Sailors recognize Irma Calderon for Hispanic Heritage Month

SEATTLE — The Mariners’ 2022 playoff spot isn’t just a historic moment for players and coaches. It’s special for the whole organization, from the front office to the event staff. Many Mariners employees went through it all during the 20-year playoff drought — the ups and downs, the anguish and the heartache. Irma Calderon, a seat hostess on the event staff since 1999, is one such employee.

And just like the team she has worked and supported for over two decades, Calderon’s personal journey during this 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 was from Juarez, Mexico. 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’re a strong Hispanic family, typical old-school Hispanics,” 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 Kingdome. When talks started 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 began her tenure on the first level behind the Diamond Club, she spent most of her career at the Terrace Club, working the elevator or guarding the doors to the President’s Box and Broadcast Center. She’s met everyone from the late Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to various celebrities. She recalls conversations with Ken Griffey Jr. about women’s basketball (her daughter and granddaughter tore their ACLs at the same time) and was close to former Mariners player and broadcaster Julio Cruz, who died last February. .

Although his whereabouts assignment has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, his popularity at the Terrace Club remains strong, especially with the broadcast crew.

“It was always great to see Irma outside our booth, because she’s a nice lady,” longtime broadcaster Rick Rizzs said. “But man, if you tried to go somewhere and you didn’t have the pass or you tried to come in to see us and we didn’t let you in for some reason, she was our guard. She was our strength there, and she made sure we were safe and happy and always had a smile on her face. She has done a great job for us for many, many years. I love her and I love seeing her at the stadium. She just makes me feel good.

In 2004, Calderon was voted event staff “MVP” by her peers, proof that her favorite part of the job is meeting and greeting people who come to Mariners games.

“Customer service really is what it is,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”

Until 2015, Calderon was also on the Seahawks and Sounders playing teams, in addition to her full-time job as a lab technician in a cytology department. By day she helped prepare patient samples 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 previous 20 years preparing samples for cancer screenings, but this time it was she who received bad news from the pathologist.

“He called me to his office and he was already crying,” Calderon recalled. “I thought, ‘God, this must be bad.’ Sure enough, he said, ‘I hate to break bad news, but you have breast cancer.’

Calderon underwent a mastectomy, underwent radiation therapy for six weeks, and underwent 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,” she said. “It’s very different.”

Calderon spent about two years recovering, and although she continues to take cancer drugs until 2025 (her 10-year mark), she is cancer-free today. She resumed her work with the Mariners, but her resilience continued to be tested. Last year she overcame a battle with MRSA which hospitalized her for a month, also requiring an extended stay in a nursing home.

Then, as if she needed to be tested again, Calderon injured her knee in a fall, breaking her kneecap. She’s still recovering, but she does it with a smile. Especially since she takes care of her 14 grandchildren and her three great-grandchildren.

“Recovery takes a long time,” she said. “I am no longer a spring chicken.”

After everything Calderon has been through in recent years, friends and fellow Mariners wondered if she would return to her position at the Terrace Club. But here it is, tougher than ever. So did the team on the court that just clinched its first playoff spot in 20 years.

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