Back in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, it looked like the impact on our ability to collect blood would be devastating. Social distancing guidelines forced our fleet of bloodmobiles off the streets, blood drives at high schools, colleges and businesses were now suddenly a thing of the past.
So Bloodworks Northwest started something called a “Pop-Up” Donor Center at T-Mobile Park, the now-vacant home of the Mariners since the MLB 2020 season was postponed. But their space at the ballpark offered Bloodworks the ability to collect blood while giving Mariners fans a chance to show their support of the team as well as for the cause of maintaining an adequate blood supply. The “Pop-Up” concept has since proven to be so effective that the idea is being tried in other stadiums, theaters and museums across the Pacific Northwest. But the Mariners’ Pop-Up Donor Center was where it all began.
The first day of the Mariners Pop-Up Donor Center, some current and former Mariners players and front office staff stepped up to donate blood. Some for the first time. One of those was Rick Rizzs, the Voice of the Mariners who spoke with Bloodworks 101 Producer John Yeager about the 2020 baseball season and the importance of donating blood.
Listen below or read on for a full transcript.
Baseball is back! Listen to our #Bloodworks101 conversation with the voice of the @Mariners, Rick Rizzs, as he talks about the 2020 #baseball season and his experience giving blood for the first time. https://t.co/qFufUgkQ0M. pic.twitter.com/kII2TANJHi— Bloodworks Northwest 🩸 (@BloodworksNW) July 28, 2020
John: Hi, I’m John Yeager for “Bloodworks 101.” It’s a monthly podcast brought to you by your friends here at Bloodworks Northwest, and it’s designed to educate or inspire you to donate either time, money, or blood.
Rick: I guess that’s the back, bottom of the 11th inning, got the whole town listening, swung on a belt in. The words distorted, joint car round start, here comes Griffi, the thought of the place not in town, my own mother, Mariners swinging. Yes, bioworks, they laid out that ceiling in the kingdom. We had just made history.
John: It is time again for baseball. As of Friday, July 24th, the 2020 season is underway. And while it’s only 60 games, it is still baseball. What does that have to do with Bloodworks Northwest? Well, a couple of months ago when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, Bloodworks Northwest started something called a Pop-Up Donor Center, the T-Mobile Park, the home of the Mariners, some former Mariners and front office staff stepped up and donated blood. One of those was Rick Rizzs, the voice of the Mariners. Earlier this week, I got a chance to spend a few minutes with Rick, now in his 35th season with the club. We talked about the long awaited start of the baseball season and the impact of blood donations like his. Hey, Rick, how are you doing today?
Rick: I’m doing just fine, John. How are you? Beautiful day out, and we’re gonna play some baseball later on tonight and we’re getting close to the baseball season, but I’m doing great.
John: So, you were part of this extraordinary experiment that we call the Pop-Up Donor Center, well, T-Mobile Park set vacant because of COVID-19. You and thousands of Mariners fans devoted their time and their arm, you roll up your sleeve and donated blood. Former Mariners catcher, Dan Wilson and his wife, Annie, were there. Rick, what was that like?
Rick: It was a great experience. You know, I’ve never really donated blood before, but it’s something that I wanted to do, especially at this time with what our city, our community, our state, our country, our world is going through, you know, with the coronavirus pandemic and then with other surgeries being put on hold and all of a sudden now, they come in, and they need valuable blood. So, it was something that I wanted to do. It’s amazing what Bloodworks Northwest did for us to allow us that opportunity to come in and we’ve made it so easy and comfortable. All the technicians, it’s nothing, a little pinch right there. And all of a sudden, eight minutes later, you’re down a pint, but you save lives. You know, blood saves lives. So, it was a great experience. John Stanton was there when I was there and Tim Heavily and his wife, Chris, and Greg Green from our front office. So a lot of the Mariners were involved. But I can’t thank the folks from Bloodworks Northwest enough for what they mean to our community and what they’ve done for thousands of people to save thousands of lives.
John: Remember, you came up with the happy totals. I think we had more than 7,800 lives impacted. And I mean, every time, listening to you, like, you know, it brings me back to the reason that I came to town back, you know, 25, 30 years ago because I knew there was Major League Baseball here. And I heard you and Dave, you know, in the booth, and I know you miss him terribly still to this day. It’s been almost what, 10 years since he’s passed?
Rick: It’s been 10 years. Yeah.
John: And it’s just a nice feeling to hear you there again, you know, accompanying us throughout the summer, you know. And it just didn’t feel like summer. It hasn’t felt like summer so far. And this weekend, you’re gonna start calling games again. What’s that gonna be like?
Rick: Well, I mean, like, it’s official, summer is back when baseball is back. We should have been back at the end of March but everything was shut down. All our lives were put on hold at that time. But it’s gonna be fun getting back to some kind of normalcy. Nothing has been normal. There’s a whole new normal now since we were struck with this virus, which has affected the entire world, not just us in our community, but everywhere. So we have to deal with what we have in front of us. We have to take care of ourselves so others stay healthy. We have to wear a mask, and wash our hands, and keep our distance from our friends. That’s the weirdest part, you know. I’m a hugger. You know, I like greeting people with handshakes, and hugs, and things like that. I love seeing my friends. And that’s what I miss more than anything. My son has been here, you know, every day, and I do a lot of cooking, and things like that. And everybody has done some interesting things during this time.
But it just means baseball coming back, it means that part of our lives are coming back again. You know, just like when things are going well, and springtime comes around, and you hear that bat hitting the ball, and the ball smacking into a glove, it’s the greatest sound in the world. It’s the greatest feeling in the world that a huge part of our lives, you know, are coming back, which is the game of baseball. Baseball is such a part of the fabric of our lives. You know, we’re so ingrained in the community. You know, the baseball fans, you know, really relate to the Mariners and the other teams that we’re here, going way back to the Seattle Mariners and everything. It’s just so much a part of our daily lives, and we can keep track of our favorite players, and enjoy the good times, and lament the bad times, and hope for the good times, you know, the next year, wait until next year, but baseball is the greatest game in the world, and I miss it, the fans have missed it. And in the next few days, it’s coming back.
John: All right, I’m gonna ask you to look into the crystal ball, but I’m also gonna ask you to remember, started out 13 and 2 last year, and all of a sudden, you had hope around the city that something amazing like 1995 or 2001 was gonna happen again, and then it faded. And yet there’s still a lot of talent there. What kind of prediction do you have, honest prediction, this year?
Rick: Yeah, I think, you know, it is what it is. Jerry Dipoto went out and rebuilt this ball club, and it takes a while. It’s like baking a cake. You know, you just don’t throw one ingredient in there, throw it in the oven, and hope you have a cake. It doesn’t happen. So what it takes is time. It takes time to make the right deals. A couple of years ago, the Mariners had one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball. They were ranked 29th of the 30 teams. So Jerry went to work, rolled up his sleeves with, you know, Justin Hollander, our assistant GM, and all the guys in the front office, and the baseball analytic guys. And they traded away a lot of veteran guys. And they brought in tremendous young talent that’s gonna get us to the playoffs but it takes time for those kids to get here. They brought in Jared Kelenic from the New York Mets along with Gerson Bautista and Justin Dunn. Justin Dunn is gonna be in the starting rotation. Jared Kelenic is going to be not a good player, he’s gonna be a great player in the big leagues for a long, long time, a 20-year-old kid, tremendous ability. He’s gonna be great for a long time. That was at one deal for Robbie Cano, and Edwin Diaz.
And all the other trades that Jerry made to bring in Justus Sheffield from the New York Yankees and the Paxton deal to bring in J.P. Crawford, who did a nice job for us last year, Jean Segura from the Philadelphia Phillies, and on, and on, and on. And now the Mariners have the fifth-best farm system in all of baseball. They drafted very well the last few years, Logan Gilbert, a first-round pick. A few years ago from Stetson University, George Kirby, a first-round pick out of Ilan University, and this year, Emerson Hancock, talented right-handed pitcher of the University of Georgia, first-round pick. I mean, these kids can play, but it takes time, number one, to come through the minor leagues, which I think the roughest part of the year is there won’t be a minor league system. We’re gonna have 30 kids down in Tacoma in the alternate training site, you know, playing against one another in the inner squad game.
So we’re gonna miss that part of the development, you know, playing against other teams with the same talent and same type of ability at that level, a Double-A and Triple-A, and so forth, and so on. So we’re gonna miss that. And yes, they’ll be competing against one another. But the farm system is really produced and now you have to get those kids here. And that process started last year by getting Kyle Lewis here who hit home runs in his first 3 games and home runs in 6 of his first 10 games. It just burst out at the scene in September. We got Jake Fraley here, who came over in the Tampa Bay trade for Mike Zunino, along with Mallex Smith. Mallex was here last year.
And then we got J.P. Crawford coming up from Triple-A Tacoma last year and played well. Shed Long Jr. came up, you know, from the minor leagues in that minor league trade as well. So, you know, he did well. And then the additions of Austin Nola, who spent seven years in the minor leagues, and Tom Murphy, these guys did a tremendous job. So it’s hard to get here. We gotta get these kids here. They gotta learn at this level. They gotta figure things out. So it takes another year or so to get going. It just doesn’t happen overnight. So it’s gonna be a few years. But the talent is definitely there. I’ve seen it with my own eyes at spring training and here at summer camp, and these kids are gonna get us to where we wanna be here in the very near future, and that’s the playoffs.
John: Well, thanks for giving me hope, and thanks for giving us your donation, and I hope I can maybe see you… I’ll donate with you again at the end when… At the end of the season, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll donate with you again, if you make your appointment, I’ll be there. I’ll go play with you.
Rick: All right, buddy, that’s a deal. Yeah, congratulations to what everybody does over there at Bloodworks Northwest. All the folks made it such an easy thing. You know, you don’t have to be afraid or hesitant or anything like that. And it’s so worth it because you just sit there for a few minutes, donate a pint of blood. It’s gonna be back in the next few weeks, you’re gonna get it back, and you have a chance to really have an impact in the community, and save lives. How often can we do something where we actually save a life? So it was a great experience. I’m glad I did it and I would be happy, happy, happy, happy to do it again.
John: Good talking to you as always, Rick. Thanks again.
Rick: You’re welcome, John.
John: Well, that’s about it for “Bloodworks 101.” We have a couple of summer encore episodes that we’ll be sharing for the next few weeks. But then in mid-September, we’ll start season 2. So until next time, I’m John Yeager for “Bloodworks 101.”