Festina lente

On hurrying, slowly.

There’s a lot of writing about baseball that opens up the sport as an allegory or metaphor for something large, something obtuse. Baseball as love, as heartbreak, as life itself. This can be quite powerful and evocative for both reader and writer alike. I’m quite guilty of it myself. The sport lends itself to daydreaming between the pitches. Three hours is an awfully long time to be doing anything. You’re bound to muse, if you’re so inclined. Lately, though, I’ve begun to think something else. What if baseball is simply its own space to be left alone? What if something could plainly be what it is and nothing else? Isn’t that just as special, if not more so, than allegory or metaphor?

I’ve come to this sentiment as I’ve come to a similar view within my own life. That spaces don’t always have to be shared. What if I could only make a beer? Forget style, forget pleasing customers, forget costs. Forget all of that. Does the intensification of a singular act allow for a better process? And what is a better process? Optimization and singularity are often spoken of within the same breath. While I cannot claim expertise or even a remote sense of completion in this line of thinking, I can ruminate on the recent months of my life. Perhaps I have recently found joy by taking things more plainly. Perhaps, if I could do the same with Baseball, the same thing could be said. What if I could go back to simply playing catch in the backyard. To the slap of leather, the motion, and the toss. The unspoken trust of hurling a ball of leather towards a team mate, a family member, someone you love. What if I could break baseball down to this core value?

August is a time within the 162-game schedule for reflection, but only for a moment. July has passed and the heat of the day seems to magnify greatly the strengths and shortcomings of every roster. The point of the season has arrived where managers know exactly what they have in their deck of cards and all that is left to do is simply play the hand. For two months, inevitability and talent, and perhaps luck, are your guides down the river. Just don’t stop paddling. If you do, the rapids will take you; but if you paddle too hard, you won’t make it to the end due to exhaustion. Simply read the river, moment to moment. Be singular in your task. This is the sentiment for every game from here until the end of the season. Now is the time for this sort of single-mindedness within ourselves, too.

You can feel it in the morning air, can’t you? I know I find myself bracing for Fall. For the crisp mornings and the end of lazy afternoons. Often we hear of the awakening Spring brings, but there is also one in the Fall. Awakenings happen wherever change can be found. Within touching-distance of a playoff spot, perhaps it is time for the Seattle Mariners to have an awakening of their own. Maybe the simple act of a baseball game, won or lost, can transcend a million other simple acts until, finally, a city is alive with the buzz of October baseball. It takes many small events to go from scoreboard to city-wide energy, but it’s simple enough. It takes a focus. It takes structure for the sake of achievement. It is the same idea across any form of accomplishment: winning a baseball game, falling in love, or playing a game of catch.

And so that is what I am going to do. In a week I will take my first vacation in nearly two years and fly down to see someone I love in a place I once lived. It’s a simple thing, really. To make a journey to a destination worthy of the trip is an easy choice. We’ll do the things people do when they’re in love and in the same place. We’ll walk places together, talk about where we’ve been and where we’d like to go. We’ll focus on the moment. Packed in my suitcase will be my glove, as well. An old piece of leather that has seen better days and survived nearly a decade of constant use. It should be replaced, in all reality. However, the root of things shouldn’t always be discarded. Perhaps, if anything, it should be sought out again this time of year. Maybe that’s what we’ll seek together, her and I.

Maybe we’ll simply play some catch, too.

The Perfect Pitcher

4-11-06

There are a few things I want you to keep in mind about today, so in the interest of brevity, and rather than trying to sound like someone with a lot to say, or a poet, or someone else that I’m not, I’m going to just list them here:

1) Felix was coming off his first Opening Day start of his career, an 8 IP, 12 K obliteration of the Oakland A’s. In between those two starts he would turn 21 years old. Think for a moment about how preposterously young that is. Here are the ages of some of baseball’s current bright, young, pitching stars:

Luis Severino – 23
Jimmy Nelson – 28
Aaron Nola – 24
Marcus Stroman – 26
Michael Fulmer – 24
Gerrit Cole – 26
Kevin Gausman – 26
Dylan Bundy – 24

Felix Hernandez was 21 years, and 3 days old when he took the mound at Fenway Park. It was the 45th start of his major league career.

2) This was a coronation, but for once Felix had nothing to do with it. The Yankees and Red Sox were in the middle of their decade-long blood feud over the AL East, and the Red Sox were debuting their newest weapon of war, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka threw something called a “gyroball”, which legend made sound like a cross between Sid Finch and black magic, and he was making his second start of the season as well, after demolishing the Kansas City Royals on the road in his first start.

ESPN was on hand, Fenway was packed, and one of baseball’s glamor franchises was prepared to celebrate their newest hero.

In the middle of the 7th inning I was scrambling to a church youth function I’ve volunteered for and I was screaming at the guy there “You HAVE to get this game on TV! I am not missing a Mariner pitcher no-hitting the Red Sox in Fenway!” He got the game on, and as I walked in I saw Jose Lopez diving as J.D. Drew’s groundball finds center field.

Damn.

One inning later, Fenway is empty, figuratively if not literally. Its soul has been swallowed by the all-encompassing totality of Felix’s genius. There are two outs in the ninth, and two strikes on Kevin Youkilis. The play-by-play marks it as a swinging strikeout, but that was no swing. It was surrender.

Felix_Youkilis__2_

4-24-2015

When you’ve seen it, you know you’ll never see it again. But, you’re a hopeful kind of idiot, so you think, maybe, just maybe.

The 2015 Twins are supposed to be atrocious. It’s through three and not only has no one reached base, Minnesota’s hitters are approaching the batter’s box like meek, contrite, sinners come to suffer god’s judgment. Felix has six strikeouts, five swinging. The Mariners are winning at home, early into their most anticipated season in half a decade. New DH Nelson Cruz has homered. There is a crescendo building, a feeling that burns through the television, that something may be happening.

We’re into the fifth, and I’m writing the recap, and I’m thinking about writing a game story about the first pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. This is the power of Felix Hernandez. His youth and talent, like Ken Griffey Jr. before him, made anything seem possible. Every achievement left unlocked for a pitcher in baseball history could be viewed with Felix as, “No pitchers has ever done X……yet”.

There is still, of course, no pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. With two outs in the fifth Brian Dozier got a running, buzzing, chainsaw-with-seams on his hands and dumped it into rightfield for a single.

Damn.

Felix finished it out, he would not be denied his shutout. He spent the first three innings surgically removing the Twins’ heart, and the next six slowly feeding it back to them.

9 IP, 5 H (all singles), 9 K, 0 BB, 0 R, 102 pitches. Dominance upon dominance.

8-15-12

Like many, I left work. Though I was too far from Safeco to get there in time, Gameday and the radio were simply not sufficient. After the 7th I closed my computer, walked to an empty Mexican restaurant bar, and ordered a Dos Equis.

They were tolerant of me in there, if mildly annoyed. I got them to turn off a car race, and helped them find the channel the baseball game was on. Someone the bartender knew sat down, and they started talking about nothing in particular. There was no audio, and no music. No real sound other than the constant, ceaseless tapping of my feet on the ground.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

The 8th is where it was going to live or die, you just knew it. Tampa’s best hitters were due up, Felix’s pitch count was approaching 100 and, Mariners being Mariners, the team had managed only one run on the day. Everything; Perfect Game, No-hitter, shutout, complete game, win, hung in the balance of the next three hitters.

Evan Longoria – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap

Ben Zobrist – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap tap

Carlos Pena – Strikeout Swinging. “YES! HELL YES!” Tap tap tap tap

***

Felix Hernandez has known, seemingly his entire life, the abundance of ability he possesses. You can, and many people have, debate the various nuances between cockiness and confidence, but I don’t intend to do that here. Felix Hernandez has spent his life believing he is the best, and whether it’s fate, hard work, good luck, genetics, or something else the simple fact is that for a very long time he was absolutely correct.

I have often thought about the picture of him finding out he won the 2010 Cy Young Award:

Felix

There are tears, yes. And joy. There is also something else, and who knows if it’s actually there or if I am, always the slave to narrative, simply reading too much into it. But I see relief.

Felix Hernandez spent his childhood and early career believing he was absolutely going to win awards and set records, and the 2010 Cy Young was confirmation he was not wrong. Preposterous talent brings preposterous standards, none more so than his own. He had met them. Partially.

***

In the 9th it was the split-change, or whatever that pitch actually was, that carried him through. Felix Hernandez’s changeup at its peak is unlike anything the game has ever really seen before or since. He used it to strike out Desmond Jennings for out number one, got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to shortstop with it for out number two, and you know, with two strikes, it was a hot-breathed demon sitting in the back of Sean Rodriguez’s mind.

tap tap tap tap tap

Felix stepped back, lifted his leg, and pivoted his torso slightly past 90 degrees from home, showing Rodriguez the 3 and maybe half the 4 on the back of his jersey. Perhaps the first pitcher since peak Pedro Martinez to possess four true out pitches, a player whose insistence on overusing his fastball famously got him an open letter written by a now famous baseball blogger, Felix Hernandez had worked his entire life to get one pitch from a perfect game. What is the one pitch he wanted at that moment, more than anything else?

Fastball, inner half, with movement. Hit it if you can.

Damn.

Five years ago, today. Perfect. No one has been since.

Hail to the King.

 

Exce11ent Alternatives

Edgar Martinez was an excellent baseball player who wore the number 11 on his jersey. The word “excellence” remains phonetically sound after replacing “ll” with 11. These are undeniable facts. Seriously. Think about Edgar. Comb the dictionary. You can’t find a more perfect word because the perfect word has already been found, and that word is exce11ence.

The only issue with an all-encompassing expression like exce11ence is that it ignores the iconic moments that made Edgar exce11ent in the f1rst place. So here they are, Edgar’s seminal moments as a Seattle Mariner, featuring words with consecutive letters supplanted by 11.

We begin with Edgar’s most famous moment of all. More than 650,000 doubles have been hit in Major League history. Only one transcends spe11ing.

1EdgarTheDoub11e

Edgar Martinez wasn’t just a superstar between the lines. He was (and still is) a superstar in the locker room, known throughout baseball for his theatrical performances of…

1EdgarFo11icularVaudevi11e

…and on cable television.

1EdgarBombi11o

I think bombillo is Spanish for lightbulb. You can never be sure with Google translate. Anyway, that was a c00l commercial and the guy in the background ki11s me, especially with that bombi11o on his head.

Yet, despite his superstar status, Edgar was perhaps at his best performing selfless deeds of service to the local community. Such as…

EdgarPuya11up

…bringing some much-needed geoduck awareness to the city of Puya11up and…

1EdgarCaterpi11ar

…publishing Caterpi11ar, the adorable children’s book about a young caterpillar who wanted to be a baseball bat when he grew up despite the burden of his parent’s shame. Caterpillar triumphantly makes it to The Show, but the story takes a tragic and gruesome turn on the book’s final page when he meets his first – and last – pitch.

Not everything Edgar did was perfect, however. For example, the regrettable follow-up to Caterpi11ar.

1EdgarCaterpi11arJr

Wanting to be taken more seriously as an author, Edgar penned the edgy story of Caterpi11ar Jr., who vows to avenge his father’s humiliating death and restore the family name only to be arrested outside of a nightclub on the eve of his professional debut, never to return.

Or the time Edgar realized he had a…

MAC EDGAR MARTINEZ G2CSNAP08 1C S BBA USA OR

Or the time Edgar feigned…

1EdgarHa11ucinations

…to distract Robinson Cano from abruptly ending Andy Van Slyke’s coaching career. It turns out Edgar should have probably let that happen, even though Van Slyke did it to himself on the radio a few short months later. Hilarious.

In all seriousness, cheers to Edgar Martinez and the Mariners. This should be one he11uva weekend.

(h/t to Andrew for his I11ustration)

 

Jerry Dipoto presents: Return of Erasmo

It’s late-July and I’ve started to do that thing where I’m worrying about Summer someday ending. The same is true for MLB teams all over this nation, and for their respective executives and managers. It’s high-time for big moves to make a splash, one last chance at summer romance, and maybe by the end of the whole thing we’ll have some great memories to embellish and share with our friends when school starts back up again. In a transaction that is sure to move the “swoon” barometer approximately one tick towards “hard swoon” and then another tick back towards “hard pass”, Jerry Dipoto traded Steve Cishek for former-now-again Mariner Erasmo Ramirez. I always hate when I start thinking about Fall again.

Acquiring Erasmo Ramirez has a million different angles that I can think of but let’s start with the obvious one. If the Seattle Mariners are going to Do The Damn Thing they need live arms that can throw strikes that are not in turn hit over a fence. This is not necessarily what Erasmo Ramirez is in 2017, but he has run out a GB% slightly above league-average this year in 69 nicely pitched innings. Ground balls are something the Mariners are rather good at dealing with. This site would like to put itself forward as a pro-grounders blog. Erasmo is, however, also running HR/9 and HR/FB numbers that are both slightly above league-average, so really what the M’s received is someone who is a bit better than league-average (his FIP agrees). But just barely.

What has to be said is that the acquisition of David Phelps clearly made Jerry feel comfortable in giving up a ~late-inning bullpen piece to potentially stabilize an often frightening rotation. This may or may not prove to be prudent, but this was certainly not a case of dealing from a position of strength. The bullpen has recently felt more stable, but the idea of Phelps-Cishek-Diaz as all potential shutdown arms at the back end of a close game felt a lot better, stuff-wise, than Phelps-(insert like four names)-Diaz does now. The Mariners are a bat-first team and it is 2017. Wake up, Sheeple.

It’s also hard to say, and I’m sure by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will be foolish because some quote will have come out from the front office, exactly how Ramirez fits into the 25-man. Does he straight swap out Moore or Gallardo? Does he immediately move to the bullpen as a three-inning swing arm? Does he convert to an 8th inning guy and blow 99 mph fastballs under the chin? I’d bet against at least one of those.

It feels mostly like a lateral move for this season. While Erasmo has eight starts in 2017, he certainly isn’t a massive upgrade over Moore or Gallardo. The same problems are there, really. Stuff that can be thrown for strikes, but maybe too many strikes. The Big Inning being the downfall, or being bled to death by spreading four dingers over six innings. While the cost is relatively low in giving up a bullpen arm with only three months left on his contract (plus $1M), in exchange for an arm with 2.5 years of club-control, it has to be said that the Mariners kinda already had this arm before 2017 began in the form of Vidal Nuno. Vidal was, of course, flipped for Carlos Ruiz to shore up a backup catcher position after Jerry decided to let Chris Iannetta walk. It all just feels lateral, maybe almost revisionist, to go get a league-average swing arm in late-July.

There is another angle here that expands beyond 2017, though. With acquisitions like this and David Phelps, Dipoto could be pre-empting a 2018 trade market that should value swing arms. Erasmo’s 2015 season is well-behind him at this point, and maybe he is a guy that steals a couple wins by locking down the 6th and 7th for the Mariners in August, but this could also be a play to acquire future value for the 2018 season. It could also just really do nothing.

It’s Summer – go have some fun, you knuckleheads.

A muted and quiet look at the Tyler O’Neill and Marco Gonzales trade

The Mariners traded Tyler O’Neill for Marco Gonzales. Is this good or bad?

Just before lunch on Friday, July 21, the Mariners shook their very foundation to the core, trading uber-prospect Tyler O’Neill for the St. Louis Cardinals’ leftover trash starting pitcher Marco Gonzales.

Or, as to be expected, this is how much of the fandom reacted, because that is what fans do, they react.

But now that we have had a little bit of time to do things, like breathe, eat, breathe some more, maybe even drink, we can take a look at the trade that Jerry Dipoto, self-proclaimed wildest of the wild out in the west, just processed.

Let’s start with the good:

Marco Gonzales went to Gonzaga. I also went to Gonzaga. This is a good thing.

Now the legitimately good, Gonzales can throw many pitches decently, and he can throw a change-up rather well. He is a high-volume strike-throwing kind of guy, which he tends to both feast and famine on. His numbers are completely unremarkable in AAA, but he has the potential to be an end-of-the-rotation kind of guy. Perhaps even a No. 3 in a horrible year where everyone gets injured (and then your team is bad so who cares). Gonzales gives up quite a few fly balls and infield fly balls. He will probably be alright in Safeco Field, particularly if ol’ Manfred siphons the juice out of the baseball

Perhaps the most important piece of this puzzle is Gonzales is not a short-term rental. Gonzales was drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft. He is under team-control for eons.

Of course, nothing the Mariners do is ever good, and there are some definitive bads to look at. Let us take a look.

Tyler O’Neill was one of the more exciting prospects in a farm system that is as exciting as the proposed idea of a sequel to Suicide Squad. Most recently, O’Neill has been on an absolute tear in the minors, hitting /330/.432/.723 with 11 home runs in 94 at bats. He is still striking out as if his life depended on it, but there was at least enough offensive firepower to help offset all of that. O’Neill is only 22 years old, and overall has (had) one of the higher ceilings in the farm system.

So at the end of the day, it looks like the Mariners traded a high ceiling outfielder for a low ceiling pitcher. This has the makings for a bad trade, and people were quick to condemn Dipoto for it. That said, maybe making a boring ass trade is exactly what this squad needs.

The Mariners have a very limited window to make the playoffs with the pieces in play they have at the moment. Eventually, Felix Hernandez’s arm is going to fall off. Eventually, Robinson Cano will no longer be worth the $124 million he is due each year. Eventually, Nelson Cruz will regress to some version of Nelson Cruz where he is not worth the money. Eventually, Kyle Seager will be worth more as a bargaining chip on a flailing team than the starting third baseman. If you are looking at what area of the current squad the Mariners need to bolster to make any semblance of a playoff run, it is starting pitching. Gonzales fits that bill.

Secondly, perhaps we view this trade in two ways: 1) Jerry Dipoto and a lot of other GMs don’t have much faith in O’Neill, and this is all the Mariners would get for him; 2) Jerry Dipoto really believes that the current Mariners outfield is sufficiently established enough to compliment the rest of the pieces of the team. In both cases, O’Neill becomes a highly expendable player.

There is valid criticism in saying that just because he is a highly expendable player doesn’t necessarily mean he has to be traded. The trade becomes a bit more confusing because Gonzales will start his Mariners career with the Tacoma Rainiers, and if that was always going to be the case, why not wait 10 days to pull the trigger on this? Maybe you can get something else out of the No. 2 prospect in the M’s farm system.

What the trade, for me, seems to establish is Dipoto views the window of opportunity to win as something worth pursuing, and pursuing quickly. Time is never on your side in these sorts of scenarios, and having Gonzales as a back end rotation guy bolsters the Mariners for next season much more quickly than having O’Neill loiter around the farm system does.

The timing of this trade is odd, there is no getting around that. This would be a classic trading from an area of strength for an area of need if it wasn’t a 22-year-old exciting outfielder for a 25-year-old rather bland pitcher. There is a chance that this trade bites the Mariners in the ass later in life, but this will probably not go down in the history books as “worst trade the Mariners made in the 2000s.” That list is too long to even crack.

M’s Acquire Bullpen (P)Help(s)

David-Phelps

Before reading this, I apologize if I go full redundancy in here if you’ve listened to the latest podcast. Last night while recording, I jammed my stick in the mud and essentially advocated for the Mariners to stay put outside of making a move almost identical to the one they just made, trading for RH reliever David Phelps from the Miami Marlins. Phelps is a converted starter/swingman, spending the first four years of his career averaging 90mph on his heater, all while being a perfectly fine, but middling major league player. After his conversion, Phelps saw his average velocity jump into the 93-94 range, with the latter being his number this year. He’s throwing harder than ever, and while he’s taken a step back from his big 2016 breakout season, he’s still been a quality arm.

Phelps was outstanding in relief for the Marlins last year, and he even managed to duck back in and start five games for the Marlins in August, and they were pretty damn good starts too – allowing a .563 OPS against, but also averaging less than 5 innings a start. There was no real stretch period for his transition, and he hopped back into the bullpen in September and crushed it, only allowing 5 hits across his 8 innings while striking out 13.

This year, Phelps hasn’t been quite as good, though the results are still solid. He’s never been a man of great control, and that’s continued into this year. He’s still missing bats, but at a lesser rate (9.77 K/9, down from 11.84 in ‘16). The xFIP has landed at 3.74, and his resulting contribution to the Marlins has been a perfectly fine 0.3 WAR.

From a fit perspective, it’d be hard to find somebody who makes more sense than Phelps. He’s been durable during his career, and he’s shown the ability to get “rubbery”, i.e.  throw multiple innings when asked without much consequence immediately following. The velocity is still rising, and he’s under club control for 2018 as well. At 30, he’s right in that dry-aging meaty part of the curve. Phelps has no discernable red flags, and he comes to the Mariners filling their greatest (black) hole – people who can throw baseballs.

There will be clamoring that Phelps isn’t the starter the team needs, and while that’s true, the Mariners also cannot make a playoff push while throwing Edwin Diaz and Nick Vincent every single time they play a close game they’re on track to win. Diaz has thrown his damn arm off lately, and while he’s been Jekyll instead of Hyde lately (that’s the good one, right?), it’s more than likely that he’s going to hit another valley before the season is over, leaving the team void of quality late-inning options. Phelps is a classic late-inning power arm, and while he hasn’t been awesome this season, they paid a price that represents that dip.

The ol’ rumor mill stated that the Marlins weren’t in love with the Mariners farm system, and well, yeah. The centerpiece from the M’s teenage wasteland is Brayan Hernandez, that not-so-small Venezuelan child the Mariners paid a pretty penny for back in 2014. Hernandez is 19 now, and isn’t doing much of anything in Everett. He remains a long-term project with some amount of unknown upside, but at best he’s still three years away from contributing to a major league team in any fashion. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that even somebody Ben Gamel could be a free agent before Hernandez ever dons an MLB uniform. He is, kindly put, a project who hasn’t shown any signs of translating tools into production.

The other arms lost are Brandon Miller, Pablo Lopez, and Lukas Schiraldi. The latter two are having horrible seasons in Modesto and will be lucky to ever make an MLB roster, and while Miller is doing fine in Clinton, his odds are still poor at best. Lopez and Miller both appear in the middle of the Mariners top 30 prospect list on MLB.com, but make no mistake, these players would not be similarly placed in an average farm system. Their loss should not be deeply lamented – outside of some unforeseen breakout, which could happen to anyone, there isn’t an MLB arm in the bunch. They are, more than anything else, throw-ins and lottery tickets to complete this deal.

Maybe this is a tiny bit of an overpay considering Phelps’ step back and Hernandez’s unknown upside/tools combo, but it fits just fine into a win-now strategy without much damage to the limited farm system. Phelps’ 2018 control give the M’s a chance to try him as a starter again to see if the velocity sticks, or they can flip him right back around for their own batch of lottery tickets that Dipoto likes. We’ll see how this affects the rotation, but Gallardo could move back into the #5 slot and Sam Gaviglio, who is decidedly not a MLB pitcher, could head back to AAA. Either way, Phelps slots in nicely as a late-inning option, especially as a person who can throw two innings when the bullpen is gassed. The Mariners have to win a lot of games to make the playoffs, and they’ll need an arm like Phelps to help carry the load.

If It Goes Half Right

1) The rain is starting to fall at Safeco Field, just like the forecast said. The last home game rained, too, but that was nine days ago. Somewhere in that span summer finally left. There’s no warmth in this rain. It is cold, oppressive; the kind we sat through all winter and spring. It feels like football and, indeed, the Seahawks just beat the Colts across the street, two days ago. It was the same day the Mariners finished up their season in Anaheim, with a 6-3 win. Cano and Haniger went deep, and Moore gutted out 7 innings, like he somehow did the whole second half.

The season is over, but I’m at Safeco Field, because there’s a baseball game today.

2) I’m stuck in line, a long line. A Black Friday kind of line. The kind of line that doesn’t make sense to be in. There must be something better to do with my time; some friend to go say hello to, a beer to find, batting practice to watch, signs to enjoy. I’m in a line that reaches its foolish length because there was something after all to what James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams. I am wading in baseball’s magic waters and I, like seemingly everyone else here, know the only right thing to do today is to go say hi to Dave. I don’t mind the wait. Impatience melts away when you’re sure of your destination.

3) It doesn’t make sense, what Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz have done the past two and a half months. They are too old, and too gimpy, to have provided the ceaseless, daily impact they have in this second half. Signing these two men to play in Seattle was folly. Their ages, the amount of money they commanded, the years on those contracts. They should be albatrosses, dead weight. Baseball history is littered with contracts for players like Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells, Adrian Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols. Great players who were paid for past greatness, and never approached it again.

Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are not those men. They are instead two of the finest players in the American League. They are All-Stars. They are the absolute, full stop, beginning and end of what drives the Mariners clubhouse. They are kind, smart, charitable, engaging, funny, and brilliantly talented. They have given us not just wins, and a game 163 at long last, they have given us a team to be proud to root for, win or lose. They are Mariner legends, without playing another day. I look forward to standing in line for their statues, too.

4) While standing in line, the moments pass by quickly in my head: Haniger’s walk off bomb against the Rangers, only one strike from defeat. I remember watching a late-inning double sink into left-center, only to have Jarrod Dyson streak into frame, running in that slow-appearing way that only truly fast people do. I can see Shae Simmons, all but forgotten, providing the desperately needed additional bullpen arm. There is Felix, these days so mortal, fighting through every single start. Once so mighty, still so proud, he would not allow himself to fade into oblivion. Not yet. Not this year.

As the rest of the American League continued its mediocrity only the Mariners, finally, were able to take advantage. Through good luck and good play they carved a 43-29 second half out of the muck and mire, and they won the Wild Card. To paraphrase a great man, sixteen long years of frustration, is over.

5) Was it worth it? Was it worth these sixteen years? Was it worth the Jeremy Reeds, and Carlos Silvas? Was it worth the Adam Jones trade, and LollaBlueza, and 2010? Was it worth Bill Bavasi, Rick White, Eric Wedge, Chone Figgins, Ryan Anderson, Danny Hultzen, Jeff Clement, Michael Garciaparra, and on?

The 2017 Mariners should have been sellers. The 2018 and 2019 team will be worse off because they did not. Was all the time spent, both in the past and now in the future, worth it for a hot few months, and a one game playoff against the Rays?

I don’t know the answer to that. Professional sports are a dumb investment of practically any resource we choose to assign to them. Money, time, emotion, etc. all flow from us in huge quantities, and there is no guarantee that anything worthwhile is ever coming back. This is not a sound decision, to be a sports fan. Perhaps, somehow, that’s part of the appeal.

6) I’m in my seat, finally, but there’s still plenty of time before first pitch. Everyone is here: Alvin Davis, Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer, Randy Johnson, Bret Boone, and many others. Russell Wilson and a bunch of Seahawks are in a suite. Sitting in the front row are three tall reminders of childhood: Detlef Schrempf, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp. The Mariners, always hitting the PR notes perfectly, have Marilyn Niehaus throw out the first pitch to Junior. It’s raining at Safeco Field, and it’s cold, and it’s perfect. It’s family.

7) If the Mariners lose this game, their season is over, and their future remains cloudy. As a child I would never have thought twice about that, I would have just cheered. Time and understanding have slowly made that basic act more and more complicated. Sports are not that simple. Life, far less so. I’m pondering all this, still sitting in my seat, when the voice of Tom Hutyler begins to speak, but he’s quickly drowned out, as everyone already knows what to do.

My head snaps up, for one final glance at it all. I see 45,000 dots of yellow, each with their chest cavity ripped open and heart fully exposed, as though the simple act of naked vulnerability, of offering their very essence, can assure victory. They are so present, desperate for echoes of the past, that it might lead us to our future. The door to the bullpen opens, and he’s walking out: Old, less, ours, proud, regal, King.

The PA faintly echoes in my head; is it a directive, or a simple observation of what we already knew to do?

“All rise.”