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 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)

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)

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.

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)

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