SEATTLE -- The Mariners' 2022 postseason berth is not only a historic moment for the players and coaches. It’s special for the entire organization, from the front office to the event staff. Many Mariners employees have been here through it all during the 20-year playoff drought -- the ups and downs, the angst and heartbreak. Irma Calderon, a seating host on the event staff since 1999, is one of those employees.
And not unlike the team she has worked for and supported for more than two decades, Calderon’s own personal journey during that time has been nothing short of resilient.
Calderon is from El Paso, Texas, and is one of seven siblings in a family of six girls and one boy. Her father, who is 93, is from Los Angeles and her late mother hailed from Juarez, Mexico. With her father being one of 10 siblings himself, she grew up surrounded by a large extended family and describes them as being very close and connected to their culture.
“We are a strong Hispanic family, typical old-fashioned Hispanic people,” she said.
Calderon married and later came to Seattle from El Paso in 1993 with her husband and their blended family of five children. Her connection to the Mariners began when she started taking her children to games at the Kingdome. When talk began about building a new baseball stadium in Seattle, she decided to apply for a job. In 1999, the same year the new ballpark opened (known then as Safeco Field), Calderon joined the event staff as a seating host.
While she started her tenure on the first level behind the Diamond Club, she has spent most of her career on the Terrace Club, working at the elevator or guarding the doors to the President’s Box and the Broadcast Center. She has met everyone from the late Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to various celebrities. She recalls conversations with Ken Griffey Jr. about girls' basketball (both his daughter and her granddaughter tore their ACLs at the same time) and was close with former Mariners player and broadcaster Julio Cruz, who passed away last February.
While her location assignment has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, her popularity in the Terrace Club remains strong, especially with the broadcast team.
“It was always great to see Irma outside our booth because she’s a sweet lady,” said longtime broadcaster Rick Rizzs. “But man, if you tried to go somewhere and you didn’t have the pass or tried to get in to see us and we didn’t have you come in for whatever reason, she was our guard. She was our strength out there, and she made sure that we were safe and happy and always had a smile on her face. She did a great job for us for many, many years. I love her and I love seeing her at the ballpark. She just makes me feel good.”
In 2004, Calderon was voted an event staff “MVP” by her peers, evidence that her favorite part of the job is meeting and greeting people who come to Mariners games.
“Customer service is really what it is,” she said. “I really enjoy that.”
Up until 2015, Calderon was also on the gameday crews for the Seahawks and Sounders, in addition to her full-time job as a lab technician in a cytology department. By day, she helped prepare patient specimens for cancer screenings, and by night, she greeted Seattle sports fans at T-Mobile Park and Lumen Field.
But in 2015, everything changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had spent the prior 20 years preparing specimens for cancer screenings, yet this time she was the one receiving bad news from the pathologist.
“He called me down to his office and he was already crying,” Calderon remembers. “I thought, ‘God this must be bad.’ Sure enough, he said, ‘I hate to bring the bad news, but you have breast cancer.’”
Calderon had a mastectomy, underwent radiation treatment for six weeks and was on chemotherapy for a month and a half. The treatment caused her to retire from the cytology lab and she took a break from her part-time jobs with the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders.
“Once that chemo goes through your body, you’re not the same anymore,” she said. “It’s a lot different.”
Calderon spent about two years recovering, and while she remains on cancer medication until 2025 (her 10-year mark), she is cancer-free today. She returned to her job with the Mariners, but her resiliency continued to be challenged. Last year, she overcame a battle with MRSA that had her hospitalized for a month, as well needing an extended stay in a nursing home.
Then, as if she needed to be tested again, Calderon suffered a knee injury in a fall, breaking her patella. She’s still recovering from it, but she does so with a smile. Especially as she keeps up with her 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“Recovery takes a long time,” she said. “I’m not a spring chicken anymore.”
After everything Calderon has been through over the last few years, friends and colleagues with the Mariners wondered if she would come back to her post on the Terrace Club. But here she is, as resilient as ever. Much like the team on the field that just clinched its first postseason berth in 20 years.