Drayer: Mariners building archive of team history rarely seen in baseball

Dec 21, 2021, 11:12 AM
Mariners Ichiro...
The Mariners have archived balls from the game in which Ichiro Suzuki broke the single-season hits record. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

From the Seattle Rainiers’ 1941 PCL Championship trophy to the “Believe” sign Jarred Kelenic held up to a roaring crowd following the Mariners’ 4-2 win over the A’s on Sept. 29, a treasure trove of franchise history is being rounded up and cared for in meticulous fashion in an undisclosed location at T-Mobile Park.

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While a handful of Mariners artifacts can be found at the ballpark in the Baseball Museum of the Pacific Northwest and Mariners Hall of Fame exhibits on the main concourse behind home plate, over 3,000 pieces have been accumulated behind the scenes and are now stored in a room that much resembles what you would see in the archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, complete with vault-like, high-density mobile shelving units and archival storage boxes.

On a late August afternoon, a number of these “treasures” were laid out on a table in the middle of the room for a visit from a media member, with others visible on open shelves. There were jerseys, bats, balls, bases, documents, pictures, promotional items and much more, each piece with a Mariners story of its own.

A framed piece of art for the inaugural 1977 season called “We can do it together,” the Mariners’ first theme.

A media guide from that same inaugural season signed by then-owner Danny Kaye.

An oversized, printed $1,000 bill commemorating Alvin Davis’ 1,000th hit, with Mr. Mariner’s signature over the words “Secretary of Offense.”

An Edgar Martinez nesting doll.

A pristine pair of “Turn Ahead the Clock Night” cleats.

Found in a box marked “Griffey stuff,” the franchise 5,000th home run ball.

On one end of the table, John Olerud’s fielding helmet; on the other, an orange and black Greg Halman T-shirt Mike Carp had made in tribute to his friend.

Items that were previously housed in offices, storage rooms, warehouses and even some homes are making their way to the dedicated space at the ballpark and into the hands of archivist Lindsay Zaborowski. A Mariners fan who fell in love with the game in 1995, Zaborowski interned at the Baseball Hall of Fame while completing a MS in Information Science and MA in History at SUNY Albany. Her current task with the Mariners is to organize, catalogue and preserve the collection.

“It is a really great time to start,” she said. “You are looking toward the 50th anniversary. You have got a nucleus to build around. We can start continuing to pull things in, and when this team hits that 50th anniversary, when they get to the World Series, it’s already here. The foundation is built and you can keep building on what we have because it isn’t that long and we have the opportunity to reach all the way back to the beginning of the franchise while the stuff is still around.”

The stuff still being around should not be taken for granted. Many items came from people in the organization, past and present. In some instances there was perhaps a little bit of hoarding, which Zaborowski is thankful for.

“It’s great that happened,” she said. “There are a lot of franchises, even some of the old ones, that don’t have anything of their own really. Lots of stories about moving offices, things disappearing or just getting thrown away, so we are really fortunate to have as many things as we do.”

Mariners Radio Network executive producer/broadcaster Gary Hill Jr. knows too well how history can be lost.

“As we go around to different cities, I actually ask about that,” Hill said. “It’s amazing how much is lost to organizations. Between teams moving offices or stations, or just over time stuff gets lost. It’s shocking when I talk to other teams because the history is gone, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Gone from Mariners radio history are the majority of broadcasts from the first three years of the team’s existence.

“You assume it’s somewhere, right?” Hill said. “You assume that all the games, all the highlights are out there somewhere, but that’s not the case. The fact that we have the first game in Mariners history is pure luck. It was Neil Scott recording it at home. The station did not record it. The only reason we have it (is because) Neil Scott recorded it and handed it to Dave Niehaus years later.”

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Three seasons gone, and the Mariners were lucky it wasn’t more.

“We are fortunate that (longtime former Mariners Radio Network producer/engineer) Kevin Cremin kept just about everything,” said Hill. “Without Kevin Cremin, we don’t have any of our (radio) history like a lot of organizations.”

The rest of the Mariners history is now being taken care of, with even a “holy grail” item being found recently.

“At the beginning of the season I was listening to one of the games and they were talking about a bell that Dave Niehaus used to ring,” Zaborowski explained. “So for months and months and months I was like, ‘Can we find Abner the bell?’ We found it. That was my holy grail, so I am looking for a new one.”

Rick Rizzs, the longtime voice of the Mariners, was thrilled to hear that Abner, which once hung from the USS Mariner that resided behind the center field wall in the Kingdome in the 80s and somehow made its way to the radio broadcast booth, had been found.

“He was part of the broadcast booth, part of our broadcast family. Even had a name that Dave gave him, Abner, because Abner Doubleday,” said Rizzs.

Abner would be used to tally the number of runs the Mariners scored at the end of each inning.

“It was this beautiful, bronzed bell and man, you could hear it from a mile away, especially in the Kingdome. It just reverberated from the upper deck all around the ballpark,” remembered Rizzs. “It was a lot of fun. Dave would take his time and majestically, ‘Ding,’ pause, ‘Ding.’ I would take it and ‘Ding ding ding.’ ‘Dave, we’ve got to get going! We’re going to miss the first pitch of the next inning.'”

Rizzs does not remember exactly when or how Abner left the booth but is now hoping for a reunion.

“Abner rang out with excitement,” he said. “I would love to see Abner brought back for Turn Back the Clock nights and other special occasions.”

Zaborowski has not zeroed in on her next Mariners holy grail, but since the interview in August has found other items of interest including the original “Two outs, so what!” banner that hung in Safeco Field, baseballs from Félix Hernández’s 1,500 strikeout and 100th win, baseballs from the games in which Ichiro tied and broke the single-season hit record, and train car fan giveaways (but sadly no “Smoakamotives”).

“Perhaps that’s the new holy grail item,” Zaborowski said with a laugh.

It is no doubt it’s out there and one day will join a collection that is now being better preserved – and hopefully, Zaborowski says, someday shared.

“We are preserving this for the organization, but also, importantly, for the fans. So in the future being able to showcase the items, get them on display. It’s good for them to be in the room, but without people engaging with it, it is sort of living a half-life in my belief. So that’s the ultimate goal.”

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