Henry Genzale was there when Gary Bell of the Pilots threw the first major-league pitch in Seattle at old Sicks Stadium in 1969. He was there when...
PEORIA, Ariz. — Henry Genzale was there when Gary Bell of the Pilots threw the first major-league pitch in Seattle at old Sicks Stadium in 1969.
He was there when Diego Segui ushered in the next-generation Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome in 1977.
He was the one who handed Alvin Davis his first uniform, No. 61, and watched him blossom into an All-Star. He also had a front-row view for the unveiling of Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro — not to mention the hundreds of lesser players who came and went from the Mariners.
He was there on Oct. 2, 1991, when the Mariners won their 81st game to ensure the first non-losing season in franchise history, a day Genzale called at the time, “My proudest day to be part of the Mariners.”
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That distinction changed in the magical season of 1995, which was never surpassed in Genzale’s reckoning as “by far the best time of my life at the major league level. That will always be a piece of me.”
For all those milestones, Genzale had the same vantage point — the clubhouse, his second home and the place he helped nurture multiple generations of ballplayers as a clubhouse manager from the team’s inception in 1977 through last season. He has run the visiting clubhouse since 1997 after moving over from the home side.
The last remaining original Mariners employee, Genzale has decided to retire, marking the end of one of the most enduring runs in Seattle baseball history. When spring training ends, the team will head north, but Genzale will remain in Arizona, where he has lived in the offseason since 1996.
“I think that’s when it’s going to finally start to hit me, like, oh, my gosh, I’m not going up to set up a clubhouse,” said Genzale.
This spring, he’s working the visiting clubhouse in Peoria, one final fling to say his goodbyes and help with the transition. Ted Walsh, in charge of the home clubhouse since 2003, will take over for Genzale on the visiting side. Ryan Stiles, formerly the minor-league equipment manager, will replace Walsh.
The institutional knowledge that leaves with Genzale will not be easily replaced. Since 1963, when he became a Seattle Rainiers batboy at age 14, this will be just the second season in 50 years without a Genzale on the Seattle professional baseball scene. His dad, Henry Sr., ran the visiting clubhouse at the Kingdome from 1977 (in partnership with his son) until retiring in 1986.
After two years as a batboy, young Henry was hired by the Rainiers to run the visiting clubhouse at Sicks Stadium, a post he held from 1965-68 while attending Franklin High School.
“Baseball today is a lot different than it was in those days,” he said. “I could go to school, get out, run to the ballpark and do what I had to do. We lived only two blocks from the stadium, in Rainier Valley.”
A career was born, reaching its first pinnacle in 1969 when expansion baseball hit Seattle.
“We kind of did a tag team,” Genzale said. “My father and I ran the visiting clubhouse in ’69. Then in ’70 we lost our team.”
After just one ill-fated year, the Pilots moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers, and Genzale sat out the 1970 season. A Seattle University graduate, he took a job as an accountant at Pepsi-Cola. But in 1971, the tug of baseball hit him, and for the next six years, he was an accountant by day, and a clubhouse man by night for the various incarnations of low minor-league ball that resided in Seattle until the Mariners were created.
“I went from Triple A (with the Rainiers) to the big leagues for one year, and all the way back to A ball,” he said with a laugh.
But Genzale’s second stint in the major leagues lasted more than three decades and encompasses the entire breadth of Mariners history.
He’s seen rants, raves, brawls, practical jokes, acts of kindness and conceit while handling the equipment, culinary and incidental needs of Mariners players.
There was the time an angry Lou Piniella overturned the food table, causing the Sterno heating the plates to ignite the carpet. Pitcher Chris Bosio rushed over and doused it with a carton of milk.
“The next day, we couldn’t figure out what was reeking in the clubhouse,” Genzale said. “It was burned milk spilt on the carpet.”
There was the time Julio Lugo of the Red Sox flew in a rage after striking out, kicking the dugout wall so hard he overturned a bucket of green paint — right on top of him.
“He comes walking in, and he looks like the Jolly Green Giant,” Genzale said. “He had green all over him. I think that was about the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. He was trying to wipe his face and arm and everything else and change his uniform to get back on the field. He said, ‘I won’t ever do that again.’ “
All these years on the visiting side, Genzale had to bite his lip and hold back his true emotions.
“You’re rooting for the home guys, but yet you’re on the visiting side,” he said. “It was tough, after building those connections.”
There’s no question what Genzale will miss most — the people. In a diverse sport that blends multiple ethnic groups, he was able to bridge all the gaps. Most of the players were gracious, he said. One thing he’s noticed about the ones that weren’t: when they came back years later, they tended to have mellowed.
“Without naming names, that’s been a blessing,” he said. “You see a guy come back, and he’s kind of grown up. We’ve had a few of those over the years.”
He will name names when asked his favorite Mariners player.
“There’s so many of them, but the one guy that was just so dear to me, and I’m glad he’s here (as a minor-league instructor), Alvin Davis. He was just something special.”
Genzale, who turns 65 in May, plans to play lots of golf and travel the country in an RV with his wife. He began to contemplate retirement last November, and finalized the decision right before Christmas while in Seattle.
“I told my wife, I want to go in the clubhouse, I want to go into my office, I want to see what my gut feeling tells me. I said at that time, I’ll make my final, final decision. I did that. I looked around, I had a lot of memories. But I knew it was time.”
Genzale did have one important message to deliver to team president Chuck Armstrong when he told him of the decision.
“I told Chuck, I look forward to the day I can be sitting in those stands, Game 1 of the World Series, and I want to be there,” Genzale said. “I want to be there in the worst way. I hope that day comes real soon.”