After a year in the Tacoma Rainiers front office, Kase Johnstun decided he enjoyed the game more in the stands than in the press box.
In a recent New York Times article, Kansas State University’s Head Football Coach Bill Snyder said, and I paraphrase, that while he believes his son would be his best replacement—Snyder is in his mid-seventies—he would not wish on him the life of a head football coach at a major university. A legendary coach known for his attention to every detail and the 16-hour days that entails, he wanted his son to have a more balanced life.
In the summer of 2007, six months before I got the call from the Tacoma Rainiers and my wife Mary and I packed up our three-bedroom home, left most of our belongings in storage, moved the 850 miles to Tacoma, and crammed our lives into a one-bedroom apartment there, we spent our nights at the ballpark.
We had a little tradition. Our house, built in 1906, with high brick ceilings and two-foot long crown molding, sat on a side street of the Sugarhouse district in Salt Lake City, two blocks from TRAX, the city’s light-rail system. As soon as I got home from work, Mary and I would throw on our Salt Lake Bees shirts and hats and walk out into the heat of the dry Utah summer, the rocky towers of the Wasatch Mountains shining purple in the setting sun, as their shadows crawled out over the Salt Lake Valley. Baseball on our minds, we showed up to most games of most home stands, and TRAX dropped us off in front of the stadium, beneath the waving flags of Franklin Covey Field.
Once inside, we grabbed cold beers from the vendor, picked up our hot dogs and peanuts, and found seats—typically not the ones we purchased—on the second deck of the stadium, just isolated enough that others couldn’t hear our conversation, but close enough to other fans to be involved in the joys of routing for the home team. We cheered, we laughed, we ate, until the closer threw his last pitch.
There’s something about baseball, something about being in the stands and drinking beer and eating peanuts and, sometimes, being uncomfortably hot. There was something special about that summer. I felt connected to tradition—on the field and with my wife—and those nights were some of the best in our young marriage and in my young life to that point.
Once my first season with the Rainiers started in April 2008, there were times I had to concentrate to see my wife’s face in my mind’s eye. At the beginning of the season, she would brave the cold, wet Tacoma nights and sit alone in the stands using the free ticket I left for her. She’d be bundled in blankets and sweatshirts and gloves and text me so I could wave at her from the press box. But, when the season started to drag on and she got tired of sitting alone in the stands and driving home alone and going to bed alone, she stopped coming to the games. I didn’t blame her. I probably would have stopped coming too.
One night in August, near the end of the season, the weather in Tacoma decidedly more ideal—temperatures in the mid-eighties and breezes drifting in off Puget Sound beneath a cloudless sky, so that Cheney Stadium became a nice cool place to sit and watch a game—our old Salt Lake Bees were in town. Mary decided to come to the game that night and, though taboo, she showed up in her bright yellow Bees t-shirt. I suspect she could be spotted not only from the press box, where I sat, but from planes that cruised over at 30,000 feet, her yellow shirt marking such a drastic contrast to the light and dark blue shirts around her. She held a beer in her hand and cheered, and because the game was tight from beginning to end and both teams were in the playoff hunt, she forgot to text me to wave, but I watched her as much as I watched the game. I missed her horribly, us horribly, our tradition horribly.
I knew long before that night that baseball was not for me. But that night sealed the deal. I’d much rather be a fan in the stands with my wife than ever work in sports again. I understand, on a much smaller scale, what Bill Snyder meant when he said he didn’t wish his job on his son. Although I was just a peon, I learned through that small lens what it takes to work in sports, and that I’d much rather not take that route. Oh, I continued to do my job well, finished my contract and, when the season was over, talked to the team president about staying on. But, I knew what I really wanted—I wanted baseball back. Baseball in the stands on warm summer nights with a beautiful woman in the seat next to me, drinking beer and eating hot dogs.