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)

(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.