Among the tortured souls in the sports world, Chicago Cubs fans are perhaps the most beleaguered.
Each year, spring training brings about hopes of a Cubs' drive to the World Series and hoisting that championship trophy aloft - and, for the past 102 years, Cubbies fans go away shaking their heads in defeat.
Among the legion of frustrated Cubs fans is Steven Bowers, a Sequim resident who grew up in Chicago.
Growing up on the south side of the city, Bowers' father was a diehard White Sox fan. For years the pair caught games at the old Comiskey Park. Steven got to see games with the likes of Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard and saw Hall-of-Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio collect his 2,000th base hit.
But he never saw a game at Wrigley Field. He never got to see his beloved Cubs in action. Never got to see Ernie Banks or Ron Santo or Billy Williams or his favorite player - Cubs slugging catcher Randy Hundley - hit deep drives toward the ivy-covered outfield walls, snack on a hot dog or do the seventh-inning stretch with fellow Cub fans.
"We never made it to the north side," Bowers says simply, from his Carlsborg-area home.
This summer, with the Cubs taking on the Mariners in Seattle in interleague play, a friend wanted to make sure Bowers finally would get to see his favorite team in action.
Hitting it off
Randy Perry repairs shoes in Sequim's east downtown side. For years Perry worked next to Bowers' wife, Deborah, who operated a nail salon in the same business mall.
"We just hit it off being sports fans," Perry says. "I'd watch Seahawks games at his house."
When Perry learned that Bowers had esophageal cancer and that it had returned to compromise his liver, Perry knew he wanted to do something special for his friend.
When the summer baseball schedule rolled around, Perry contacted the Mariners and Bowers' wife contacted the Cubs to see if there was anything they could do for the lifelong Cubs fan.
The Cubs responded by sending hats, a mug and even posting Steven's name on the digital display board outside Wrigley Field, reading, "Steve Bowers Attends First Cubs Game."
The Mariners gave Bowers and Perry grab bags of swag, featuring several promotional items from the 2010 season including bobbleheads, pins and shirts.
Then Perry convinced Steve to go with him to a ball game at Seattle's Safeco Field on June 24.
'I belonged down there'
Arriving hours before the game's start, Bowers and Perry found themselves on the field at Safeco, chatting it up with the umpire crew.
Moments later, they were talking with Cubs manager Lou Pinella (a former
M's manager) and several Cubs players.
"I was excited, surprised and excited," Bowers says. "We had a good old time."
He shows the hat he got signed, with Pinella's name scrolled across the bill of the cap, and the underside, with signatures from pitcher Bob Howry and catcher Geovany Soto and first-base coach Matt Sinatro.
Bowers, who was a pitcher and catcher in his high school days before a broken arm derailed his baseball future, grins.
"I felt like I belonged down there."
The two enjoyed the game from some field-level seats behind the third base (the Cubs') dugout.
Perry said the best part of the experience was seeing his friend surprised.
"(It was) just seeing Steve's face once he figured out what we were doing. His eyes lit up."
For Bowers, the best part of that day couldn't be boiled down into a moment.
"Being surprised. I don't get to be surprised too often, too easily," he says.
He thinks a bit longer.
"Being down on the field, being a jock again."
"Spending the day with a good friend."
Fittingly, the Mariners and Cubs had one more present for Bowers, making up for the injustices and some lost time: the teams played a 13-inning game.