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)

 

Joy

joy

My awakening with baseball came a decade ago, when I read Baseball Between the Numbers, a veritable textbook on analysis collated by Jonah Keri. The subline of the book, Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong, struck me. I’ve long been a person who thrives on challenging convention. A contrarian by nature, I often follow a path of dissent to a fault. Whether in writing, debate, taste – I have been fueled by having a unique opinion. This existed within me until right around the same time I read the aforementioned book. I remember the moment, listening to whatever metal-mathcore bullshit I was pretending to love at the time. “Do I even like the Dillinger Escape Plan?” I thought, driving in my car, wearing my Dillinger Escape Plan hoodie.

Learning that many of the narratives people pass around about baseball are inherently false changed my perspective on the game in a permanent fashion. It shaped my voice when I wrote about baseball, it opened my eyes when I watched the game. It taught me to view a season from 10,000 feet instead of living and dying by every moment. A 12:40 game on a Wednesday in August has the same impact as opening night. Baseball is cruel, it is emotional, it is beautiful. It is also, above anything else, exactly linear for 162 games. I viewed, and still view, baseball with the mind of an analyst, formed by that book and everything I consumed immediately after. Sometimes that comes across as people thinking I don’t enjoy the game, or that I’m a pessimist. It’s not the case.

I met my wife in 2005, during the time I was spreading my fair share of controversial takes around the music industry as an album reviewer. She is a radiant woman with a smile and laugh that consumes your soul and warms your heart. I fell in love immediately, as does virtually everyone else who spends more than 30 seconds with her. At the time, my analytical mind manifested itself in the form of practicality. Part of this was being a broke college student, part of this was a comfort in my own bubble. My wife is a woman of adventure. I was a man of familiarity. I didn’t want to travel, I didn’t want to eat out. I liked what I liked. Comfort was contentment, and contentment was happiness. I didn’t realize how wrong that kind of happy was until she broke me down.

Over the years of our relationship, I now find joy in more aspects of life than I ever imagined possible. I’ll eat anything, travel anywhere, and take any opportunity to celebrate. It doesn’t always come easy, as there’s still remnants at my core that push back with anxiety. I fight through them, and the result is an unbridled, relentless sense of self-worth and content, with my wife at the core of it all. My job, my friends, my travel, my friendships. My brothers here at Dome and Bedlam. These words. In it all, joy.

I choose joy because the opposite is horrific. I have seen my closest friends shattered by life events. Marriages failed, families wrenched apart. I have watched my wife lie next to her best friend, whispering goodbye days before her death from an inoperable brain tumor at age 27. Still, I have experienced a fraction of the tormented sadness and depression that many have. Sadness is devastating and unavoidable.

And yet, we carry on, rooting for a baseball team that has playoff potential, which means they have World Series potential. For some, they find their joy in hoping that potential becomes a reality. I, with them, share the same sentiment. It may manifest differently, as I view the team with an analytical eye and see outcomes a little worse than many of my friends and peers. I will root with every fiber of my being to be wrong about the 2017 Mariners. I want them to be better than the .500 team I currently project them as. I want so deeply to add success from the Mariners to my ever-growing sources of joy. I will experience it, along with everyone else, in waves throughout this year. There is no schadenfreude when the Mariners fail. It is simply familiar and comfortable. I am sick of it. I want adventure, and I want exuberance.  I want it in more than bursts. I want from the Mariners what I get from my wife. Together, we’ll lament, complain, and languish. We will laugh about the failures. We will celebrate the success. We will choose to be happy, because to do otherwise is too easy, and makes life too hard.

If it all goes right

Just this one time, with meaning

I once heard that the way to experience true happiness is to picture the precise moment you fell in love with the object, idea, or person in question. Not the month, the week, day, but the moment. You see, these instances are important for contemplation and deep focus because they, just as our very lives, are fleeting. We often speak of a limited time on Earth, but what we rarely discuss, because it gnaws at our very core, is that the processing power of our mind is also limited in both ability and duration. I am doomed to suffer the same, eventual memory loss of my grandparents, their grandparents, even my mother and father. Those memories, those moments where we fell in love, eventually they will be wiped away, replaced or simply lost. For me, the moment I fell in love with the Seattle Mariners, I can still feel it.

On October 6th, 2000, I was in a car, the same car I still drive, a 1993 Toyota Landcruiser, with my dad, waiting in the midday Sun to go and get a haircut. Delaying our appointment because the Mariners were on the radio and about to sweep the Chicago White Sox. I loosely knew the characters associated with the 2000 M’s. There was Edgar, Dan the Man, A-Rod, Guillen, Rickey Henderson, Charles Gipson, Kaz, Freddy, Cammie, and others. The names were mostly all I had. That team won 91 games. I hadn’t processed joy, yet. Maybe I still haven’t really gotten down to it even to this day. Yet, I do know, that the moment I fell in love with the Seattle Mariners was right about here:


So it makes sense that between then and now, love has changed its course. Between then and what we all witnessed tonight, there was a dynasty built, torn apart, and then stones thrown at the rubble. Weeds scatter the remains, some spring and summer flowers grow there. We came to know the Mariners amongst a pile of failed prospects, half-season hype-trains, Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley promotion and demotions, losing Adrian Beltre, and Felix Hernandez. It hasn’t been until rather recently, from 2014 to now, that anything has stirred those feelings of true, unbridled love. Sometimes, we just need a reason to believe.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the relevance of the Mariners has coincided with the tenure of Robinson Cano. It’s no mistake that everything simply feels different with him in teal. And in 2017, he didn’t disappoint. We all knew that in order for this to work, Robi would have to bear a large burden. Yet, he made it look so easy. If we thought 2016 was the final chapter in the MVP-career of Cano, we were dreadfully wrong, and we needed him to prove us wrong. There he was, double into right-center after double. He was relentless and his partnership with the powerful Jean Segura was likely the most entertaining double-play combo the franchise has ever seen. That Cano smile never left all season, and why would it have? I still remember the exact moment I fell in love with him, too.

The rest we saw coming, James Paxton led a rotation featuring a junk-balling Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma riding off into the sunset. The bullpen was terrifying, both in its volatility and use of relative unknowns. It felt like almost every night someone new was throwing a high leverage eighth. Nelson Cruz kept his magic intact for one more season with another 40-homer year and the outfield defense was good enough to make up for their issues at the plate. What we didn’t account for, and maybe never should have as fans of the Seattle Mariners, was a rather large dash of luck.

It wasn’t hard, back in April, to see this team making the playoffs, you could even see 90 wins. What was worrisome was the other side of the coin. Just as simply one could see 90 losses. But, we never account for luck as fans of the team that until today, had the longest active postseason drought. We’ve been through this before. We’ve heard the hype only to have every single wheel come off the rails. We remember 2010, 2015, 2008. Think back on all the walkoffs in August. The O’Malley bleeder down the right field line, the Segura grand slam in Houston, Haniger stealing home to beat the Royals. Remember Zunino’s three home run game? Now, we’ll remember the exact moment we fell in love with playoff baseball again.

Looking back on it, it makes sense that the Seattle Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card Game. It makes sense that three AL West teams made the playoffs, and one of them, this time, was the Mariners. You see, you start to learn something about love as time goes on. That it’s more adult than you’d care to admit. That loving a sports team is full of rage and intensity, grace, silence, echoes, they come together if you’ll let them in. That, like loving another person, when something is out of your own control, you cope in different ways. You buy in further and further, rejection drives you deeper and deeper. And that when love is so lopsided that it destroys you, and you have to keep mortgaging yourself to keep it alive, that one day, Leonys Martin changes everything. He makes you fall in love, again.


That’s what we all saw again tonight. Leonys, playing for the team that finally made him feel welcomed, like he belonged, and in the midst of one of the worst slumps of his career, took an 8th inning Matt Bush curveball ten rows deep. It was a bit of that same magic he seemed to possess in 2016, that one night in May. A call back to a time that feels so long ago, but so new again. A roofless Safeco almost fell to the ground. Those old, wrinkled gods of baseball long ago heard us in their sleep. Felix watched as his seven inning, two-run gem was finally, thirteen years later, made good. Edwin Diaz closed a ninth I don’t think I felt a single moment of. I’m still numb. The love I feel has shaken my bones of their feeling.

I don’t want to feel, either. Perhaps that is the most important aspect of love in the moments you find it. At the same time you are both completely full and void of feeling, of regard or care. There is only this moment, this person, this being that you love. The Seattle Mariners, at some point in the next several hours, will fly to start a Divisional series in Boston. Felix, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Paxton, and Leonys all will be beaming. But that doesn’t matter. Tomorrow doesn’t matter.

Simply this moment does.

Episode 4: Shannon Drayer is right, and we are wrong

Episode 4 is brought to you by Friend of the Podcast Kyle Rancourt and his donation in goods equal to $4.87 Thank you Kyle.

710 ESPN beat writer, radio stalwart, and midwestern fast food devotee Shannon Drayer joins the show to talk Mariners (yes actual baseball this time. Well, Spring Training baseball), cheese curds, life on Twitter, and more.

(Music credits: Run the Jewels, Johnny Cash)

A View Far Removed

Tampa Bay Rays at Seattle Mariners

Like most kids in junior high, my life’s ambition was narrow. I wanted to be famous, and I wanted to talk about sports. I was a comically skinny kid who played everything but wasn’t particularly good at anything. My talent was knowledge, reciting the stats of a Chris Mullin card or explaining the infield fly rule to my friends. I spent my pre-driving years huddled up next to my Sanyo boombox to listen to whatever was on KJR for hours upon hours. The rotating hosts of the evening would fire out take after take, and listeners would follow suit. Eventually I got the courage to call in, swiping the house’s cordless phone to wait for an hour on hold, all to squeak out my opinion on Sonics basketball to surprisingly patient and courteous hosts. I’d dutifully turn my Sanyo down while on the air, but record the segment on a cassette tape and listen to it over and over again as soon as I hung up. I would cringe over my mistakes, my voice, and what I knew was a two-minute long eye roll from the thousands that heard me wax not-so-poetic on Hersey Hawkins. A week later, I’d sit on hold again, vowing to be better.

Fifteen years later, it’s the summer of 2013, and I’m staring at my inbox. I’d been in charge of Lookout Landing for a few months, and a radio station in Oregon wants me to go on the air as a guest and talk about the Mariners. They came to me, a perceived lifetime after I wanted them. Maybe they think I’m an expert, or maybe they’re desperate to fill time. It doesn’t really matter to me. I look up the station online. It’s a tiny building in a tiny town in the middle of the state. I try to find a way to record the segment, but there’s no way to listen online. I call in, listening to commercials about agriculture fairs and high school pancake feeds before it’s my time to play the professional. My eyes are wide.

There’s been a few radio spots now, and the format and line of questioning becomes familiar. There’s a hot take mentality brewing inside me, and one day Eric Wedge says something I find to be very silly. I feel a wave of passion take over me and feel it is my very duty to unleash my takes all over LL. I pound the keyboard for an hour, skewering Wedge with what I can now only surmise was a decidedly arrogant tone. All I can think about is giving readers what they want, finally winning them over. I scan over what I’ve written. It’s the piece I wanted. Forceful, clear. I hit publish and wait. Within an hour I feel a deep, sickening sense of regret. Half of what I’ve published is a gross exaggeration, an indignant and arrogant chest-thumping pile of shit. I swallow down my lump and stand behind it with as much bravado as I pumped into it.

My staff at Lookout Landing is growing, and now there’s a contingent of eight to ten writers who contribute on a regular basis. Communication is good, everyone fills a role, and I start to let some of the weight of responsibility fade off my shoulders. I don’t have to write every day. I trust every staff member implicitly and allow everyone to publish without approval. My management approach is to let everyone write whatever they are most passionate about, whatever that might be. I’ll fill in the gaps. The directive is to be inspired, and the very best work will come of it. Content is good. The readers seem at peace with a new direction of many different voices. I’m starting to settle in. I’ve also started down a path of forgetting my own advice regarding inspiration.

Months later, it’s now a much larger group of writers, and the management side is becoming harder than the commitment of writing. There’s a tough moment in which a change in staff has to occur, and the reaction is ugly. I sit back helplessly and watch my tiny corner of the world burn for a night or two as laundry is aired. It haunts me for months. I come to grips with not being able to universally win with Lookout Landing, ever. It’s a fate I choose to accept and move on. Scars are left.

It’s the first offseason as managing editor, and I’m settled into a role of gap-filler, riffing off trade rumors and free agent ideas. There’s an expectation of content that comes from many sources. The expectation becoming a requirement is primarily a product of guilt. There’s mornings when I stare at a blank screen for ten minutes, wondering what’s worth saying. I crack my knuckles and bang something out, time and time again. Sometimes I’m proud of what I write. Sometimes I am not. The latter grows with alarming frequency. I realize just how difficult offseasons are.

Year two is underway, and I take a vacation to Chicago to see a game at Wrigley Field. I write an article about the beauty and simplicity of a game at Wrigley, and it makes a few rounds. A friend texts me and says he heard my article referenced on the Mariners broadcast that night. I get to a computer, pull up the archives, and navigate around until I find the moment. Rick Rizzs is talking about Wrigley. Aaron Goldsmith mentions an article on Lookout Landing about it, and ties it into the conversation. I’m smiling from ear to ear. He then mentions me by name.

I break down in front of my wife.

The summer rolls on, and the weekly cycle of running Lookout Landing is relentless. The wiki document staff uses to plan out content for the week is full of days that are void of anything but recaps. Writers come and go with a quicker frequency than ever before, and there’s a pattern I grow accustomed to. Hire, train, #content, fade, remind, #content, fade, disappear. My management style of allowing artistic freedom often results in brilliance from a group of talented writers, but it also results in large gaps of dead space when inspiration is low. I consider setting requirements on posts, but the thought of playing bad cop makes my scars burn red. I vent my frustrations privately. I feel pressure to churn out better content, but I’ve been writing nothing but spin pieces on bullpen roles shifting and utility outfielders getting demoted that my voice and identity has faded into the ether. Who am I, as a writer? Am I just a manager now? Is what I’m doing giving me any fulfillment?

I’m asked to go on 710 ESPN in Seattle twice, and I self-record both of them. I listen back time and time again, and have only mild criticisms. Radio hits are a relative breeze now, and I feel little to no nerves, even on a large stage. Trade reactions and hot takes are what get the appearances, and I’m loving the attention. My role at the site is now almost completely opinion-based articles and behind-the-scenes management, which is often hands-off until things go south. I’m tired, but feel pride that I haven’t sank the ship.

The Mariners are making a push for the playoffs, and I go to Europe for three weeks. Nathan handles my duties while I’m gone, and is in for a surprise at the amount of planning, organizing, and writing that goes into running Lookout Landing. I check out completely. I don’t miss it even a little.

The next six months are full of extended stints of sleepwalking. I often feel like I’m going through the motions, and I rarely write anything I’m happy with. We do several collaborative projects that staff works hard on, and they fall flat on the site. It feels like the great content, the things we are truly proud of, gets buried while my spin pieces, full of opinions I’m not entirely confident in, get all the comments and clicks. I’m essentially writing nothing but the latter, and I’m on the radio every week. My career changes, and I’m no longer working from home. I’m standing outside my office in freezing weather, live on the air in Spokane at 10am, trying to suppress my chattering teeth.

There’s a deep sense of conflict. I’m so very proud of what I’ve managed to patch together over the years, and my ego is still thriving off a steady diet of moderate notoriety. I know I’ll never have a bigger stage to write at. I know this is as close as I’ll ever get to living out my childhood dream. I’m not close to the most talented writer on my staff, and I don’t have ambitions to make writing a full-time career, so I’m not doing the necessary Twitter engagement and hobnobbing to carve the path. I’m two years in, and I’m burned out. I know the amount of work that it takes to get the opportunities I crave is more than I’m willing to give. I know that the level of effort I put in from 2013-2014 is as much as I’ll ever be able to offer. I write up a resignation letter to the powers that be. It sits, saved as a draft for six months.

I couldn’t just walk away from this platform, could I? People would kill for the stage I’d been given, and I knew I was very fortunate to land in the spot that I did when there were hundreds more deserving. But my conflict started to turn to peace, and my worries about meeting expectations morphed into a sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t an opportunity anymore. It was a real thing, a thing I did to the best of my abilities and a thing I was tired of doing. I knew the best days were behind me. I was done. And so I left. I left after I was 100% sure. I said I would still be around on the site when I posted my resignation, but I didn’t believe it when I wrote it. And close to two years later, I haven’t been around at all.

I didn’t know how done I was until I stopped. I didn’t read much of Lookout Landing for the rest of 2015, even though the writers were, and are, close friends who will be a part of my life forever. I didn’t watch much baseball. The weight of responsibility was lifted off my mind, but the imprint still sat like memory foam. I wanted to come back and write, but I had nothing to say. I thought it would return in 2016, but it didn’t. Over the years, I lost my voice in the sea of news stories, trade rumors, and recaps. I only wanted to write again if inspiration returned. I wasn’t sure if it ever would. I don’t know if it will come again.

Today, inspiration is here. Tomorrow is tomorrow.

It grows back stronger

The time of year beckons the Sun to shine. The buds on the bush and tree alike are waiting, the birds, too. Here and there it comes but goes. The Sun gives us that preview of the good, simple times in waiting. Of those Summer months where Baseball reigns upon us like the holy waters of those long-ago rivers. Of green trees and greener grass and blue skies. Of nights like perfumes left alongside an expansive spice road. That Sun is an ancient marker. I, and you, as well, have been waiting.

There’s something to be said here about that waiting time. About those spacious moments of breath that Baseball uniquely affords. Spring is known as a time of cleaning, of righting the wrongs of Winter’s long embrace. So, too, we turn to hardball to make us clean again, perhaps now more than ever. I’m not entirely comfortable with the waiting, though. And I’m not entirely sure these words will ring true to you, but there’s this sort of comfort in looking into the middle distance. I know that in these times I find myself now in, running myself ragged trying to make ends meet future beginnings, that I lose myself in that middle distance. It’s where I go to comfort myself. To just feel nothing for once. But, just maybe, that space isn’t what makes Baseball special at all. I think it’s those moments of terror that punctuate the hazy middle distance. The terror is what defines us.

I’ve found that one of the truths of my own existence is that all people of all creeds and colors have battles to fight. The question isn’t in the binary, it’s more a question of how many wars you are willing to wage to make yourself clean. To forge yourself takes the constant dusting one self off. Baseball, just as Time, makes fools of us all. You will fall flat on your face, be made a fiddle in another’s play, and the whole world will see. If you are willing to bare your soul in this way, to prepare your hands for battle, your fingers for war, you will not ultimately win. You will one day fall for the last time. All you can do is simply earn yourself another contest. And another. And one yet again. That’s what life is about. The one-hundred and sixty-third game. There is nothing else but the horizon.

How many battles are you willing to fight?

We’ve reached that time of year where baseball fans are stir crazy enough to care about practice. Simply hearing a ball meet bat, or a ground ball fielded correctly, is enough to spike our interest. It’s because of a return to routine. It reminds us of brighter days ahead. Perhaps we read too much into it. I know in my current mode, I still need a break from baseball. There’s too much pain intermingled in it for me to touch it now.

Yet, I’d like to say one thing about practice. Spring Training, for all that it is not, is absolutely a display of the work behind the work. If there’s one thing to take from the games now being played in Arizona or Florida, it’s that there’s plenty more work to be done. This isn’t true just for the twenty-five men who will represent the Hometown Nine. It’s for you, too. To reach the joyous part of summer, you need to work harder. There is no offseason.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure if these words are more for you or for me. They are ill designed and sporadically scribbled down. Yet, they are the words now pounding in my head. In my heart, maybe even more so. These are the manic phrases of a man driven mad by his own shortcomings. They are the angry ramblings and rumblings of the embers being blown back to life. The reason that we collapse upon ourselves in moments of pain. Because that is how the higher metals are fashioned by stars. I am the bastard grandson of the first fusion. I turn dust to gold. This is the moment before the storm. The next wave is coming. We brace for battle. For Spring and Summer. This is for the moments that the Sun will soon show clear. This is the time to do your worst. I bet you didn’t know I was a savage.

This is for those faithless who turn the other way when the road becomes dark. For the haters and the critics who’ve all seen better, but never done it themselves. This if for those who shook my hand but wish me dead. For them who broke bread with me only to poison my cup. Who believe they feel the pressure when I know the pressure. I write these words for those who think I don’t see but I do. I know what you’ve done. For the leeches who need my body to live. The ones who work behind my back. You shoulda got your weight up. This is the reason I’m not smiling. Because you forgot my life is a constant live-fire exercise. That if you want it bad enough you had to give something for it. This is because you’re too scared to look in the mirror. Too weak to play injured. Too afraid to sacrifice. For the snakes in the grass. I’m gonna get my hacks in. Thanks for the reminder.

These are the words to remind yourself that when you’re cut down, you grow back stronger. That when you fall again, you have the same choice again.

Rise.

Spring nears to make fools of us all. The Sun has marked its path. For 162 games and the rest of your life. It’s about to get very real. I hope you’ve done your work. Sharpen me. I did mine. I’m still doing mine. I’ll show you how great I am.

Let’s play some ball.