It’s a chilly May night at Safeco Field, and though the retractable roof slid shut over the stadium early in the second inning, a steady rain still sifts onto the exposed left-field bleachers. The crowd there doesn’t seem to mind. A man in a sasquatch costume dances along to a batter’s walkup music. Most everyone holds matching blue placards with the word “EH” printed in yellow block letters. Others wave homemade signs: “Grove Hard or Die Tryin’”; “Big Maple’s Syrup: Extra Sweet, High Heat, Fast and Neat.”
On the mound, Mariners ace—and native Canadian—James Paxton is pitching to a Detroit Tiger. When he reaches strike two, the crowd in the bleachers rises, holding their “EH” signs high. “Eh! Eh! Eh!” They chant in attempted unison. Then Paxton throws strike three, and the chant dissolves into cheering and high fives.
Welcome to the Maple Grove, a homegrown homage to the Mariners’ newest star. Every time Paxton starts at Safeco, the Grovers celebrate—and, in their own quirky way, honor our neighbors to the north.
It all started after lifelong Mariners fan Daniel Carroll, sick of the influx of Canadians streaming across the border to cheer for the Jays on Mariners turf, showed up at a 2016 game with a stack of belligerent homemade signs aimed at the visitors, like “People Who Walked On the Moon: USA 12, Canada 0.”
For the 2017 game against Toronto, Carroll reached out to a group of active Mariners fans on Twitter for help: They would antagonize the Blue Jays by celebrating their own Canadian. Riffing on the “K” strikeout signs that fans of pitcher Felix Hernandez have long brandished in their own special section, the King’s Court, the group decided to create “EH” signs for Paxton. Hillary Kirby, a graphic designer, put together the first iteration of the signs in her print shop, and the Maple Grove was born.
It caught on quickly. “Every game we did it, it got bigger,” says Kirby. Within a couple of Paxton starts, the Mariners marketing department had gifted the group with a maple sapling (dubbed “Stick Rizzs” after Rick Rizzs, the Mariners’ longtime broadcaster) to serve as both mascot and decor. By the end of July, the Grove had swelled to as many as 300 attendees, had been featured on ESPN, and had an official Twitter account: @BigMapleGrove. By the time Paxton threw his historic no-hitter in Toronto this past May, the Grove was a Safeco fixture.
Tonight, Paxton has seven strikeouts by the end of the seventh. The Mariners lead and the rain’s dried up. Sasquatch has stripped off his heavy costume and is fiddling with his phone in shorts and a T-shirt. Carroll, Kirby, and the rest are still on their feet, eh-ing their way through Paxton’s eighth strikeout as the game winds down. How long will they keep the Grove going? Says Carroll: “As long as it’s fun.”