The game took place during the second week of October. The twenty-year drought of failing to make the playoffs was over. The Mariners had to get through a Wild Card series in order to secure a home playoff game. They did just that, by advancing past the Blue Jays in two games. Moving them on to play the Houston Astros in a series that would be the best of five games. Meaning we, the Mariners, would have to win three of those five games to advance. Things weren’t looking good when the Mariners arrived home to Seattle. They had played two games in Houston. Falling short in both of those games to the Houston Astros. One more loss and they would be ousted from the playoffs. Ending what had been a pretty great 2022 season of baseball. But, none of these bummer scenarios truly mattered, in my mind. Because, we were going to have the opportunity to see playoff baseball in Seattle. To make things even better, I was blessed with the opportunity to be in the ballpark. After sitting through Mariner games for many of the years during the playoff drought, I was excited. It had been a few years since attending games with any consistency. We were going to sit in very similar seats to the ones I used to frequent during those years. Making me excited to experience some familiar and unfamiliar emotions. The circumstances would also point to any improvements in the challenges of my disability.
The opportunity to make a returned trip to a place I have previously spent many days, has often been fascinating. My ability to physically move about any atmosphere becomes ingrained into my memory. The sensations of moving up and down the stairs, walking in the hallways, and moving into and out of seats, becomes a remembered feeling. Going to a game can be described as an experience. A process that becomes familiar with each passing game. There can be a familiar rhythm of going to any ballpark. For years, I was intimately familiar with the pattern of attending a Mariner game. instinctively, I understood where the problem sections would be in the process. The stairs that would be challenging to navigate, when I would be challenged in making my way to the restroom, or concession stand. There will always be difficult areas for me, when moving around any physical environment. Some can be handled more easily than others. While, the process of my disability has included continuing to understand where my physical trouble spots might appear. Making it even more challenging to venture into unfamiliar physical locations. The blessing of going to the playoff game this last October, was my familiarity with the surroundings. The Mariner game was in stark contrast with the unknown surroundings of watching the Oregon State football game in Portland. The two games where just a couple weeks apart and those steep steps in Portland came to mind when getting prepared to attend the baseball game. It can be a bummer at times, but the physical surroundings have an impact on my enjoyment.
Going to the Mariner playoff game was going to bring those familiar surroundings. Still, when thinking of going back into the ballpark, challenges came to mind. Those sections of the experience that had caused anxiety. Taking the nervous feelings into perspective. I thought about ways of giving my experience the best chance to succeed. There were a couple outlying factors when thinking about attending this particular game. Being the first Mariner playoff game in twenty years, it was going to be crowded. The stadium had been sold out weeks in advance. Fans clamoring for the chance to watch them play meaningful baseball in person. The sold-out crowd signified being surrounded by crowds of people, most everywhere. Causing me to believe arriving at the stadium far in advance of game time, might make the day easier. Though my degree of cerebral palsy is relatively mild. The ability to move about in the midst of a large number of people has always been difficult. The spasms and trembling in my body make feeling confined in spaces a little nerve-racking. These are situations I try planning to minimize when possible and arriving early has often been a good strategy. Another factor playing into the attending of the game would be the excitement. Meaning, the game most likely wouldn’t provide the opportunity to leave early, which I wouldn’t have wanted to do, anyway. So, not wanting to exit before most of the fans. I wanted to reduce the moments of being in crowded situations the best I could. Going early would accomplish this goal, knowing there would be some unavoidable challenge, like walking out with a huge crowd, that couldn’t be avoided. But, I had a strategy for the safest way of exiting the ballpark.
Writing the tale of attending this game feels interesting. Why would I be choosing to place myself inside the situation? Would it not be easier to sit on my couch at home and watch the game on television? The answer to that question has always been a resounding yes. But, there is nothing quite like being inside a stadium for any game, let alone an exciting contest, with lots at stake. The challenges of cerebral palsy aren’t enough to keep me away. Along with the helpful kindness of the people who go with me, it has always been worth taking on the challenges. So, I followed the strategy of arriving at the game early. Walking into the ballpark an hour and a half before the first pitch was to be thrown. The number of early arrivers was noticeable. However, there remained plenty of room to move around with ease. Noticing the short lines at the concession stands, I got something to eat along my journey to the seat. I was situated long before even a third of our section had filled. Providing time for me to eat without the concern of spilling my food on anyone. The sun was warmer than I had anticipated coming into the day. Leaving me plenty comfortable in my long sleeves, as I enjoyed the burger and fries. I watched the Astros finish up their pregame routine on the field. While, looking around the empty seats starting to fill with anticipating fans. It was a magical place to be on an October afternoon, and I could feel the excitement starting to build.
The playoff game was one of the most exciting games I have attended. Throughout the eighteen-inning marathon, my thankfulness for being in that seat never subsided. Each pitch had my full attention in a way the regular season games could never replicate. I was inside the ballpark for better than seven hours on that afternoon. But, it felt like no more than an hour went by. Even though the Mariners lost, on a home run in the top of the eighteenth. The result couldn’t take away from an amazing experience. The game wasn’t the only thing causing me excitement. The challenges I knew to be in front of me, when walking into the stadium. They turned out to be muted to some extent. The stairs I had navigated through countless games in my past. They somehow became far easier to traverse. It had been four or five years since sitting in the section I was in for the game. The feeling of sudden ease when walking down the steps, on the way to my seat for the first time, was shocking. As I walked up and down them four or five times during the afternoon. My feeling of how much more stability I had found myself, was astounding. Somewhere in the depth of my soul, I experienced a warm feeling. The work I had been doing inside the gym was showing itself in real time. The comparison of my balance and stability then, versus what I was experiencing at the game, was almost overwhelming. The understanding had me feeling more safe than the years prior. It allowed me to fully engage with the action on the field, without concern. There would only be one more truly challenging circumstance. But, I had a plan.
Following the heart pounding excitement of the first Mariner playoff game in years. The challenge would be finding my way out of the stadium. Descending stairs has often been one of my most difficult activities. Climbing steps provides challenge to my ability to maintain stability. But, nothing like walking down a flight of stairs. The conundrum becomes more complex when filing down steps, while surrounded by a group of people. So many things have the possibility of going sideways, without any intent. I could bump into someone, trip on the feet of someone else, or steps could become tangled together. All situations that could cause my already questionable stability to turn into an incident. I have developed extra awareness when approaching these situations. Understanding the tool, for me to be looking for, which happens to be a railing. Once, I have grasp onto a hand rail, I know the stairs can be safely navigated. The crucial task is getting through the crowd to secure a spot near the handrail. Especially when among large crowds, it becomes a non-negotiable priority. And when the stairwells in stadiums are designed widely, the chances of getting swept away in the wash, becomes real. When approaching these kinds of stairs, I’m always looking at where the handrails might be placed. On occasion, the designers have placed handrails in the middle of the larger stairwells. The amazing thought behind the steps at T-Mobile park was the two sets of handrails in the middle portion of the steps. Making it easy for me to find a railing to grasp onto, as I ventured down the steps. In the situation, I even felt safe during my final clear challenge of the day. Causing the game to conclude with nearly the same emotional safety it began with.
Going to a sporting event with cerebral palsy will probably always present challenges. The crowds of people and the number of steps to navigate in a stadium, causes anxiety. However, the obstacles don’t take away from the enjoyment of attending. My passion for sports and attending the games has always been a joyful aspect of my life. Leading me towards a willingness to improve my disability. With an objective on maintaining these passions. Attending the Mariner playoff game in October, shows me how the two things come together. The opportunity to sit in the seats we had sat in years prior. Exemplifies the improvements being made through my workout sessions. Everything about being in and around the seats felt easier than the years prior. The steps and hallways were much simpler to navigate. Allowing me to feel the progress being made in my strength and stability. Which, I don’t always have the opportunity to feel. As, I’m not often revisiting such a familiar environment from years past. The comfort in the decreased level of anxiety was felt in waves during the afternoon. Making me thankful for the added emotional space to focus on the game. I drank in every last pitch thrown over the hours I stood watching. When the Astros crunched the homerun ball that would decide the playoff series. The stress inside my body gave way to emotions of disappointment. But, the overwhelming feeling when I reached the street outside T-Mobile park was still fulfilled content. I had just experienced something I would never forget.