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.”

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