SeaWolves Nation Alive and Well
Like a house without a dog that you can't call home, a city without a sports team seems hollow. Toby Keller headed down to Jerry Uht Park to experience SeaWolves Nation.
Just like a house without a dog that you can't call home, a city seems a bit hollow without a sports team to love and loath. Erie has a hard time identifying with any professional teams, in any sport. I've seen Buffalo Bills tattoos and Pittsburgh Penguins flags and Cleveland Indians hats on the same trip down State Street. The lines of loyalty are hard to follow, criss-crossing with no particular direction amongst the population.
The size of Erie hasn't limited us in too many ways, but with professional sports we're at a loss. We have to go out of town to root in the big leagues. However, the in-town talent is worth taking a good, long look at. The window of opportunity to see eventual stars showcase their skills is often a short one, with any of the city's sports. Jeremy Lin, NBA phenom from Harvard who electrified the New York Knicks and the world, played for the Bayhawks, the Developmental League affiliate of the Knicks, for one game.
Former MLB No. 1 draft picks Cameron Maybin (now in San Diego) played only six games in 2006 for the SeaWolves and Andrew Miller only played four games in the 2007 season for the city. Perhaps one of the longer glimpses we have had came around 2002 when Cody Ross played 105 games for Erie; in 2010, he won the NLCS MVP and is currently playing in Boston. Or Curtis Granderson—currently with the Yankees—played 123 games in 2004. Justin Verlander, arguably one of the best pitchers in the majors right now, winner of the 2011 Cy Young and MVP, played in Erie for seven games in 2005.
For someone like me who hasn't been around the team for long, there is still a familiarity with names like Drew Smyly, who has played seven games in 2012 with Detroit with a 2.31 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 39 innings. He was drafted in the 2nd round of 2010 draft, playing eight games for the SeaWolves last year.
A lot of people have taken notice. As I was sitting at a red light on my drive down to Jerry Uht Park to watch the SeaWolves play the Eastern League leading Reading Phillies, with a hat on and an arm out the window to feel for the rain that was clouding up to the South, a minivan pulled across the intersection in front me and a boy in the passenger seat saw me. He pointed at his forehead and then at me, then signed thumbs up, smiling wide like he was playing a practical joke. I nodded in confusion as my friends carried on a conversation around me. Apparently aware that he wasn't getting through to me, the boy yelled, "Go SeaWolves" then went out of sight down the block.
I was wearing a SeaWolves hat, but I hadn't expected the attention. I parked and walked to the stadium without thinking about it much. When I got inside, I bought my first round of food and drinks, and sat down, the image of the boy yelling at me came back. You don't yell at random strangers about much—maybe they hit your car, or didn't bag your groceries the right way—but this is sports. Fans have a tendency to express themselves in belligerent ways, loud ways. It somehow allows their team to hear them, lets the city feel the pride. Sports teams are, at any rate, an extension and representation of the city on their jerseys, and so I found myself—about halfway through my second Smith's hotdog—wondering if that boy was, at least for a moment, connected to me in a sort of foundational support connecting the SeaWolves to the city. Who else is part of this thing, and what kind of strength do we have?
All of the sudden, as if they hadn't been there before and simply appeared, orange and black covered everything. I saw the ballpark in a new light, the shades had been pulled and I realized the people had come for much more than a cheap cup of Railbender—there was a game to be played, and more importantly, one to be won.
Even after the 5th inning, with the runs tallied against us 5-0, the air hadn't gone out of the crowd at all. The more we watched, the hungrier we got, the closer to the 9th the more we salivated. In the bottom of the 6th, after a topless run… after a runless top, Jordan Lennerton smacked the ball to left-center field and out. "Don't call it a comeback," is all I heard, although I don't know if anyone had said it. Then, two batters later, Rawley Bishop hit one of his own, and it was on. The next three innings brought out the best in a sports crowd—drunken chants, violent screams, and delirious celebrations beneath stadium lights echoed up into the purple sky.
The SeaWolves' defense closed the game without giving up another run. In the bottom of the 9th, where men are born from big plays, Reading held a 5-3 lead, and unfortunately it was a deficit that couldn't be overcome so late in the game. Romero, Brantly, and Lennerton were all thrown out before they reached first base. The game was lost.
The crowd filed away from their seats into downtown Erie; some hit the bars, some went home to bed, some lingered for a moment or two then walked away. I walked to my car in the midst of strangers wearing the same logos as me. Some of them talked about the game, the pitching; others talked about their plans, and I listened. In moments of defeat, true character comes through like never before. The character of Erie, in general, is one of resilience. Defeated but not near done, they all went separate ways into the air that had stayed dry for a good night at the ballpark, and I went with them.