On Wednesday, baseball fans in two West Coast cities got an unexpected delivery of sweet and sour at almost the same time.
Die-hard supporters in Seattle and San Francisco experienced the exciting ups and crushing downs of the game just hours apart.
In Seattle, yellow-clad fans in the King’s Court section of Safeco Field – who gather every time “King” Felix Hernandez pitches -- celebrated their star during and after he pitched the Mariners’ first perfect game, a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
About 680 miles to the south, Bay Area fans were K’d by the news that Melky Cabrera’s magic season had suddenly gone “poof” as he was suspended for 50 games for allegedly testing positive for testosterone. The suspension casts doubt over the team’s chances to win the NL West and left the player’s most ardent supporters – a group of fans who dubbed themselves the Melkmen – stunned.
In Seattle: A royal celebration
As the game progressed at Safeco Field Wednesday, as Hernandez sat down batter after batter, the electricity in the ballpark grew.
Chants of “Let’s Go Felix!” erupted from the King’s Court section in the left-field corner, as did roars and the waving of “K” signs in the section each time Hernandez got two strikes on a batter, or notched a strikeout.
“They were the heart and soul of a special day at Safeco Field,” said Gregg Greene, the Mariners’ director of marketing who helped set up the special section in May 2011. And the enthusiasm of the fans, who each receive a yellow King’s Court T-shirt when they buy tickets to the section, spread throughout the stadium.
“They were loud, and their enthusiasm was infectious,” Greene said. “They would start cheers and it would carry throughout Safeco Field.”
After the game, as Hernandez did postgame interviews near the dugout, yellow-shirted fans made their way down to him – along with many others – to continue the cheering.
And, the celebration isn’t over yet. It will continue Tuesday night for Hernandez’s next start, against the visiting Indians.
Greene says for that game, all of Safeco Field will be turned into a larger King’s Court.
“We are upgrading the King’s Court to a Supreme Court, and we’re going to give away 34,000 special-edition ‘King of Perfection’ T-shirts,” Greene says. “We’re going to have a sea of yellow.”
In San Francisco: Spilled Melk
Cabrera quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco, prompting six lifelong Giants fans to become the Melkmen. They created old-fashioned milkman costumes and cheered on Cabrera and the Giants at AT&T Park.
The news that Cabrera had been suspended – in the midst of a division race – was a “low blow,” says Tyler Huffman, one of the Melkmen. “It just sucks, plain and simple,” he adds. “We never saw this happening. It caught us off guard. It was a low blow to us, just like everyone else who supports this team.”
The white suits and orange bowties will be stashed away now. Whether they ever come out again is uncertain.
“There’s really not much of a market for a Melkman right now,” says Huffman, laughing.
But to Huffman, the whole affair isn’t funny.
He and the rest of the Melkmen live and die with their Giants, so now the biggest part of their offense is gone. Plus, since news broke, they’ve been taking abuse on Twitter and other sites, as if they were somehow responsible for Cabrera taking performance-enhancing drugs. Fans have told them to stay away from the park and that “We’re not needed anymore,” Huffman says.
“The way this whole thing played out has been tough,” he says. “People on Twitter, you see definitely the people who have been waiting to give it to us, and now they have their chance.”
Huffman says they know Cabrera made a huge mistake, but are at least glad he admitted to it. But if Cabrera comes back next season, will the Melkmen support him?
Yes, says Huffman.
“Whoever takes the field for the Giants, we’re going to welcome him,” Huffman says. “Anyone in orange and black.”