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Free speech, Pedro and life lessons in Seattle

Since baseball season is finally here, I thought I would take a minute to reminisce about my favorite memory watching a game in person.

That came on Sunday, May 12, 2002 in Seattle. It was Mother’s Day, and I was sitting in prime seats on the third baseline watching the great Pedro Martinez make the Mariners look silly.

Martinez struck out 12 batters in eight innings, hitting 99 mph on the pumped-up readings at Safeco Field. It was the second time I saw vintage Pedro live. The first time was in 1998 when I sat in the bleachers at Fenway Park and watched Pedro five-hit the powerful Texas Rangers over eight innings.

It was the first game of a doubleheader in which Tom “Flash” Gordon saved both ends.

The ESPN game in Seattle, though, was even better. Way better.

The Red Sox rolled into town with a nine-game winning streak only to drop the first two games of the series to a Mariner team that looked unbeatable.

The Marines were coming off a 116-win season, and reigning MVP Ichiro Suzuki was nearly impossible to keep off the bases. Until he faced Pedro, that is. That night the great Ichiro looked helpless.

Making things worse for the Sox was on Saturday Manny Ramirez broke a finger for his ill-advised decision to slide headfirst into home plate.

The cockiness of Mariners fans was at an all-time high. I was taunted for 18 straight innings by fans at the stadium that was sold out or nearly sold out for all three games of that series.

On Saturday, one highly intoxicated Mariners fan suggested that he and his friends “teach me a lesson” because I wore my Red Sox hat to a Mariners home game. Luckily, I was drinking Mountain Dew instead of Budweiser that game, so I didn’t take him up on his offer.

On Sunday night, Pedro made everything better. He was as good as he ever was that night. The performance ranked right up there with the six no-hit innings he pitched in relief in the deciding Game 5 of the 1999 playoff series in Cleveland. Or the earlier in 1999 when Pedro struck out 17 in a one-hitter in the Bronx.

Manager Grady Little decided to pull Pedro after — as strange as that sounds — after the Red Sox scored four in the top of the ninth to take a 10-4 lead.

During that four-run outburst I informed the Mariners fan sitting in front of me that her rally cap would not help her team when the Red Sox were batting.

This particular fan had been giving me dirty looks all night. After I tried to help her with a handy baseball etiquette tip, I learned why.

“I hate your shirt,” she answered while squinting her eyes to more sharply direct her look of contempt.

Oh yes, the shirt. It is actually the root of the reason that game and that series was so memorable for me. As good as Pedro was, his masterpiece was only a small reason the night was so good.

It was a white T-shirt with the words “Yankees Suck” written in blue on the front. It was the shirt that Mariners officials made national headlines over the week before because they wouldn’t let fans wear them inside Safeco Field when the Yankees were in town.

My blood was boiling as I read stories about how stadium security was treating those nice folks who wanted to wear a shirt that was well within their rights as Americans to wear.

So, I can’t even explain to you how happy I was to see those shirts for sale for just $10 Saturday night when left the stadium.

I told this story during a column on my wedding day, but it is worth repeating.

When I saw the shirts I was so excited that I darted to the stand to buy mine without saying a word to my girlfriend, who was walking next to me. I forked over the $10, and went back to find Kim, and she wasn’t there.

After a quick moment of panic, I headed back to the T-shirt stand, and there I found Kim buying a Yankees Suck shirt of her own.

At that moment, I knew I found the girl I was going to spend the rest of my life with, even though I was pretty sure she was never going to talk to me again after my antics at a Seattle bar the night before.

The next day I wore that shirt to the game. Just in case, I brought a Red Sox jersey to put over it if I couldn’t get in.

Sure, I might be a First Amendment crusader, but I wasn’t about to miss Pedro facing Ichiro over a constitutional issue.

Ushers and security had an eye on me throughout the game, but nobody said a word. I’m guessing the bad press they received the week before made for a change of policy when it came to the shirts.

Plus, the Yankees weren’t in town, taking away their claim that the shirt constituted as fighting words, which they probably do.

On Friday, Kim and I will celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary. That’s at least nine years longer than the over-under set by Vegas bookmakers, and I honestly still look at her the way I did that night when she was buying the shirt that pretty much sums up the core of my value system.

We have had far from the perfect marriage. If I had to characterize our relationship with one word, it would be “rocky.” I almost threw the marriage away about a dozen times before I finally quit drinking seven and a half years ago.

Even before that night in Seattle, I had fought more with Kim than any girl I ever met. That’s probably because she always calls me out when I’m being an idiot and don’t realize it.

Of course, on the flip side, that gives more meaning to the times when she stands by my side. When I find myself at a crossroad or standing up to or for something, which I seem to do way too much, I know without a doubt that I am right if I have Kim standing with me.

It’s a good feeling knowing that she will be there when I need her for decades to come.

I have known that since that night she had my back as I tested the limits of free speech while watching Pedro make those Mariners fans shut up. At least for one night.

— Bill Foley, who likes to think of himself as a constitutional scholar, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.



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