Dog days of fandom

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the western stars, until I die.

In a time where what divides confronts us ever more often, we can still find uniting principles. We all want a good job with good pay, a good friend, a good place to call our own, a good meal in our belly. That’s something we can all agree on. We all want a good life, full of good memories, of a good length. Long enough to do all the good things we want. And as such, something that unites us even moreso is the idea that we want the time we’ve spent doing, well, anything, to have been well spent. Nothing butts up against the human conscience more often than the reality that one day you will run out of time.

As a species, we spend more time figuring out how to cut time than anything else. We figure out “life hacks”, “cooking hacks”, hell, we even hack computers. We hack a device designed to “hack”. We build robots to look like humans to make humans less-necessary, we spend hours thinking of a social media post to make our time seem more valuable. Summarized, our most “successful” friends outwardly seem, more than anything, to spend time well.

As I’ve gotten further and further from my time writing for a Mariners blog this idea has become clearer to me: I could never have covered them entirely objectively. I can’t imagine anyone covering a team could. So much of your time, value, and money is tangled into the web of that team that objectivity must, at some level and subconsciously, be lost.  It conflates into this odd sort of fandom where you begin to unknowingly tie in your own worth with that of a thing over which you have no say. That’s the great difficulty of fandom, the perhaps unattainable, but worthwhile, pursuit of a journalist. How much value do you allow yourself to derive from something that you have zero ultimate control of? For me, the answer has become “less and less”.

This is just to say that, it seems like more every day, this age of extreme convenience and divisiveness has weaponized fandom. We’ve translated the exaggerated Instagram-perfect life into a fandom. It exists only at the most extreme end. If you’re really a fan, you have to feel extremely, positively, and often. There is nothing mundane about cheering for a team anymore. Fandom only posts vacation pictures.

This is where I cannot go anymore. For all the modern conveniences and services technology has afforded us, it, too, has stripped us of many human interactions. In doing so, it has allowed for a blurred line between interacting with other people online under the pretext of “we are both humans” to “we are friends”. This, to me, is where the danger is. There is no denying that as fandom moves more and more into social media platforms, and becomes less and less about being physically at the stadium, we could all use a little more humanity. But what if we’re over-correcting? What if in batting away trolls we have now started to think of total strangers, simply by playing for our favorite team, as friends? One doesn’t need to look too far back to see where that could get you into troubled waters.

Instead of thinking of these people as simply people, we put them on pedestals, and we are only bound to be disappointed. I cannot tell you how many times this year I have felt obliged to begin a player critique with, “I’m sure they’re a good person…” The very fact this phrase exists in the modern lexicon is both a critique on the general atmosphere of this political time and it also speaks to where fandom has gone to. I am entirely sure many, if not most, of the players in the MLB are good people. That’s important to them, their friends and family, their community. That doesn’t mean they are my friend, and thinking so, defending them as such, assuming as much, puts us all in a weird territory. If anything, I think it goes back to the concept of time wasted.

I’ve spent a lot of time re-reading Tennyson’s Ulysses. In a lot of circles it’s taught as an ode to taking great risks and that this risk taking brings some sort of great awakening of the soul. That taking risk is to be truly alive. I read it differently, though. Here is someone who has filled their days so full that their name is the stuff of legend. By all measures, they have seen and done all of “Life”. Yet, Ulysses cannot rest. Life itself is a labor, a toil to be met every morning, and despite what has already happened, that fact cannot be erased. There is still time for great work, to live “life piled on life”. And I think this sentiment is important, that there is still something out there to grab. It’s worth grabbing now.

More and more we’ve been confronted by the concept that the Seattle Mariners are, well, nothing more than what they are. They are a business that provides entertainment. They commit some of their funds back to the community, care for their employees in whatever way they see fit, and present themselves as they may. The bottom-line still exists, no more clear than in this year of almost unprecedented good-fortune, throwing the cost onto the fans, allowing the stadium to fill up with visiting hordes, and pricing out some who might have seen this season as the chance to buy-in. The players care about us in the way that we all care for strangers or the people who consume the product of the company we work for. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can only know so many people. You can only care so much.

In Thoreau’s Walden the sort of final thought is summed up quite nicely by the author, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Perhaps this sentiment has driven us to this ground we are now occupying. Wouldn’t it be strange to spend this much time caring for people who aren’t your friends? What would you have ultimately gained from that sort of one-sided relationship? I can only speak for myself, but the answer is “nothing much”.

Personally, I’ve never felt more distant from the team and its fans. That is okay. This doesn’t have to be for me. I keep wondering what a good use of my time is, and I can’t say the answer is investing more in this thing I don’t control; Of turning my time into points I gain. I think there’s something more important out there. I think I’m becoming a fan of taking a couple steps back.

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.

Breakfast & Biz 4/3/18 – Pressing On

A consideration on growing old

With the off day yesterday, and there being so few games to talk about, I want to shift this morning for a moment, and talk about age.

Much is said about age and how it effects your body. I am not as old as Ichiro, but old enough to be able to measure myself now against the physical peak of my late teens and early twenties, and find the gap between the two depressingly large.

“Everything hurts” is the common expression, and while that’s a bit of an exaggeration in my experience, there is no denying that the simplest tasks or exertion, unless carefully prepped, executed, and recovered from, can leave my body feeling preposterously painful and creaky the next morning. If you listen to people of a certain age, their various maladies, and physical trials are used casually, as a sort of social icebreaker, like the weather, or the exploits of children and grandchildren.

I think perhaps we talk and joke about the physical trials of aging so much, at least in part, to obscure the darker and far more frightening parts: The weathering of our energies, ambitions, and dreams.

Time and experience work in us a slow, deep change. The things that motivate, excite, and energize us at 24 seem small and trivial at 34. I can only assume at 44 it feel much the same again. The question over the epoch of our lives becomes less and less where we are headed, but if we are headed anywhere at all. And if we are, is it a destination worth heading towards? Is it a path worth walking?

The smart ones, the ones that age well, I imagine worry less about the destination, and the path they are walking, than how they are walking. For them, living rightly maybe means allowing for the humility to know that, by and large, we control an utterly horrifyingly small part of how our life will play out. Perhaps at times it’s best to avoid the stillness, to press on, and keep busy with daily labor of the mind and body.

Pausing to take stock of the years reveals so much. Too much. We’ll never be as good as we were, and stopping to consider that is too hard to bear. Maybe we weren’t meant to stop. Maybe we’re supposed to just keep going, until we can’t go anymore.

033118_gif_ichiro_catch_med

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz, 4/2/18 – First Steps

We needed the games

The encouraging thing about the season’s first weekend was how many things you saw that you needed to see. Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake were near the best versions of their current selves. While allowing for the occasional suboptimal route, Dee Gordon also took the opportunity to envelope centerfield with his speed, and the rest of Safeco Field with his personality.

Mitch Haniger, for the second straight April, looks like the best overall player on the Mariners, crushing two homeruns, and continuing his very enjoyable habit of never, ever giving away at-bats. The Mariners need to develop a 5-6 win, under 30 player in the absolute worst way. When he’s healthy, Haniger is the one with that in him.

Edwin Diaz reminded us all that, when things click, he is as close to literally unhittable as any pitcher alive. His two appearances allowed for, ahem, zero balls to be put in play. Through the season’s first series he has a K% of 75, and a K/9 of 27. You heard it here first, folks, but those would both be records if he can keep them up.

Discouragingly, the series against Cleveland showed us many things we were afraid we would see. Neither Ryon Healy nor Daniel Vogelbach had a hit. James Paxton, The One Upon Which To Dream, allowed as much or more hard contact in four and two-thirds innings than all other Mariner pitchers combined, most of it in the air.

Most concerning of all, by far, was through three games the Mariners have already lost two players to injury they cannot afford to lose. Mike Zunino is on the DL with an oblique strain. The Mariners say they expect him to return shortly, and he just may, but obliques are nasty, lingering, easily re-injured things. Mike Marjama and David Freitas are both competent backstops, but clearly are not as Good as Zunino can be and has been for awhile.

Nelson Cruz meanwhile was already under orders to take it easy anytime he hit the ball on the ground, due to a sore hamstring. Cruz came up with a better plan, which was to just wallop dingers and take it super damn easy thank you very much. Somehow, even that level of leisure didn’t protect him, as he twisted his ankle returning to the dugout after one of his many mighty taters. There was an MRI, and we still don’t know. I’d propose the Mariners simply take volunteers at Safeco to hoist the beautiful man around on their shoulders from the batter’s box to wherever he needs to go. There would be no want of hands, I am sure.

You’ll hear this a lot this month, but it’s early. Too early for analysis. Too early for complaints about lineups, or bullpen rotations, or claiming victory in The Great Offseason Ideological Wars. But it’s not too early to observe what we see, and say through three games the Mariners look a lot like we thought they would. They can hit, and they can run. They will be competitive about as long as their starting pitching allows them to be. They have a closer with terrific stuff. They are old, and injury prone, and don’t have great depth.

The greatest takeaway of all, though, is they are playing. Baseball is back. Writing and talking about the game feels fun again. We’re born anew, and all joys and miseries lay fresh before us. Sometimes, you just need to move forward.

Go M’s.

If it all goes right

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.

“Someday.”

 

 

 

 

Episode 16 – Everything We Give You Is A Gift

A long overdue episode to discuss all the nothing that has happened

WELCOME, to a stealthy, surprise episode of Dome and Bedlam. When you never record, NO ONE EXPECTS YOU, and that is our recording philosophy.

David, Nathan, and Scott talk about the Mariners’ offseason, and the total absence of same. We also complain about the media luncheon, bad optics, and consider the possibility that Shohei Ohtani BROKE JERRY DIPOTO’S BRAIN.

But then, in a surprise twist, Scott shares a theory on Jerry Dipoto, and we spend the second half of the show talking ourselves into some good things about the team, and disappear down a beer talk and Tim Salmon minor league track record rabbit hole. In all, we consider this to absolutely be another one of our episodes.

Thanks as always for listening. We truly do appreciate you.

(Music credits: Bruce Springsteen, Caitlin Carey Feat. Ryan Adams)

The Soundcloud is here, and you can rate us on iTunes right here. Thanks again.

So You’ve Been Rejected

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Hello Seattle Mariners. I am publicly addressing you as anything that I say to you tonight won’t be any more humiliating than what has transpired this afternoon. So, I figured I could give you some unsolicited advice because when something like this happens, everybody comes out of the woodworks to tell you what they would do in your spikes.

There are a handful of ways to approach this, and there’s no right way to deal with rejection, but I can just tell you what has worked for me in the past. Move on, and move on quickly.

We get it, we’ve all been there before. This time it’s going to be different, we’ll change the game, we’ll make our intentions clear from the start, we’ll stick Nelson Cruz in the outfield more than once every 140 games, we’ll start going to church, etc. The fact remains, that you shouldn’t change who you are in order to fall in line to make somebody happy. You are setting yourself up for a lot more problems long term.

Use this as an opportunity to play the field and see what’s out there. This Dee Gordon that you just picked up seems nice, smart, charming, and willing to adapt to suit a very glaring, overlooked need. That seems nice. Maybe take a few meetings with some other eligible starters and see if they can’t help you along your way to self-improvement. Even if it’s just an invitation to Spring Training, it’s still something to help you get your mind off of him. Look at it as a way to really prioritize what’s important to you. As a ball club.

If there’s anything I know about you as an organization, it’s that you have never been haunted by your past and you’re always moving forward. So I know you’ll make your way through this. It seems scary right now, but I know we will end up stronger and smarter in the end.

At the end of the day, we are your friends and we want the best for you. You’re going to run into a lot of people reaching out for the next 7-10 days that will say this, but please know that I mean it when I say that if you need anything let us know.