C.W. Cresap and his bugle have been part of the ambience at Peoria Stadium since it opened in 1994 as the Mariners’ spring training home.

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PEORIA, Ariz. — Len Zickler didn’t know he would be sitting by a celebrity. Getting to watch a Mariners spring-training game two rows behind home plate was thrill enough for him.

Then he heard the sound that M’s fans everywhere have grown familiar with — the sound that not only reverberates throughout the ballpark, but seeps into the airwaves, too.

It is a beautif … it is a distinct sound that has blared for 23 years and become synonymous with the Mariners’ preseason. It is the sound of none other than the Bugle Man.

“This is as good as meeting the coach,” said Zickler, a Spokane resident and longtime M’s fan. “I’m going to buy a new Mariners hat and get an autograph.”

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Ladies and gentlemen, meet C.W. Cresap — the rootin-tootin’ institution of Peoria Stadium. Cresap has been a staple of the front row since the park opened in 1994, not-so-subtly blowing into his bugle whenever he sees fit.

You’ll hear a few notes whenever a Mariner batter is introduced, then a few more if one of them gets a hit, then a few more if one of them scores a run. It certainly isn’t music — just a handful of toots. But it sure ain’t bad for an 89-year-old.

“No, I’m 39!” said Cresap, a Canyon, Ore., native. “I just celebrated the 50th anniversary of my 39th birthday.”

If there was a party for that anniversary, Cresap was likely the life of it. There’s a reason his nickname is “gabby,” after all.

He was gabby when he served in the Army for six years, earning medals for occupying Germany and fighting in the Korean War. He was gabby when he worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for 32 years, starting off in Portland before transferring to Seattle. And he was gabby at the baseball games he would attend up here, starting with the Pilots in 1969 before latching onto the M’s eight years later.

It was all great fun … although there wasn’t a bugle involved.

No, Cresap didn’t lug his horn to stadiums back in his Seattle days. In fact, considering he has never had a lesson in his life (he initially bought it for his kids to play with) he didn’t really lug it anywhere.

But he did find that if his sons were out and about in the neighborhood, and he needed them to come home, he could just step outside and blow into his bugle. They’d hear it and be back in within minutes.

So thus began the legend of Bugle Man — a legend that would blossom after his retirement in the late 1980s, as he and his wife would RV to Arizona each winter.

Cresap wouldn’t toot at games for those first few years. He’d just sit back and watch like any other fan. But when Peoria Stadium opened in 1994, he decided to call dibs on the ballpark’s tradition-to-be.

C.W. Cresap plays his horn during the first inning of a spring training baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the San Francisco Giants, Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
C.W. Cresap plays his horn during the first inning of a spring training baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the San Francisco Giants, Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Now batting, No. 15, third baseman Kyle Seager

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It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Like vuvuzelas at a World Cup match, the noise was about ambience, not elegance.

After a while, fans would ask to have their pictures taken with Cresap nearly every game. Mariners play-by-play broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith said he gets more comments through social media on “the trumpet player” than anything else during spring training.

At my age, this is about all I have left. But I’ll tell you, there is nobody at that ballpark having more fun than me.”

Lou Piniella used to talk to him. Ken Griffey Jr., too.

What would Griffey say to you?

“Just how lousy my bugle playing was,” said Cresap. “He was right.”

Oh, sure, Cresap will endure his barbs every now and then. Mariners first-base coach Casey Candaele once told manager Scott Servais that Cresap’s bugle was from World War I. Gary Zarelli, a fan sitting behind C.W. last week, took it a step further, suggesting Cresap “played his bugle for Custer.”

But Cresap can’t help but recall the time he accidentally left his instrument at home before a game several springs ago.

“Everyone kept asking, ‘Where’s your bugle?!’ ” he said. “I haven’t forgotten it since.”

By most accounts, Cresap is the same guy as he has always been. He still has his strict drinking rules — “I’ll only drink if I’m alone or with someone” — and he’ll still yap until your eardrums call uncle.

But though Cresap the man hasn’t changed much in the past 24 years, his life certainly has. He lost his wife of 49 years during a heart procedure and lost one of his sons to a heart attack. He also gave up the RV life several years ago and moved into a double wide in Peoria.

His spirits remain high, though — especially this time of year.

What’s the most common thing people say to you, C.W.?

“Thank you! They say, ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’ ” Cresap said. “At my age, this is about all I have left. But I’ll tell you, there is nobody at that ballpark having more fun than me.”

And they say these games don’t count.