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Paxton's Maple Grove section branching out

Fan-created cheering squad gaining in popularity
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- When the Blue Jays came to Seattle in June, and their fan base flocked from western Canada to watch their national team play in person, Mariners fans Hillary Kirby and Daniel Carroll bounced around ideas for a fun group activity to seize some of attention from the invading Blue Jays fans.

"We wanted it to be like King's Court, but not King's Court," Kirby said. "We didn't want to dishonor Felix. We were trying to figure out what to call it. We came up with the Maple Grove."

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SEATTLE -- When the Blue Jays came to Seattle in June, and their fan base flocked from western Canada to watch their national team play in person, Mariners fans Hillary Kirby and Daniel Carroll bounced around ideas for a fun group activity to seize some of attention from the invading Blue Jays fans.

"We wanted it to be like King's Court, but not King's Court," Kirby said. "We didn't want to dishonor Felix. We were trying to figure out what to call it. We came up with the Maple Grove."

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The King's Court is a promotion for every start by Felix Hernandez, that involves fans gathering in matching T-Shirts and holding up K cards when Hernandez registers two strikes against a batter.

The Maple Grove is a cheering section for Mariners ace James Paxton, who is nicknamed the Big Maple, reflecting his lumbering 6-foot-4 frame and his Canadian roots. It wasn't a coincidence that the section paid homage to the native of Ladner, British Columbia, on the same day the Blue Jays came to town. The Maple Grove members hold up "eh" cards, playing on a linguistic stereotype often associated with Canadians.

The section has grown into a bit of a viral phenomenon. 

The main difference between The Maple Grove and King's Court is that the latter is put on by the Mariners and assigned to specific sections. The Maple Grove is fan-generated, and has assembled for every one of Paxton's starts since that June 11 tilt against Toronto.

"It's really cool that they came up with it on their own," Paxton said. "It's just great having support out there."

For his outing Monday night -- in which he tossed seven scoreless innings and struck out 10 in Seattle's 4-0 win over the Red Sox -- the Mariners introduced a potted maple tree that was placed in Section 182 in the left-field bleachers, where the Maple Grove congregated that night, inducing a great deal of buzz online and on social media.

Mariners put maple tree in stands for Paxton

Carroll said he wasn't aware beforehand that the tree would be placed in the Maple Grove's section.

"I couldn't do anything but cackle," Carroll said.

Before the game on Tuesday, Paxton met the members of the Maple Grove for the first time by the Mariners' dugout, offering them maple bars and posing for pictures.

Tweet from @Mariners: Greetings from The Maple Grove. pic.twitter.com/G5Ah0xsu1O

Kirby, a graphic designer by trade, designed the cards, as well as the banner that's draped behind the group for every game started by Paxton. She's also designed T-shirts that have been ordered, but have not been delivered yet.

Paxton and Mariners manager Scott Servais said they could hear the fans screaming "eh, eh" whenever Paxton registered two strikes. They got a kick out of the maple tree when they caught a glimpse.

"[It's] tremendous," Servais said. "I'd prefer if they planted a few more seedlings and expanded it a little bit. But it's a start."

Servais may get his wish.

Carroll said several people have already purchased tickets in Section 182 for Paxton's next scheduled start -- Sunday against the Mets -- with the intention of taking part in the Maple Grove.

"We're just taking it as we go," Carroll said. "I don't want to put too much on it. It's a lot of fun. And hey, if Paxton's killing it like he's been killing in the last couple of starts, are you kidding? It's just going to grow and grow."

Josh Horton is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle.

Seattle Mariners, James Paxton