Hail the Viper

Viper

It looks so small, so helpless. To the casual observer its body appears thin to the point of fragility, an overgrown slug that evolution gifted with speed to keep it safe. It sees you, and wraps itself into an incoherent jumble of curves and folds, like nature’s accordion bellows. It is still, closed, and appears overmatched. It is not. It is poised.

Diaz leg kick

What you foolishly thought to be frailness, or smallness, was in fact a perfect killing machine. Like a modern hyper car, every single thing present went through a rigorous examination. Anything that added unnecessary weight or bulk was cast aside. Every muscle, every instinct, every tooth, every scale, was designed with one question in mind: Will this get me fed?

You don’t know it, because in your size and power you mistakenly view yourself as safe, but you are being viewed as prey. The stillness is about to be broken. The perfect balance, the closed position, was all preamble to an explosion unlike anything else in nature. It will come directly at you, and your brain will not register its beginning until well after it has finished.

Viper

It will happen with an acceleration twice beyond the tolerance of the world’s greatest fighter pilots. In less than 0.1 seconds, you are going to experience pain, and your assailant will be gazing at you calmly, ready to inflict more pain. That’s less than an eye blink.

Diaz the Viper

Don’t blink. Hail The Viper.

Choose your ride

An hour or so from posting this Felix Hernandez will step on the hill to face off against Mariner teammate Drew Smyly, and Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. It’s a difficult situation for Mariner fans, particularly those of us born into American citizenship.

About two hours or so before posting this, the University of Washington relieved head men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar of his position after fifteen seasons, six NCAA tournaments, and, most crucially with regards to his firing, a miserable, utterly failed 2016-17 season.

Lorenzo and Felix are tied in my mind, not for their similarities in career, demeanor, or style, but for being extremely loyal to their teams, and the region I am so happy to call home.

Loyalty is, in sports certainly, and maybe in life, overrated as an attribute. A person can carve out a lot of success in business, poker, sports, social gatherings, and other venues by knowing the right time to walk away. If love is something Don Draper invented to sell nylons, loyalty is something Bo Schembechler invented to win football games.

It’s an exploited concept, and thus one we need to be careful to not hold too near to our hearts, or at least do so with an awareness of the pratfalls. Nonetheless both Felix Hernandez and Lorezno Romar inspire loyalty in me, to a degree that almost certainly negates whatever wisdom I just attempted to espouse.

Lorenzo Romar is an alumn of Washington basketball. A man who built a program, the same one where he grew to adulthood, into a national power by harnessing the incredible talent of local boys like Nate Robinson, Jon Brockman, and Brandon Roy. He took it to heights never before seen, ones it probably could not sustain, at least not with him. By most accounts he is not an exceptionally gifted strategist or student of the modern game. By many more accounts, his players love him, and revere the role he played in their lives.

As for Felix Hernandez, what fresh observation can be observed? A man of generational gifts, plopped into the literal and figurative remotest outpost in all of baseball, Felix squandered the best of his talents for awful Mariner teams. The tragedy of his wasted talent was so clear, written so starkly, that almost no Mariner fan would have demonized him had he demanded a trade, or played out his contract to sign with a better franchise, closer to his native Venezuela.

He stayed. He stayed for money, yes, and comfort and familiarity, yes. But he stayed for something more, something beautifully dumb, which is perhaps the best way I can think of to characterize loyalty. Felix stayed for us, and that is something almost no athlete of his caliber had ever done in Seattle, before.

To win basketball games in 2017 and beyond, admittedly its primary function and goal, the University of Washington may have made the right decision in firing Lorenzo Romar. Winning nine games with the potential 1st overall NBA draft pick in your lineup take a special kind of failure, and the program has not felt relevant this decade. I won’t argue anything about the decision. I’ll choose to be sad, though, because Romar is a good man, a man I would have played for, a man I would have been thrilled to win with, but would have also proudly lost for.

Felix Hernandez facing off against my country, with his Mariner teammate on the mound presents clarity that the Romar situation does not. Due to regional proximity I am a Mariner fan, and due to birth I am an American. But as far as baseball goes, as far as sports go, Felix is my King. He is faded, and far from his full glory, but kings rule for life. When he steps on that hill tonight, I hope he throws 95, embarrasses Giancarlo Stanton and co., and roars off the mound like I’ve seen him do so many times in a Seattle uniform. Long live the king.

The process of choosing how and where and why and who we align ourselves with, who we stand behind, is a process adulthood spiders like a rock to a windshield. Clarity is suddenly sent careening off into one of seemingly endless possible, narrow directions, and we can’t know which one to follow. Worse still, we aren’t allowed the time or context to figure it all out. At some point, we have to choose who we ride with, and decide how long we’ll do so, and how to best balance optimization, and love.

I’ll be with Lorenzo for quite awhile, and with Felix til I die. Carve ‘em up, El Rey. Viva Venezuela.

Episode 3: Twitter Q&A with Aaron Goldsmith

(Episode 3 is brought to you by our generous sponsor James from Fresno)

In a desperate attempt to hold off attributing anything resembling meaning to Spring Training baseball Scott, David, and Nathan do nothing but answer your non-baseball questions.

SOMEHOW, the Mariners’ play by play announcer Aaron Goldsmith graciously joins us, to discuss pizza, LaCroix, and so much more*. We are so very grateful to Aaron for his time, and even more so, his patience.

(Music Credits: Kanye West, Josh Ritter)

Episode 2:PECOTA, brakes are out, and Hatin’ on Haniger

0:00-10:00 Episode 2 begins with a thrilling conversation regarding the merits of gin, and David telling us why he’s too cool for non-draft beer. (SPOILER: It’s because he’s a brewer)

10:00-48:00 Mariners PECOTA projections, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dinger.

48:00-1:30:00 Twitter Q&A. We answered a lot of Mariner questions. That was a mistake, and we apologize. It will never happen again.

Music credits: (Barns Courtney, Perfume Genius, Hit the Lights)

(If you like the show, rate us and subscribe on iTunes. If you don’t like it, why are you here?)

Dome and Bedlam Episode 1: Back at it Again

Welcome! Dome and Bedlam 2.0 is a collection of three friends, and former Lookout Landing editors. Scott, Nathan, and David kick off the new era with beer, fWAR over/unders, Twitter Q&A, and David being wrong. We’ll get more adventerous next episode.

Music credits: Rage Against the Machine, Joyce Manor, We Were Promised Jetpacks

(If you like us for some reason, please consider rating and subscribing to the show on iTunes)

Eternity Now

As twenty-one year old newlyweds, my wife and I spent our first year of marriage in a small apartment in Huntington Beach, California. It was not well appointed, it was not fancy. It had those horrific white, slat blinds that are always in various states of missing a slat or two. The interior  was a variety of shades of off white, no doubt the more off the white, the older the paint/flooring/countertop/cabinet. It was in Los Angeles, and had no air conditioner, meaning the windows were constantly open, and the sounds of hundreds of other apartment dwellers’ daily lives were the soundtrack of our existence. We both worked waiting tables. We were poor, stupid, and happy.

The complex stood approximately a mile from the Pacific Ocean, and we would spend our late mornings (once the previous night’s work and drinking had worn off) walking to and from its vast expanse. Looking back I now realize that at twenty-one it’s a near impossibility to know someone well enough to make an informed, lifelong commitment to another human being, and so we spent those walks in many ways getting to know each other.

On one such walk the topic turned to baseball. My wife knew I loved it, and she asked me why.  So I told her the legend of the 1995 Seattle Mariners. I spared no detail, from Ken Griffey’s shattered wrist, Alex Diaz’s three-run home run, and, of course, The Double. On and on I went, losing myself in the memory of how a miserable, success-averse franchise made Seattle a baseball town, by coming back from 14.5 games back in six weeks to capture its first playoff appearance, only to somehow top itself in a five-game divisional series against the Yankees.

As my wife silently half-listened, half-endured my rambling, at one point I stopped. Right there on a busy Los Angeles sidewalk, the smell of the ocean surrounding us, I imitated Dave Neihaus’ call of the moment the team cemented its first playoff appearance:

Randy looks to the skies, and is covered by the Dome and bedlam!”

After a pause, my wife continued walking toward the water. To my relief, she stopped when she reached it.

***

It is the evening of October 1st, 2016, and I am in the air, traveling somewhere between my living room and that sidewalk in LA, twelve years earlier. The 2016 Mariners, a flawed, frustrating but nonetheless talented and joyful team, with a flair for dramatics, have won seven of their last nine games. With a win today, they may pull within a game of the playoffs. It has been fifteen years since the Mariners made the postseason, almost as long as the nineteen-year streak that 1995 team snapped so many years previous.

The Mariners stubbornly rallied from down 4-2, and 7-4 and now in the seventh, with Robinson Cano on first the team’s great slugger, Nelson Cruz, is at the plate. My neighbors are over for dinner. They are not sports fans, and I do my best both to explain why I must watch this game in its entirety, and why they should care. I tell them this is potentially a generational event, something that will reignite the city’s dormant passion for baseball and teach a new generation, my children, to love the game with the same fervor I have never been able to shake.

“This is the guy”, I say.

One swing, and we’ll be tied.”

Cruz swings, the ball takes off, and I see Edgar Martinez taking a Scott Kamieniecki fastball off his belt buckle and putting it into the stands to tie Game 4 of the 1995 Divisional Series. I feel the echoes of that team, now more legend than reality. I leave my seat, and in my excitement, the ground itself. Don’t wear socks on hardwood.

Cruz’s home run tied the game, but an Oakland run in the 8th makes it 8-7, Athletics.  We’re in the bottom of the 8th now, and the first two Mariners are retired. It’s then that the 1995 deja vu begins to pop in my brain with rapidity, as though someone were playing flashcards with my memory.

With two outs, the utterly anonymous Mike Freeman doubles, or is that Joey Cora bunting for a single down the first base line? Two batters later, fellow faceless man Ben Gamel singles, and I see a Ken Griffey Jr. groundball through the middle. The crowd is roaring, is that Safeco or the Dome? The game is tied again, and I am convinced utterly that the 2016 Mariners, the most enjoyable baseball team I have experienced in adulthood, will make the playoffs.

Two innings, and one A’s run later, a Kyle Seager flyball falls with a gentle “thunk” into Jake Smolinski’s glove, and the Mariners are eliminated from the postseason. Felix Hernandez, long the franchise’s best player and totemic figure of this team, of this region’s desperation for success, sits in the dugout, the look of utter helplessness. In spite of all the walkoffs, the smiles, the celebrations, the joy of the 2016 season, it is the image that currently defines the franchise:

 

felix-dugout (Lindsey Wasson / The Seattle Times)

***

In the early autumn of 2017, I held my children as they wept. Baseball did this to them. The Mariners did this to them. My children did not inherit my natural passion for the game of baseball. They are fond of it, they enjoy it. Until this season, they did not love it. It took something like the 2017 Mariners, of 162 games of immense struggle, of battling not only the Astros, Angels, A’s, and Rangers but the last fifteen versions of themselves. It took watching Robinson Cano hit .330, Kyle Seager being an MVP candidate, and Felix Hernandez and James Paxton front-lining a shockingly effective rotation.

More than those things it took the communal obsession and daily, region-wide Mass that only a pennant chase and playoff team can bring. It took a Thursday getaway game in mid-September, being played over the PA in the lunchroom at their school. It took friends on the bus, all wearing team clothing talking about what happened the night before, and what could happen today. It took winning, not so much the satisfaction of victory but the having of something beautiful, that everyone around them, regardless of age, gender, or creed, could agree was something worth being happy about.

So it was that when the 2017 Mariners were eliminated by the Red Sox in six games in the ALCS, they cried. They cried the tears of losing a game, yes, but also the loss of something that over the past six months became a sort of ever present entity, like a friendly ghost. The love of baseball was no longer something to tolerate from dad, or to occasionally play in the front yard. This time, it was real; a connection of team, township, and individual. As I age, I worry less about how long I last, but how long the things I pass down do. This thing now, this baseball, will outlast me.

A week before the end of the regular season we took some savings and splurged on four nice seats, bought on the secondary market at a steep premium, for what we hoped would be the pennant clincher. It was hard, because it had to be. Edwin Diaz walked the first two batters of the ninth, and went to a three ball count on two of the next three. But a popout and a fielder’s choice later we stood together with forty-five thousand others, and there, September 24th, 2017, on a chilly Seattle Sunday afternoon, Edwin Diaz struck out Carlos Santana, and the Mariners won the American League West.

He looked to the sky.