When you're down and out, Eric Clapton says, "nobody knows your name." But when I was down and out recently after a traumatic brain injury that I suffered while coaching my son's baseball team last year, the Seattle Mariners did know my name. Their amazingly kind gestures to my family also gave me time to reflect on what a large impact they've had on bringing my family together over the years.
They played their first game a month before my fifth birthday and I was hooked. Center fielder Ruppert Jones quickly became the man and there was nothing as cool as the "Rupe, Rupe, Rupe" chant before all of his Kingdome at-bats. My beloved ESPN did not exist yet and I would fall asleep many nights listening to Dave Niehaus on the radio and then religiously check the box score in the morning paper to see how Jones fared.
I was devastated the next year when Jones went on the disabled list one year with an appendicitis attack. The Mariners called up Tom Paciorek, who had been released by the Braves, to fill Jones' roster spot. Fast forward to six days after my ninth birthday in 1981 and Paciorek became a man I will never forget. My dad loaded us in the station wagon and made the two-hour trek to the Kingdome from my hometown in the shadows of Mt. Rainier. Man, he could pick the games. It was Bat Night and Paciorek ended the game with a ninth-inning walk-off blast against the evil Yankees. It still rates as one of my all-time favorite games and I distinctly remember the Mariners playing the Beatles' "Yesterday" as "Wimpy" made his way to the plate -- he had homered in the ninth the previous night to win that game as well. It's still the best birthday present I've ever received.
A year later, my dad did it again. Three days after I turned 10, he again packed us into the station wagon as there was no way he was going to miss a chance to see Gaylord Perry get his 300th win. We didn't, as Perry beat the Yankees to become the first 300-game winner since 1963.
Many games followed over the years as the Mariners had a great free ticket program for good grades and that was the perfect incentive for this young boy. My dad made sure we didn't miss bat night or growth poster night in the years to follow. This is a tradition I've continued with my three sons to pay it forward and our wolfpack has grown to include their friends.
In college, I was fortunate to land a gig working on Mariners television producer Mark Engelbrekt's crew as a statistician. This put me front and center to witness the magic that the Big Unit, Junior and Edgar brought to Seattle. The Refuse to Lose run of 1995 was like nothing else and Edgar Martinez's 11th-inning playoff double bumped Wimpy's home run off the top spot on my all-time Mariners moment list.
But the best part of Mariners baseball has been the impact on my family. Thanks to my boss at the time, I was able to score a pair of seats to the first game at Safeco Field and was delighted to take my dad as a thank you for all the games he had taken me to as a child.
My grandma was the biggest Mariners fan you could find. She loved everything about the M's (with the exception of reliever Bobby Ayala). Visiting her usually consisted of the two of us bonding while watching the Mariners. She would be telling me how bad her vision was when in mid-sentence she would start arguing balls and strike calls if Niehaus or Rick Rizzs questioned an ump's call.
The Mariners rewarded her for that loyalty. Three weeks after my 39th birthday, the Mariners' Rebecca Hale hooked up my 102-year-old grandma up with seats for her first game at Safeco Field. The team's kindness didn't stop there as Edgar Martinez called her on both her 100th and 103rd birthdays just to say "hi." It made her day. His gesture was something that stuck with her for her final years and resulted in days of smiles and stories. No wonder I named my cat Edgar.
That love of baseball helped create a bond between her and her great-grandson. He joined me on the visits and we watched a lot of baseball with her. When he got his baseball jersey shortly after she passed, he insisted on visiting her grave to show her how good he looked in his Dodgers blue.
The team's generosity touched me in a big way while I was out of commission after undergoing two brain surgeries due to a baseball that had hit me in the head while coaching. Three different Mariners employees reached out to make sure my boys got their Nelson Cruz "Boomstick" giveaway bats after reading about how my family wasn't able to attend due to my hospitalization. Tim Hevly of the PR department topped it all off by hooking me up with a sweet John Olerud-style helmet I now wear with pride while coaching my own Pony League Mariners squad in North Seattle.
Thank you, Seattle Mariners. You had me at hello. I was a Lefevbre Believer who sat through my share of Two-Martinez lunches and definitely enjoyed The Inspector (best closer music ever), Bone, Hendu, The Hack Man's one-flap down home run trots, Junior, The Big Unit, The USS Mariner's cannon blasts and the Cruz-to-Cruz connection. I will be with you until the end. After all, Anything Can Happen and I will Refuse to Lose.
Ted Bishop is a senior director of digital partnerships for ESPN.com.