I think one of the most comforting things about Baseball for a large number of fans is that it’s pretty much always the same. Almost every team ends the season within about a 20% margin of wins. The difference between a good year and a bad year can be as small as five or so outcomes out of one-hundred and sixty-two. You can sort of float in the space that Baseball exists in, if you so care. You can take a week off, think about something else between the innings. The time for time away is allotted for. Perhaps, this is the most appealing aspect of being a fan of the Seattle Mariners. They’ve taught us the true value of Baseball. It’s sort of all the same.
This maybe has been part of the problem, too, of being a Seattle Mariners fan. Perhaps the recent years of yo-yoing around 81 wins has lulled us all to sleep. We often talk of the doldrums before Jack Z took over, but the Mariners have yet to surpass the 88 wins of 2007 since. Yes, in contrast to early parts of the playoff drought, the recent success of 2014 and 2016 makes the team feel relevant, feel on track, but there were other times, too. This is likely how we all felt in 2007, like everything was coming together. Watching Ichiro, Miguel Bautista, JJ Putz, Felix, and Beltre succeed with a young Adam Jones ready to make 2008 the year we made it back. It’s easy to remember how poorly it all went.
For it all to go right, this organization needed outside circumstances to dictate a change of direction. They needed a drastic and obvious disparity between themselves and the teams actually competing for a championship. Something no fan could deny. Last year they could name injury as the cause of incompetence. The year before, they were simply a few games from postseason play. In 2015, a World Series favorite sputtered out of the gates and never caught asphalt. In 2014, a world-beating Felix Hernandez almost single-handedly willed his team into postseason contention. All along, the core became older and older, and while we weren’t looking behind us, the window shut a little bit more. This year, ten games out of a wildcard spot by mid July, they were finally forced into confronting their own reality.
Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia both remained injured enough to allow Ichiro a final season. Felix was never totally lost, but made it clear he’s never going back to being an ace. Kyle was Kyle. Cano had lost a step and Segura’s injuries followed him through the season as well. The pitching was what we thought it would be. Rough innings meant a bullpen, short David Phelps for the entire season, had to mop up too often in the fifth inning and on. There were too many big innings by the opposition. There was too much Taylor Motter for this team to ever be in it. Too much Andrew Moore. Too much not enough.
Perhaps the most encouraging moment was the announcing of the extension of Jerry Dipoto in late June. The organization finally put its foot in the ground and declared a direction, despite the poor product on the field. We all could guess what was coming next. The inevitable trades of Nelson Cruz, James Paxton, and an on fire Edwin Diaz seemed written on the wall for a team who looked so clearly out of it. There would be no catching the Astros, Cleveland, New York. Boston and the Angels and the Twins all showed superiority at the outset and never looked back.
There were fun moments though. There was Dee Gordon robbing Aaron Judge at the wall by the Pen. The Ichiro walkoff against Cleveland in the opening series. The Zunino grand slam against the Giants. Haniger’s torrid August. Daniel Vogelbach started the season right where he left off in Spring. Yet, we all knew none of the results from this particular season would weigh much in a decade’s time. No, what we hope to remember are the flashes of lights from the farm. Kyle Lewis finally started playing baseball again, and well. Sam Carlson put together an almost-full season and Evan White looks to have knocked the ceiling off his power tool. The players traded for at the deadline have to be encouraging, too.
For the first time in a very long time there is a tomorrow for this team, not simply a today. Perhaps this is what we’ve been lacking as Seattle Mariners fans. Something that our minds can reach out towards, instead of clinging on tightly to. No longer does the future feel precarious. It feels boundless and unencumbered by expectation or old age or poor health. No longer must we squint through an offseason, wondering which player could add that final piece to a roster that looks more and more like a puzzle missing pieces with every passing year.
I can remember the first time I watched Michael Pineda pitch in a meaningless Spring Training game. I remember the feeling of unknown possibility. Instead of living in the world of “ifs”, these young players give us the world of “what ifs”. They take us away from the tragedies of the past, of the sameness of nearly two decades without a playoff game. Without the gravity that baseball can provide. These young players, these future beings allow us to cast our minds forward to an age-old call, “The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship.” The idea that someday we could hear that phrase again.
It’s funny how some words when you say them enough start to sound funny out loud.