The real stars of James Paxton's impressive start on Monday: The Mariners fans dressed as eagles
James Paxton helped make his case to be mentioned alongside the other Major League aces on Monday night, as he outdueled Dallas Keuchel with six innings of one-run ball in the Mariners 2-1 victory. Despite the left-hander's seven strikeouts, he wasn't the real star of the evening. That went to the fans in The Maple Grove -- the cheering section that assembles around Paxton's nickname of Big Maple.
In addition to the maple tree and the "Eh" signs (for Paxton's Canadian heritage), they added in eagle masks and statues, honoring the greatest moment in avian history:
The eagle arrived early to snack:
Were pre-Groving (eating eagle food) in front of the ms bullpen for anyone who wants to join us! pic.twitter.com/xJcGUx8Abj- The Maple Grove (@BigMapleGrove) April 17, 2018
It hung out in its natural habitat:
It soared through the air ... kind of.
And children beheld the beast:
Yes, this is everything a cheering section should look like.
The best part is, you can easily join in on the revelry: All you need is a ticket.
Unlike the King's Court, which is an official seating section when Hernandez pitches, the Maple Grove is a completely fan-led group. Co-founded by Hillary Kirby and Daniel Carroll, the group has grown from about 15 members to start to over 300 for some weekend games (there were over 60 present last night).
To meet the demand for Maple Grove action, the group tweets out the seating location (usually the left field bleachers) for that week's start in addvance, so that every Paxton supporter can join the fun.
Pssst hey Jean! Glad you were at Safeco Field today? Well how about coming out tomorrow to Section 182 and participating in a Maple Grove? I know I know with $15 tickets it doesn't take much convincing.- The Maple Grove (@BigMapleGrove) April 15, 2018
(pc: Jean's instagram) pic.twitter.com/MX2G6TntDz
Kirby told MLB.com the group started during a Blue Jays series last year, because so many Toronto fans tend to swarm to Safeco. Plus, "Paxton was pitching and he'd been doing really well, so we thought, 'Why don't we be his cheering section? He's Canadian -- maybe we can convert some Jays fans.'"
A graphic designer by trade, Kirby designed the now-iconic "Eh" signs that fans hold and hands them out during games for the low, low, low price of free.
"The atmosphere is fantastic," Kirby said. "[It] doesn't matter who you're standing next to, we tend to make friends with everyone who is cheering for the same thing. It was real cold last night and we were moving around so much, we barely noticed."
The chants include player specific calls and, when Paxton ran the count to two strikes, turn to "Eh!" instead of K.
Fans seated around Safeco Field like to visit when the Maple Grove is in bloom. "People tend to visit us from all over the ballpark and join in for innings and go back to their seats. We had a lot of parents bring their kids over to participate last night which was cool," Kirby said.
That includes members of the Mariners' marketing department. Even though it's a fan-run event, the Mariners gifted the maple tree to the group ("we named it Stick Rizzs") and provide maple bars for some games. "They respect it's a fan-lead/produced thing," Kirby said. "It's not a marketing scheme, it's just fans having fun."