Jason Phillips grabbed a baseball, scribbled his phone number on it, got the woman's attention and tossed it to her. And for the rest of the game, he was left to wonder how she'd respond.
The courtship started in a bullpen, of all places.
Jason Phillips spotted a woman at Safeco Field last May and knew he had to make a choice: Be bold or be ignored. As the Mariners bullpen catcher, Phillips is used to anonymity, used to spending half the year tucked away in a box with pitchers. It’s a thankless job that he does well and without complaint. But this time, he needed to stand out or risk eternal regret.
He shared a few stares with the woman, who was entertaining business clients. Then he made a promise to the fellas in the ‘pen.
“If we go extra innings, I’m gonna make a move,” Phillips said. “If we go to extra innings, that’s gotta be a sign.”
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The game with the Oakland A’s went into extra innings. Phillips grabbed a baseball, scribbled his number on it, got the woman’s attention and tossed it to her. And for the rest of the game, he was left to wonder how she’d respond. He couldn’t wait to return to the clubhouse and check his messages. Naturally, the game would drag for 15 excruciating innings.
But by then, she had sent him a text message: “My name is Molly. Nice to meet you.”
And that’s how a bullpen catcher fell in love.
On Sunday, Jason Phillips and Molly Ray will get married, and their wedding guests will attend the ceremony in the only logical place to celebrate their serendipitous romance.
“It kind of has to be there,” Phillip says. “It’s only right.”
The Mariners play Cincinnati at 1:10 p.m. Sunday. As soon as the final out is recorded, the ‘pen will be transformed to show off its glamorous side. For a few hours, it won’t be the place where boys get to be boys while waiting to put out fires. It won’t be ground zero for some of the filthiest verbal assaults that players receive from fans, as is often the case for road teams across baseball. It will be a place for pure, unapologetic mushiness.
The ceremony will begin about an hour and a half after the game ends. For a team led by Jill Hashimoto, the Mariners’ director of event sales and marketing, it’ll require a well-scripted plan to clean, decorate, usher in guests and create a wedding-like ambience.
Safeco Field normally hosts 10 or 12 weddings a year. Couples wait until the Mariners set their schedule and plan their events around the ballgames. But this one will be different.
“It’s my first wedding in a bullpen,” Hashimoto said enthusiastically. “Normally, they’re at home plate. But it’s incredibly special.”
Hashimoto can’t reveal too many plans because some of it is a surprise even to the bride and groom. Phillips and Ray are low-key people. They’re having a small wedding of less than 40 people, which is actually perfect for the bullpen. They weren’t planning on much decorating until Hashimoto and the Mariners assisted with some imagination.
“There are a lot of things we can do here,” Hashimoto said. “Anything we can do to exceed what their expectations are would be huge for me. This is an opportunity to create something really special for Jason, Molly and their guests.”
The wedding is the culmination of a fast-moving, 13-month romance for the couple. A few nights after Phillips’ bold flirtation last May, the two met for food and drinks at Lola restaurant in Belltown. Ray brought some friends with her to, as Phillips said, “make sure I wasn’t an idiot.”
He passed that test. Then they realized they had a lot in common. Both were divorced with children — and weren’t interested in getting married again. Phillips admired Ray’s ambition and knew she could handle being with someone who spends 81 games, not to mention spring training, away from home. Ray works for the Pan Pacific Hotel as an executive in charge of corporate sales and sustainable partnerships.
“It’s my second chance,” Phillips said of marrying Ray. “She’s gorgeous. She has a great job. She has great ambition. It’s like a mulligan for me. I didn’t know what I wanted before, but now I do. She’s my best friend. I’m so lucky to have her in my life.”
He also says he’s fortunate to be with the Mariners. They’ve made planning this wedding easier. Of course, as he mentions this, Phillips acknowledges that Ray has been stuck with finalizing most of the particulars, but he’s happy that she is in partnership with an organization that feels like family.
“It’s nice to be able to share this opportunity with them,” said Phillips, 33, who added that a large portion of the team will be in attendance. “Jack (Zduriencik) was the second person to RSVP, after my sister. The game becomes so monotonous. You’re looking for things to change, to be able to say, ‘Oh, that was different.’ This is kind of like a midseason break for all of us.”
It’s a break that will last a day. The Mariners will be off Monday and then open a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs the next day. It’ll be a short honeymoon, but plans have already been made for a real one in Italy after the season ends.
For now, though, it’s back to the bullpen, where sometimes the catcher throws the pitch, the dream girl receives the toss, and love occurs in the unlikeliest of places.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer