I would walk around all day with a toothpick in my mouth to emulate Gus Gil.
I was heartbroken when they moved to Milwaukee just days before the start of the next season.
— Jim Jaeger, Kent
I was 15 during the summer of 1969, and got my first real job as a hot-dog vendor at Sicks' Stadium. What fun it was to watch major-league baseball and make money at the same time. Back in those days a hot dog sold for 40 cents. My commission was 8 cents per hot dog. I figured that if I hustled (and there was a decent crowd), I could sell 60 hot dogs an hour and make $4.80. A good take for a three-hour game was $15 to $20 with tips. That was pretty good money back in those days.
My most memorable moment came on a Sunday afternoon. There was a big crowd and business was brisk. I had just finished making up several hot dogs, and reached over to close the lid on my pot. The lid caught the long spoon in my mustard container, propelling it end over end across a row of patrons until it landed on a woman's shoulder. Profuse apologies, a big wad of napkins and the offer of a free hot dog did little to console her.
— Craig Peterson, Seattle
From the moment I knew when the opening home game for the Pilots was going to be, my friend and I couldn't wait for the day to arrive. We were both 15 years old and huge baseball fans; we knew every team's starting lineup. We both got approval from our parents to play hooky from school so that we could attend the game.
We were some of the first fans allowed in, and I can still remember the sound of the carpenters driving the final few nails into the refurbished grandstands. No kidding! It was a sun-splashed day that would see our starting pitcher, Gary Bell, throw a shutout in a 7-0 Pilots victory. Little did we know that the wins from that point on would be few and far between.
That fact had little effect on me as I proceeded to find my way to over 50 games that year. Living on Queen Anne Hill, I many times peered out of my parents' kitchen window at the ominous black clouds on the horizon. I had to weigh the odds of the game being rained out before I started the long bus ride out to Rainier Valley on the Pilots Express provided by Metro. I enjoyed each and every moment of the one precious year we had the Pilots and will never forget them.
— Mike Syvrud, Bothell
A "sweet" opponent
We attended a dozen or so Pilots games in 1969. One of the sharpest memories came in a game against the Kansas City Royals on a comfortable Sunday afternoon. We were seated near field level in the left-field bleachers amidst a rather sparse crowd. The outfielder playing left field for Kansas City that day sprinted into position and made brief eye contact with several spectators as he moved into position in such a way that conveyed enthusiasm and warmth. He was very trim, handsome and athletic in appearance and performance. The impression that he made is about all that I remember of that particular game. He was also one of the Pilots' early draft picks, then immediately traded to the Royals. His name was Lou Piniella.
— Bill Meany, Kirkland
The greatest comeback
The only Seattle Pilots game that I was able to attend in person was on May 10, 1969, against the Washington Senators. I picked a good one, as it featured the most exciting comeback in team history (such as it was). After 5 ½ innings, the Pilots had fallen behind 11-3. In the bottom of the sixth, they scored eight runs to tie the score at 11-11. The next inning they took the lead 12-11, only to fall behind again in the eighth inning 13-12. Then, the truly remarkable happened. The Pilots scored four more times in the bottom of the eighth, then held on for a thrilling 16-13 victory. Now, some 37 years later, I still remember this game like it was played yesterday.
— Howard Downey, Anacortes
First in his heart
I will be the first to admit, I've never given Bud Selig a chance as commissioner. I feel he took a big part of my youth away when he told the bus to turn around and head to Milwaukee. They may have finished the season in last place, but they will always be first with me. It was a great year.
— Martin DeGrazia, Shoreline
A friend indeed
Like so many other Seattleites in 1969, I was delighted to welcome Major League Baseball. Little did I know then what an impact one of that team's players would have on me later in the 1970s.
Ray Oyler was taken by the Pilots from Detroit in the expansion draft to become their regular shortstop that year. Ray was a slick-fielding, light-hitting player who had been part of the 1968 Detroit Tigers World Series-winning team. He hit a home run to win the first Pilots home game in 1969 and quickly became a fan favorite — so much so that a "Ray Oyler Fan Club" became hugely popular. Ray hit .165 that year with seven homers. Both numbers were well above his averages in Detroit. Ray left baseball in 1970 (after a short stint with the California Angels) and settled down in the Seattle area.
I got to know Ray in 1973 when he joined the slowpitch softball team I was playing for. I played first base and Ray played both third base and shortstop. We became fast friends — me, the 6-foot-9 first baseman he called "Scoop" (Ray always said he loved being able to throw balls to me at first base without looking because he couldn't throw hard enough anymore to get a ball over my head) and Ray, who quickly learned to hit a "slow pitch" with authority.
In those days we played well over 100 games in a season, with tournaments every weekend. Ray absolutely loved it. He often told me he had more fun playing slowpitch than he did playing in the major leagues. We played slowpitch softball together every year until 1980. Ray played with enthusiasm and was loved by his teammates and respected by our opponents. We played our last tournament together in the summer of 1980, and it was apparent he was not in good health. He died of a heart attack in January 1981 at age 43.
I loved the Pilots for many reasons, but none so much as the lifetime of memories and affection I'll always have from my eight-year friendship with the wonderful Ray Oyler.
— Bruce Kennedy, Redmond
Opening day for the Pilots took place while I was a sophomore at Redmond High School. My dad took me out of school to catch this momentous occasion. I had grown up attending a lot of the Seattle Rainiers and Angels games at Sicks', so going to see major-league baseball was pretty amazing.
The things I remember about opening day are the heat, the unfinished stadium (no bleachers in right field, etc.) and all of the local hoopla. We had the female star of "Here come the Brides" singing the "bluest skies you've ever seen are in Seattle." The Pilots even had their own theme song sung on that day called "Go, Go You Pilots!"
There were a lot of Pilots games that summer, but the one I remember most was on May 27. The Pilots were victorious against the powerful Baltimore Orioles 8-1. Gene Brabender was on the mound for one of his strongest performances. But the highlight of that night was sitting in the spacious right-field bleachers and catching a home run hit by Mike Hegan (one of his eight that season). It's the only home-run ball I've caught in all the baseball games I've attended, and I still have it today. It sits quietly but proudly in my top dresser drawer.
— Bob Hurlbut, Kent
I was only 7 years old in 1969, but I had the good fortune of living in the Pacific Village apartments in Bellevue. Three of the Seattle Pilots players — John Kennedy, Marty Pattin and Mike Hegan — lived in the same building that I did. I remember playing catch with Kennedy's son, who was a year younger than me, and his dad during the summer. I attended about a dozen games that year and rooted the loudest for my neighbors. At the end of the year, John Kennedy gave me a baseball signed by all of the players and the manager. I could hardly wait until the next year. Unfortunately, over the winter, we moved out of the apartments and the Pilots moved on to Milwaukee, but I still have the baseball and the memories.
— Herb Bone, Mercer Island
The gifts of baseball
I loved the Seattle Pilots! My parents took me to several games and I spent my 14th birthday at a Pilots doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. We would get to the stadium early and get baseballs from the players. Sometimes after the game I would stand outside their locker room and ask the players to autograph the balls as they left. I actually still have two of them. I also remember sitting by the bullpen and one of the pitchers gave me a towel because it was raining. Ahh, memories! It was great fun.
— Judy Peerson Sheets, Kent
Real rooting interest
As a runner-up in the Seattle Pilots batboy contest, I received a season pass to the outfield general admission at Sicks' Stadium. Opening day was just the first of many thrills during the spring and summer of '69. After being "suspended" from school that afternoon by a supportive principal, I found myself waiting at the pass gate with just one other fan — Bridget Hanley, the actress from "Here Come the Brides." She could sing the national anthem at all of our games as far as I was concerned! The program for the first home series cost 35 cents and previewed the baseball stars that would visit Seattle in the summer of '69.
Jerry McNertney was my favorite Pilot. How could I not root for someone who was dating my English teacher! The only negative from the season with the Pilots? Some used-car salesman named Bud from Milwaukee who stole our team and broke my heart ... probably in the best interest of baseball.
— Randy Jones, Seattle