EVERETT — Minor league baseball is a volatile industry.
When one first gets into the business, it’s best not to get too comfortable with one’s setting. Whether it’s players, managers, coaches or owners, the only constant in the minors is change.
Players come and go in the blink of an eye. Managers and coaches bounce from team to team every season. Major-league affiliations are regularly in flux. One must be wary when glancing away from a conversation because there’s a chance that upon looking back, the person in the next seat may be different.
All of which makes the man known as Spyder that rarest of treats. In a world of constant change, he’s one of those rare pockets of reliability.
For 35 years Marion “Spyder” Webb has served as the athletic trainer for the Seattle Mariners’ entry in the Northwest League. The affable man with the southern drawl and the walrus mustache is more than just a baseball support staff member, he is a local institution, making first Bellingham and then Everett his home away from home.
But all good things must come to an end, and 2013 is Webb’s last hurrah in minor league baseball. This season is the final campaign for one of the great characters in Northwest League history — Webb is retiring when the Everett AquaSox’s season ends.
“It’s with a bit of bittersweet sadness, but a little bit of anticipation,” Webb said of his impending retirement. “There comes a time for everything to come to a close. I’ve felt in my heart this is the year for that. These kids, the players and coaches and organization, they deserve high energy, everything you can give them. I’m to the point where things are kind of slowing down a bit, and I feel this is the time to move on from it.”
When he steps away, Webb will be leaving behind a long string of friends, stories and smiles.
Just another day in paradise
Encountering Webb always results in a friendly greeting, often via the declaration that it’s “just another day in paradise.” It’s a greeting that’s been heard an uncountable number of times during a Northwest League career that began back in 1979.
“Spyder is a classy gentleman, friendly, just a real joy to be around,” said longtime AquaSox broadcaster Pat Dillon, who’s spent countless hours as Webb’s neighbor during the team’s bus rides.
“He’s always been around, he’s a constant, he’s always there. Given this is his last year, some of us who work with him closely and see him every day during the season are starting to think about what it’s going to be like when he’s not here.”
But everyone is happy to have one more season.
It was a moment of whimsy that began Webb’s run in the Northwest League. In 1977 Webb, who turns 60 on July 4, was a green 22-year-old trainer at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C. He was just looking for a way to occupy himself during the summer, so he hooked on with the Atlanta Braves organization and wound up at the Braves’ Kingsport farm club in the Appalachian State League.
Webb’s manager at Kingsport was Bob Didier, whose father Mel happened to be the director of player development for the Mariners. Bob Didier said he could get Webb a job in the Mariners organization if Webb wanted one.
“During the winter I thought about it and wondered, ‘How am I ever going to see the West Coast?’” Webb recalled. “Well, the Seattle Mariners. So I called Mel Didier, got a job, and have been here ever since.”
That “ever since” includes 16 years with the Bellingham Mariners and 19 with the AquaSox, taping ankles and arranging plane flights the entire time. During his time in the Northwest League, Webb has worked for 17 different managers, and he has outlasted just about everyone in the Mariners organization.
According to the Mariners media guide, Webb has been around longer than any other member of the organization’s field staff. The only member of the front office who predates Webb is Randy Adamack, Seattle’s senior vice president of communications, who came on board in 1978.
“I didn’t know I’d be here this long, but every summer flew by,” Webb explained about why he kept coming back. “I was really fortunate. My first manager, a guy named Jeff Scott who I had for five years as my manager and he later became the farm director, he was tremendous to me. I was 24, he was 25, the first year it was just me and him by ourselves. There wasn’t another coach, it was just me and him. It was fun, it was awesome. We had good players, good kids on that team, and I just had a blast.
“I couldn’t wait to get back here and do it. But I had no idea 35 years later I’d still be sitting here.”
Those were the days
During his 35 years, Webb has had the fortune of working with players who went on to be among the greatest in Mariners history. Here’s his recollection of some of those players when they played in the Northwest League:
Ken Griffey Jr. (1987): “From the time he walked on the field you knew he was a special guy. I laughed the whole summer because there wasn’t a ball hit that he thought the right or left fielder should have anything to do with. So there were two very unhappy corner outfielders the whole time.”
Edgar Martinez (1983): “When he was in Bellingham he was a buck-seventy-three hitter, and I’m glad I’m not an evaluator of talent because I thought his career wasn’t going to be very good.”
Mark Langston (1981): “He was with us there the whole summer in Bellingham, just a hell of a player.”
Omar Vizquel (1985): “He was only 18, but you could already see that he had Major League ability in the field.”
Webb also has an infinite number of stories about his time in the league, many of which involve the follies of the team bus during his time in Bellingham. But ultimately, Webb’s fondest memories come not from what happened on the field, but from the relationships that occurred off it.
“At one time I would had told you everything was geared into winning and losing,” Webb said. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s been about the people I’ve been involved with and get to be around. Really, it’s just the people and coaches and the people of the northwest that are my favorite memories.”
Webb retired from Francis Marion University last May after 39 years, and he enjoyed his first taste of retirement during the school year. Yet he decided to return for one last go in Everett.
“These folks out here have been like my family,” Webb said. “It was important for me to be able to come out here and say goodbye to folks. I could easily, if it wasn’t for that, have been satisfied to stay home this year. But I wanted to come back here and see my friends and close this out and tell them thanks, tell them happy trails. Not goodbye, just happy trails.”
Over the years Webb had opportunities to further in his career in baseball. But between the Northwest League and Francis Marion University, he’d found everything he was looking for.
“They talk about folks in the south being friendly, well the folks in the northwest are just the same for me,” Webb said. “The people here in Bellingham and Everett have been awesome to me. They’ve given me much more than I’ve ever deserved. The hellos, the people I see every day, the ownership groups of these two teams, they’ve been amazing to me. Everyone I see has made my world better. So what more could I ask for in 35 years?”
And what more could the people of the Northwest League say to Webb, but “Thanks.”