James Paxton threw a no-hitter, and is still nicer than you

On the Mariners newest ace pitcher

1. This is a story of tears. Not mine, certainly. I was raised with the tired and foolish notion that tears show weakness. My emotions can get plenty stirred, but years of that foolish notion have dug a pretty deep pit for me to keep them, so it takes quite a bit of turbulence to get them so agitated and bubbly that they actually come out. When James Paxton threw the sixth no-hitter in Mariners history last night, I silently put my arms over my head. My wife patted me on the shoulder, and said congratulations. Then we went back to our game.

It’s not about your tears, either, and I don’t say that as a rebuke. There are approximately fifty million things about our world today that could bring a person to tears, and almost all of them also require us to avoid that actual release of emotion. They require us to protect ourselves. Baseball’s beautiful, simple stories provide a wonderful exception to that, and if you found yourself with wetness trickling down your face while watching Paxton and his teammates jump up and down on the mound well congratulations you’ve found a way to use sports in a potentially healthy manner. I’m envious, really.

But still, the tears in focus here, the ones that purchased last night’s history, are those of a kid in his backyard in British Columbia. He’s a pudgy guy, one of those kids on the playground who becomes “it” in tag and can never catch a classmate, growing increasingly red, sweaty, and embarrassed as they remain forever just out of reach until he either quits, or the bell frees him.

He’s in the backyard, and he’s running, and he’s tired.. He wants to play sports, and he’s committed to get in better shape. His mother, watching all this play out in front of her, goes out to tell him “James, honey, you can come inside. That’s enough.” But he stays, and he runs, and he hates it, and he’s crying. When I think about that kid, and his tears, and flash back to last night, and this:

Pax No no

Well let’s say a better man would at this point add his tears to the party. I won’t, but I get mighty close.

2. I’m the jackass who, years back, in an effort to make up a nickname equal parts catchy and biting, coined the “Dadgut” term for James. Over time I’ve realized how insecure James may have been about his non-typical for an a professional athlete physique, and the very real harm in the idea of body shaming. James may never have heard that nickname, and he almost definitely won’t read this but still, James, I’m sorry for that. That was wrong of me.

3. It’s hard to define when exactly the listening/viewing experience of a no-hitter goes from the casual, background noise of another evening at home to “holy shit everyone shut up no I will not turn it down go play in your room”, but in this case it was exactly when Kyle Seager threw out Kevin Pillar.

The impressive thing isn’t the stop. It’s not that the ball was hissing and spinning and hopping like a demon on that hateful turf, actually getting past Seager before he snatched it out of nowhere like Rose’s sister the bomber pilot grabbing the detonator at the beginning of The Last Jedi. It’s not even really the throw either, which he accomplished without pausing to even look at first base, trusting that a decade of fielding hundreds of groundballs every day had built in the necessary motor memory to make actually seeing his target an unnecessary indulgence. No, for me, the most amazing thing about that play is what happens between the stop and the throw.

Do me a favor here, and go lay on your stomach, and stretch one arm above your head. Are you doing it? I don’t know how if you’re reading this still but if so thank you. Now, I want you from that position to see how long it takes you to stand up and be ready to do something else.

Did you do it? Wow you’re very compliant I’ll ask for your social security number next time. Anyway, the point here is neither Seager’s stop nor his throw matter at all if he doesn’t exert some incredible, kung-fu Matrix-level nonsense getting from one to the other in the time it takes to snap your fingers. In Seattle we’re spoiled by third base greatness but given the context game situation and speed of runner that is just about as fine a play as you’ll see a third baseman make.

Seager said afterward if the ball had gotten past him he wouldn’t have been able to sleep, because Kyle Seager’s mechanism for greatness is not a press towards success, but an eternal, endless-runner style flee from failure. We are sympatico in that way. I love Kyle Seager.

4. As an American in 2018 the idea of national pride is a thing I view with increased cynicism. We are a nation in many ways at war with ourselves over who are, and who we want to be. As such the concept of being the first Canadian to throw a no-hitter on Canadian soil in the major leagues is an achievement difficult for me to fully grasp. The sight postgame of Paxton looking into the crowd, pointing at his maple leaf tattoo, was something I would and do scoff at when I see Americans do similar things. Perhaps patriotism is something best experienced from the perspective of an outside observer, because this, this felt pretty damn cool to see. The crowd loved it, James loved it, I loved it.

5. As he continues to write what is increasingly becoming a story very worth telling, the tale of James Paxton is going to come back to the first half of 2016, and a start in San Diego when he got hit to hell. 3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 8 R is not the kind of line you point to and say “that’s the birth of a star,” but it was. Paxton struck out seven, and walked one. His delivery, once a confused mishmash of half ideas and awkward pauses and springs, was smooth and unencumbered. His arm slot was slightly lower. His command was improved, and oh by the way, the threw one hundred miles an hour now.

Since that time, the only thing that has stopped James Paxton from being one of the ten best starting pitchers alive has been health. He has taken everything, the bad nicknames from bad bloggers, the speculation that he profiled as a reliever, the arduous journey from the University of Kentucky to the big leagues, losing out on a rotation spot at the beginning of 2016, and he has done what aces do. He has shoved. He has shoved, and so far this year the Mariners have shoved right along with him. He stands now as one of the American League’s best pitchers, fully formed, a looming terror for any opponent every fifth day. He has thrown a no-hitter. He has bought it all with tears, seen and unseen, and no one can touch him now.

Go M’s. Go James.



So, what are you gonna do today?

The season asks you to walk a path, every day. More often than not, your travels will be simple enough. Whether uphill or down, the slope will be gentle, and you’ll walk it pleasantly enough. Your view will be a landscape filled with outs, hits, wins, and losses that, while all unique, are similar enough to keep you feeling mostly safe. You may have started these walks seeking something else entirely, perhaps you don’t know exactly what, but inevitably you’ll find these ever so slightly different features provide you comfort, and that comfort maybe has crept its way into your reasons for doing this. Maybe it has, over time, even become the reason.

It is important to remember, during these peaceful times, that the season is still in fact an unexplored wilderness. Eventually, without fail, you will find a path like yesterday’s; one you had never seen before. You will wonder as it offers a series of breathtaking vistas, gorgeous waterfalls, and exotic wildlife beyond description. You’re going to get caught up in it, rushing heedlessly forward, every bend and turn bringing a fresh, thrilling, historical strikeout. Your parents, your ancestors, will have told you of sights like these, but oral history is but a roughewn cave painting compared to ocular reality, and you’re finally seeing something you’re going to pass down to your children, and you look down and you’re running now, careless, heedless of all caution. The endless beauty and thrill of discovery provides a rapturous ecstasy, and you will inhale it deeply.

Then, the bridge will go out, and you will find yourself falling. Unlike everything else about these adventures, in a fall the key part is really the distance traveled. During this day’s excitement you had, without realizing it, pushed higher and higher into the wilderness. Your fall is going to be a long one. It is going to hurt.

Back home, you’ll nurse your wounds, apply your poultices, and drink your tonics. You’re going to be despondent with pain both physical and emotional. You’ve injured yourself plenty of times outside, but this one was different. You were close. Close to something special. You could feel it. It may have just been on the other side of that bridge.

A flicker of doubt will flash. Was it real? Or had you just imagined it in your joy? The pain from that fall is real enough. Yes, that’s a reality you won’t question for some time. You will lay yourself to bed that night, a mixture of confusion and hurt.

Tomorrow, you will wake up, still sore. You will look out your window. You will see there’s a path you have never walked before. It’s probably just another one of those comforting strolls, and that will sound pretty nice after yesterday. But, you’ll let yourself think, maybe it’s not. Maybe you didn’t imagine whatever you were close to before that bridge broke. Maybe this is an alternate route! Maybe, maybe there’s something even better out there.

All the season asks is, go find out.

Breakfast & Biz 4/30/18 – Palm Trees and Sand

well, hot damn

With the Mariners at 16-11, and finishing a road trip bludgeoning one of the American League’s hypothetically best teams two days straight, I am in the unfamiliar situation of having to choose which really exciting thing about the team to focus on this morning. What an odd, strange, and frankly mildly uncomfortable situation. Ah well, we press on.

For the rest of the 2018 season, April is exactly what this team needed. They have survived injury and a bizarre schedule with a combination of luck and a maelstrom of massive dingers. The starting pitching has not been great, and will not be great, but the back end of the bullpen, particularly Edwin Diaz, has been dynamic. Having to beat a professional baseball team over nine innings is very difficult. Having to beat them over seven innings, and then turning the last two into an awe-inspiring ritual of human sacrifice to the god of Edwin Diaz’s Velocity, is slightly easier.

If you’re a schmuck like me who wants more out of the Mariners than one final season of Wild Card contention before slipping back into the muck of .500-dom, April also had plenty to offer for 2019 and beyond. The Mariners offense has bashed, and done so with balanced contributions from many players with years of theoretical prime performance left. Mitch Haniger, Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, and even much-maligned (by me!) Marco Gonzales have been key contributors to the season’s enjoyable first month.

Above it all, is a refreshing return to the Mariners having what may just be a superstar on their hands. While this franchise has very little experience with winning, it has been rich with individual players performing at the game’s very highest level. Mitch Haniger is not to that point yet, and his utter lack of charisma is regrettable, but in the six months he has been in Seattle, he has hit like one of the game’s finest hitters in half of them. His April was a masterclass in approach, power, and overall acumen. If he is anything remotely close to this for the rest of the year, the Mariners have indeed found their next great star. That, that would be very fun.

So, there it is. One month of good baseball. It’s important to contextualize here. The team has surpassed most expectations for a month, and the reward is a hypothetical win or go home game in New York as the second wild card. When people say things like “best Mariner April since 2009” or “This reminds me of the start of 2016” well, those are both seasons that ended, like all the rest, without playoff baseball in Seattle.

But, it’s not the time for that. Today’s an off day. The Mariners are 16-11. They are hitting their ass off. But they still have a run differential of -2. The starting pitching is one injury away from likely catastrophe. There is plenty of reason to think it could be a blip; just a lucky few weeks where things broke their way. But in the desert, every oasis seems a mirage, until you’re so close you put your head down and take a long, deep drink.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/27/18 – Something Like Hope

Closer. clooooooserrrrrrr…….

Every year has a moment where you let yourself dream. For Mariner fans, in many years that moment is before the first game. Some years, like 2014, we get to hope late into September, and we have learned to cherish that experience, that team.

While it’s a fickle alchemy that leads to a person’s hope, in the end I believe it’s a personal choice, and nothing more. Logic, reason, emotion, past experience, and personal attachment are all factors in that choice, but we decide how to measure them, and when to cook with them.

I still don’t really believe in the 2018 Mariners. They have beaten up on the worst the AL has to offer in the White Sox, Rangers, and Royals. They are 6-2 in one run games, and seemingly haven’t experienced a single tough loss this year. They still can’t really pitch, and while the offense is as fun and deep as any they’ve had this decade, it remains old and injury prone.

But, they’re 14-10. That 6-2 one run record is largely attributable to the very real possibility that Edwin Diaz is evolving into ChariDiaz, and is now one of the very best relief pitchers currently playing the game. They are only just yesterday approaching something approximating their penciled in every day lineup. They have survived some adversity. Lucky? You bet. But luck and skill count exactly the same in the W-L analysis.

I’m not ready to believe in the Mariners yet, but I’m getting closer. It’s fair to say I disbelieve in them less. It’s entirely possible that’s the best experience a baseball team can give its fans; move them from skepticism, and towards trust. Closer to embracing, trusting, maybe, perhaps, something like loving them.

I don’t love them yet. There is still so much for them to prove to me, and I will always be bitter that the shortcomings they have were easily accounted for and remedied by an ownership actually committed to winning. But I watched Edwin Diaz mow down one of the American League’s best teams last night, and felt something a little bit like love. To be honest, it’s more than I ever expected, and I’m always grateful for that.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/24/18 – Crow Chef Mitch

shut up I don’t want to talk about it

I am, through nature and experience, extremely skeptical of unproven Mariner prospects. Poor Mariner fans are annually put in a situation where every team is excited about someone or something, and as Mariner fans until recently could not convince themselves of the team’s overall quality, we desperately cling to the hope of a Justin Smoak here, a Clint Nageotte there, a Mike Ford seemingly everywhere.

So it’s with that background that I rolled my eyes at Mitch Haniger. He was too old, too little minor league track record, no major league track record. I did what I do with these things; watch the tape, talk to some people, look at the numbers, and said no. This was not the guy Mariner fans wanted him to be. This was more false hope.

I was loud about my doubt last Spring Training, and have been largely paying for it ever since. Last night, in a miserable loss to a miserable White Sox team, Haniger homered for the fourth straight night. He now has a wRC+ of 197. His line of .324/395/.716 looks like something from the Kingdome.

I’m going to double down slightly, and say that Haniger isn’t this good. Hell, almost no one is this good. A month of hitting with a 197 wRC+ is about the peak of even a great player’s ability. But Haniger’s numbers don’t show anything screaming for regression. His BABIP is .313. His K/BB percentages are in line with previously established norms. The only real question at this point is if Haniger can continue to hit the ball as hard as all damn hell when he makes contact. If he does that, and the slugging stays above .600, the Mariners may finally have the under 30, cost controlled six+ win player they haven’t had since Franklin Gutierrez in 2009, and easily their most exciting position player talent since Kyle Seager.

Mitch Haniger is not all that much fun, when he’s not hitting the ball like Mike Trout. Actually now that I think of it neither is Mike Trout. Anyway, Mitch’s next interesting character trait shown will be his first. His uniform sleeves flap around in the breeze like he’s in Little League, and his defense is…….fine? It’s fine. Maybe it’s better than that. The numbers say it is, but I’m a stubborn man and don’t feel like being 100% wrong this morning.

It’s important with this stuff to own up when you’re wrong. I think at this point I got Mitch wrong, and I owe him an apology. He has very politely and blandly stuffed the crow down my gullet. Mitch: I am sorry. You are a good baseball man.

Overall the 2018 Mariners appear to be in a tough spot. They do not have a good starting pitcher, let alone many necessitating an entire rotation. But where Jerry Dipoto’s eyes for arms has largely come up snake eyes, he pried a good player out of the desert in Mitch Haniger. At worst he is a cheap, slightly above average corner outfielder for the next 3-5 years. At best, he’s a hitter the likes of which the Mariners haven’t had at this point in their career in decades. Sucks I had to be wrong, though. I’ll hold that against him for a bit.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/23/18 – The Why

There is no try, there are only 81 HOME GAMES TO COME SEE A LEGEND

The hardest things to write about are the things so plain for everyone to see. Yesterday morning, to make room for the return of Erasmo Ramirez, the Mariners needed to clear a roster spot. The team was carrying five outfielders on their roster. If you consider that in 2017 Austin Romine played more in the outfield than the infield, you could even credibly say they were carrying six.

They all have their uses, save one. You know exactly where this goes. Ichiro is forty-four, and the game has finally passed him by. His bat, conceivably, could pick up to a point of you, Ichiro Defender, being able to semi-soberly deem it passable. But there is no other tool left for him. He is a late-inning defensive substitute in need of a late-inning defensive substitute. The routes are slow, the arm, faded. He is at the end, and because of the deep respect and admiration for him and his career, I have hated being forced to watch it so closely, so intimately.

It should have ended last year, when an Evan Marshall pitch got roped into the seats, and the crowd spontaneously realized this was goodbye, and we rose to pay our respects. We rose to say thank you. It was the right way to end.

Instead, not even this is the end, because the Mariners did not do the sensible thing. They did not do right by Ichiro and let him leave before this fanbase is forced to further turn on him, as an entertaining but breathtakingly flawed team fights to end the longest playoff drought in American sports. No, from wherever the word came, be it Scott Servais, Jerry Dipoto, or a higher power, Ichiro is still here, and Guillermo Heredia is not. Heredia is the Mariners best left fielder, I am all but convinced. He gets to spend a few weeks in Tacoma, and wonder why. His teammates will wonder the same, as seniority and deference to experience last in a major league clubhouse exactly as long as you’re able to help a team win.

This script was written the moment the Mariners brought Ichiro back, and it has not deviated. There is no happy ending, beyond perhaps one last clutch single at home. Then, inevitably, the farcical nature of this will become too much even for Mariner ownership, and it will end. Ichiro will leave, his playing career in America almost certainly over. The Mariners will carry on, and perhaps make the playoffs or, perhaps, again, miss them by a single game. Everyone; Guillermo Heredia, the team, the fans, maybe even Ichiro, will wonder why.

We’ll all wonder why, while knowing the truth. But we’ll keep searching, because the answer is too obvious, and too painful to arrive at. Best to keep asking: Why?

Go M’s.

Breakfast and Biz 4/20/18 – 10%

Everyone have a beer

It’s always funny watching baseball in April. The catharsis of the game’s return tends to dominate the first week. Soon though, particularly after as contentious an offseason as Mariner fans just experienced, must come the takes. The games count now, and so they must be filled to the brim with meaning.

It is understandable, particularly in a region where recent transplants to the region and/or newer sports fans have largely entered sports fan culture through the NFL, and the Seahawks, where sixteen games is all you get, and a full year’s purpose and effort and cheer and lament has to be packed in.

We are fortunate, then, and would do well to remember, that baseball allows for more space, and more calm. We haven’t quite reached the point where going 0-5 does nothing more than drop his batting average six or seven points, or where a three game losing streak just feels like “a rough patch”, but we’ll get there soon.

Yesterday, the Mariners got destroyed by the Houston Astros, 9-2, after losing 7-1 the day before, and 4-1 the day before that. The fact that rooting for the Mariners to beat the Astros is somewhat analogous to rooting for a 12 seed to beat a 5 in March can be depressing, or frustrating, or really anything you want it to be. The Astros winning the last three days doesn’t change anything. Regardless of record, they were always going to be the more talented of these two rosters by a wide margin. That’s……that’s just the truth.

And that’s ok! The Mariners are 9-8. They have survived injury, largely disastrous starting pitching (Marco Gonzales had by an extremely wide margin his best start of the year yesterday, and did not make it through five innings.), and a bullpen that has, as bullpens always do, crawled afresh from the primordial ooze of April. Like all bullpens it will evolve into its final form sometime around mid-July, and this bullpen has already formed a hell of a giant stinger at the end of its tail.

So, it is with some years spent in this game I tell you, rejoice! The Mariners are 9-8! They are not going to win the division, almost certainly. I don’t know a single Mariner fan who actually believed that they would, so we should be all clear there. While the Mariners have been getting sawed in half by the Astros, the Angels have been getting quartered by the Red Sox, and that is probably the Mariners’ truest inter-division competition for a playoff spot. Nothing anyone has realistically hoped they would be in 2018 has been lost, and in the process I’d add this team has shown it can be pretty damn fun to watch.

Yesterday the Mariners lost, and I went outside. I went for a walk, mowed the lawn, and played with my kids. There have been years when baseball, and more specifically the Seattle Mariners, have played a large part in how I feel on a given day, but those days are past now. It is, of course, verboten to tell others “How to Fan” so I will not do that. I will say, though, that if you enjoy the sun, if you’re fortunate enough to be near family, or if you’ve just felt shut-in the past six months of wind and rain, to maybe just put the game on the radio for a few days, or even maybe not at all.

The Mariners are out there, sure, but they aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be right there, where you left them, anytime you need them. Baseball is a sport wonderfully adaptable to your chosen or needed lifestyle, and will just fill in whatever gaps you choose to leave for it, making for a nice snug fit. I’m going to let it do that this year, and I encourage you to do the same.

Go M’s.