Hevly, assistant director of public relations for the Mariners, remembers all too well when 30,000 was the largest crowd the team could expect under just about any circumstance.
"Now it's just a regular weeknight crowd," Hevly noted in a mid-August interview. "It is very gratifying to see how excited people have become about the Mariners. It makes the job harder but it makes it more fun."
By late August, with five weeks of a pennant race yet to unfold, the Mariners had already logged ten sellouts in the Kingdome, which seats 54,000-plus fans for baseball. The team was on course to draw over three million fans for the first time in the 20 years of its existence.
Hevly, an English major who graduated from Whitman in 1988, joined the Mariners as a public relations intern in 1990 and began working in the office full-time in 1991. At that point the Mariners were breaking the two million attendance mark for the first time.
The increase in attendance, both this season and over the past decade, has been amazing, Hevly said.
While the Mariners were building a perennial pennant contender and a solid fan base, the team's long-term future in Seattle was in serious doubt for much of the 1990s. Not until late 1996, when months of negotiations finally cleared the way for a new 46,000-seat outdoor stadium with a retractable roof, could die-hard baseball fans (Hevly included) stop wondering if the franchise would stay or move to greener pastures.
When Hevly joined the Mariners staff, team owner Jeff Smulyan was losing money and had the team up for sale. Fortunately for Northwest baseball fans, a local group stepped forward to buy the Mariners and keep them in the Emerald City. Nonetheless, within a few years, it was apparent a new state-of-the-art baseball stadium was needed to keep the franchise in the black -- and in Seattle -- over the long haul.
The new stadium did not come to fruition easily. The 1995 season started late because of a players strike that had canceled the final two months of the 1994 season, forcing the Mariners to lay off part of their administrative staff (Hevly included), and ended with King County voters narrowly defeating a stadium-financing plan. With the eventual help of U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, the Mariners and public officials hammered out an alternative financing package and a new long-term lease.
For Hevly, there was one unexpected bright spot in the protracted efforts to build a new stadium. It gave him the chance to work at times with fellow Whittie Brier Dudley, who also graduated in 1988 with a degree in English. Dudley, who was on the Pioneer staff with Hevly during their senior year, works for the Tacoma News Tribune and was covering the $405 million stadium issue from a news rather than sports perspective.
Given the players strike and years of the uncertainty that plagued the Mariners in Seattle, Hevly doesn't object when his time in professional baseball is compared to a roller coaster ride.
"It has been an interesting time, I think it's fair to say," he said. "I always thought it would be fun to do baseball PR, but I certainly learned more about debit financing than I ever expected."
As any English major knows, however, all's well that ends well, and Hevly is ecstatic about the new ballpark (now under construction just south of the Kingdome) that represents a new era of tranquility for Northwest baseball fans.
"Like most people who work for the Mariners, I'm a big fan of the game," he said. "As a fan, it's nice to know the long-term future of the franchise has been cemented into place."
As a baseball purist, Hevly has little difficulty highlighting the virtues of the new stadium, which is slated to open in July 1999. Built to resemble the great ballyards of yesteryear, the stadium will feature seating that moves all fans closer to the field. Stadium amenities include a kids play area, a picnic area, on-site restaurant, baseball museum, not to mention a modern, two-level press box for the broadcast and print media that Hevly works with on a daily basis.
When the retractable roof is needed, it will cover rather than enclose the field and stands. That means all games will be played on real grass in an open air setting.
"It will be a spectacular stadium," Hevly said. "Baseball is a much different game outdoors on grass than it is indoors on artificial turf. A lot of people have worked very hard to make the Kingdome a fun place to watch a baseball game, and it is a fun place. But playing indoors fundamentally changes the game. I'm looking forward to playing outside on real grass -- in the sun, in the rain and the wind."
A native of the Seattle area, Hevly played varsity baseball at Roosevelt High School before enrolling at Whitman and playing for coach Max Seachris. He was a third baseman and pitcher who always enjoyed being part of a team.
"What stands out in my mind about baseball, whether it was high school or college, are memories of the people you played with," he said. "You spend so much time with that group of people, you get pretty close to some of them. Some of my closest friends at Whitman were part of the baseball team."
Following his graduation, Hevly enrolled at Seattle Pacific University and completed his master's degree in athletic administration in 1991.
While baseball fans might envy Hevly's job with the Mariners, they might be surprised to learn about the long hours that go with it. When the Mariners are home for a night game, for example, his work day typically begins at 8:30 a.m. when his office opens and ends close to midnight following the last post-game media interviews.
If the game starts at 7 p.m., the Mariners clubhouse opens to the media at 3:30 p.m. Either Hevly or his boss, Director of Public Relations Dave Aust, must be there to facilitate player interviews and answer questions. Both men staff the press box during the game, and then part ways for the visitor and home clubhouses after the game.
Aust and Hevly take turns traveling with the Mariners on road trips. They also share much of the responsibility for publishing the team's media guide, magazine (three or four editions each season) and quarterly newsletter. Some of the publishing deadlines help fill a relatively brief off season, which begins following the World Series in October and ends when the team heads to spring training in February.
Getting a day off during the season is a rare occurrence. Hevly has taken off just two days this summer, one of which he used to marry Kris Lambright, daughter of University of Washington football coach Jim Lambright. Given the bridegroom's work demands, the honeymoon is on hold until after a season the Mariners hope culminates with a World Series appearance.
While Hevly and others in the Mariners administration may lament the long hours at times, they also can savor the magnitude of their recent accomplishments. By no means has their gift to Northwest baseball fans been a small one. Not only do fans have a winning team to follow on the field, they can rest assured that America's national pastime is here to stay.
Forget what the critics have claimed for years about this region and its small media markets. Professional baseball can work in this neck of the woods.