The questions I cannot answer at night

The chartered bus from Harmony Meadows Tennis and Event Center to Campbell’s Resort left at 11:15 PM and arrived sometime around midnight. There were multiple stops as well-dressed couples departed, said goodbyes to old acquaintances they’d pretended were friends for the evening, and stepped off into the night. The likelihood of reuniting between these parties seems relatively unlikely but, perhaps, just as likely when the stakes are this low. A few hours of conviviality are always easy to manage when free food, drink, and dancing are offered as a make-weight. Someone is playing overwrought, yet nostalgic, music from the last decade on the bus speakers, perhaps not quite ironically enough for me to find it enjoyable. It is in this moment, alone on this bus that is taking too long to take me home from a perfectly wonderful evening with a good friend and his future fiancee celebrating the marriage of his sister, another dear friend, that I realize the totality of my loss. I realize that losing the relationship that I had staked everything on, bet the entire house upon, may be the defining moment of my life. That there is so much wreckage at my feet that I cannot fathom the cost, the time, it will take to fully clean it up. If I ever do. I read recently, “A ghost knows who to haunt.” I should note, this piece will have nothing to do with Baseball.

***

At some point in your life you meet enough people to realize that the odds of being remarkable at even one thing, let alone many, is quite small. Most people, optimistically, have one or two traits that, if properly nurtured, could turn into something really great. It seems as if part of growing up is the slow realization that everyone you were taught to admire was more or less a fraud. There are, of course, exceptions. These generally were those people we never hear of. Those heroic enough to live a good life knowingly out of sight. Some folks take drugs to find different planes of thought, some are capable of producing truly monumental works, all from thoughts inside their head. I suppose I’m most-interested in whatever plane of existence we were all born into. Focused on whatever single trait I might attempt to master. I am personally unsure if this belief makes me pessimistic or if it’s relatively hopeful. Admittedly, I’m a poor judge of how we’re all doing here. Please, leave a comment.

I often feel disconnected from, well, almost everything. Starting a brewery when I was twenty-four, my concept of a typical day, a typical job, typical stress, typical anything, is all shot to hell. Without knowing it then, I’d started a very lonely road that demands to be walked almost exclusively alone. There’s no logical way to justify dragging someone else into this hole, most days. And there are days where the accomplishment feels somewhat worth the investment, but those feelings are minutes-long if they even come at all. Often I am asked a question that I am sure I, too, have asked other friends of mine who have dared something and succeeded, “Do you realize how cool this is? How much you’ve done?” No. I don’t. They don’t either. Nobody who does this sort of lunatic thing ever will. There is no finish line. There is only yourself looking in a mirror, on the rare occasion you find time to shower, and wondering who you are doing this all for. Without purpose, the amount of energy required can take a life of its own. Can overtake you. It needs direction beyond simply the task. You have to maximize your few, useful traits. Passion’s wake buoys and breaks in equal measure.

***

The chartered bus from Robert Mondavi Winery left around 10PM for the 90 minute journey back to the Robert Mondavi Center for Wine and Food Science. We’d spent the night at a catered party for my graduate department; fifty winemakers with the run of one of the wealthiest wineries in the world is quite the sight. She’d driven up from her new apartment in the Bay which she moved to after college landed her a high-paying job with a tech startup, and I had just begun to settle into a life with a future in a vineyard and a cellar. We were both, in that moment in time, desperately faking it and far from home. Desperately lonely, too. I assume, to this day, that she felt the same way about me the day we graduated college as I did of her, that we’d never see each other again. Yet, some random swirling of the universe rallied against this inevitability, and we are two friends from college, now sitting on a bus to a place neither one of us can really call home. In the darkness of the night on that bus I can convince myself that it’s just her and I and the feeling of the road. It doesn’t matter, then, where I was at all, just that she is there.

It’s in this moment, and over the course of the next two days, that we will spend a rather innocuous weekend in Napa Valley doing the rather earnest task of falling in love. We’ll drive around and fill the days in order to keep from saying what is on each other’s minds. Those days, now going on six years in the past, I can play back in my head with distinct clarity. The scream of awe the first time she sees Lake Berryessa from the passenger seat of my ’93 Landcruiser, the airplane bottle of Maker’s Mark she brought as a “gift” for me hosting her, the way she touched my badly-scarred hand, almost willing it back to health. I remember most the goodbye, though. It was a Sunday when she made the drive back from Davis to San Francisco. It sticks in my mind because it felt so oddly normal. The drive can be made, with traffic, in less than two hours. At some point during that drive, in a town maybe less than a half hour away from my door, she stops at a gas station and begins to cry. She won’t tell me this for four years. My day melts into a shapeless nothing and I become quite useless once she leaves. We, over time, develop a friendship, over the phone, that allows the comfort of sharing everything. We don’t know it on this sunny Sunday, but we won’t see each other again for two and a half years. Years after that, within a month of us dating, driving a rented car on the same highway that bus took us back to Davis all those years before, I tell her I’m going to marry her. The drive was less than two hours.

***

I was raised in the kind of house where Religion wasn’t the room you were required to occupy, but the door was always open. For this, and much more, I am eternally grateful to my parents. I tried it out, sure enough. Went to an elementary school that started every morning with chapel, a Catholic high school, even a Lutheran college. It just never stuck. For awhile I struggled with this, but it became entirely clear to me a few months ago, mourning all this loss. You see I can’t center my life around a relationship with a being beyond myself that will love me no matter what I do. That unconditional love is a baseline for a healthy coexistence. This is beyond the realm of my experience, and one that I could never settle with, knowing all this pain. Religion also prescribes a path to all things, one that simply, in my eyes, cannot exist. Often you will hear someone say that a great challenge in their life existed simply so they could have some other chance later in life, but that’s the catch. What if the coin just keeps landing tails? What if the great challenges continue to pile without the great breaks? There is no reason you must be loved. The Universe does not care. That’s, perhaps, what makes love so dear, so special. Nothing forces it to exist.

This, to some, would seem a rather pessimistic view of the natural state of things, yet, I would submit the opposite. There is no fate ascribed to my pain. No reason it exists. It simply does. There is no path to the dulling of my colors, the sleepless nights, the days I cannot eat, the songs and sights and places that I can’t bear to remember. There is only what is in the mirror. Every day, served a roll of the dice that has no string attached to it. What then you are asked is simply to play. And how you play is what, I suppose, your life is composed of. It would be simple, really, to allow the weight of the uncaring blackness of the night sky to knock you down. To keep you from ever getting up when the Sun rises. Why do it? The only object within the dimensions we know to exist that we can exert any modicum of control over is ourselves. That’s it. It’s a mighty short list.

And I can’t tell you why, or how, or if, or any of those things.  I can’t tell you why the very foundation on which I built my life and my future is gone. I can’t tell you how to get beyond the simple mistrust of every single day feeling that this sand could shift yet again. I can’t tell you if it ever gets better. It ebbs and flows. I often am told that the pain will go away, or that I am young, or that it just wasn’t meant to be. I am doubtful, perhaps, of everything now. Most days it feels as if the outer, sharper edges of life have been sanded smooth. There is a tightness where once something was loose. A feeling as if I keep forgetting something, or an eternal waiting, maybe. Some days I wonder if I’m stuck running a simulation in my own mind of what happens if she leaves. If.

That’s sorta it, I guess. I don’t have any words of particular comfort. Doing what I do, most people don’t believe me when I describe the pain. The energy it takes to muster a smile and a will to press on is often more exhausting than the physical work itself. She helped build the place I have tasked myself to continue forward running and tinkering on and growing day by day. In the early days after it ended I would see a vision of her walking to a table and putting down a chair, or sitting at the end of the bar waiting for me to be done with some small task, until I could see no more. For weeks, maybe even months, I would disappear around the staff, just to go openly weep where nobody would see me. I realized then that I had built myself a prison of memory. It crushed me. It still can. Yet, I did press on and I still do, everyday. Not alone, but with the help of many who haven’t yet realized they are helping, even when I thank them for it.

My hope is that if you’re reading this, maybe it helps to know that your deep hurt is not unique to you. That I cannot stop feeling my own. That I have managed to get up, each morning since, and take it hour by hour. Perhaps, pressing on, not because of myself but in spite of myself. A ghost knows who to haunt.

 

6-1: Is this an end

There was once a celebration here. Amongst this tentative crowd, chests tight with mixed fear and worry, joy was here. There might be joy again, but time, circumstance both in and out of hand, have changed that. It’s funny in looking back, always funny, to think of how many little moments combined to change this mood. There is not always one, big thing. Yet, here we are, along our own little path we have walked alongside all gathered here to see the King upon the Hill. There is very little hope here. Someday, there may be hope again.

I can’t remember the last time I wrote something. Maybe it was a year ago. Maybe it was more, maybe less, there’s a way of being sure that I don’t want or feel the need to find. Much of that is due to not wanting to face what I might say. That I might feel again what I’ve been feeling for so many months. About what left me, without having any say in the matter. That circumstance is random and so is love and pain, both doled out as if there was no feeling in the universe, to us, waiting to feel what the dice chose. That there is a powerlessness to much of what we hold very dearest. That there is not always a reason. The coldness of the cosmos owes no explanation. Time has no fealty to you or me, just a trace like a river through our own mind. Of the million moments I look back on and wonder. There was never one big thing. There was simply the implosion of the one thing I had built my entire understanding of the universe around. For me, it was a person. For this King, it was baseball.

I am sure Felix Hernandez feels the same way about many things in his life. He can’t remember the last time he felt sure he would go out and pitch seven innings allowing two hits and two walks. The last time he felt sure the changeup would dive just so and the fastball would run in and out, however he pleased. There’s a way of knowing, but it isn’t worth checking. All that stands before him now is this road, made narrower by himself and Time. In looking back, there seems little to be gained. In looking forward, maybe everything. The past isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth what you’ve yet to become.

It isn’t worth it because you know what else has come between. You know what has filled the spaces between knowing and this current misunderstanding. There is a perfect explanation for why the crowd gathered feels more unsure than before, and it’s inexplicable. In 2019 Felix Hernandez, the King, is waiting to be dethroned. He leads his band towards fate, but that fate has yet to be revealed. It is an end, yet one we are not yet sure of, and likely a bitter one. Some of that fate is perfectly held, quite literally, within his hand. Some of it is quite beyond his control, too. Time, innings, the work of his days, all has caught up to him, and that part of him that made him King has cruelly failed him, slowly but entirely surely. Felix Hernandez takes the mound, a shell of what he once was, but a lion nonetheless.

Handed four early runs, Felix mostly cruised sitting around 92 on the fastball with his curve looking especially nasty. The changeup didn’t stand out, but he kept the ball down enough to be extremely effective. Given the errors he had to pitch around, the scoreline looks a little less gleaming than he maybe deserves, yet he still managed his first win since June 30th. What will get the King in trouble this year is when he starts to autopilot back into the mind of his former self, when his stuff was unhittable. You can almost watch him click into a different, less-deliberate mindset where his stuff becomes very devil-may-care. His leg kick gets a little wild, the windup gets lose, and he loses rhythm and balance. That’s where a lineup stronger than LAA will really tag him if he lets them. It’s hard to admit you aren’t what you once were. However, the pitcher we saw tonight will be more than serviceable in the bottom part of the rotation. It’s hard for that to be the bar, but that is what we get with this aged monarch. Know thyself, look upon your works and be warned.

And so, all of us got our first, last look at our living hero. The questions, some answered, some still left to be, won’t go away. We are unsure of so much with Felix. He is too. Yet we can be sure of this; the King left his throne today as we all finally released the air we’d held tight inside the lungs for months now. He didn’t trip on his cape, he didn’t miss a step or clang his sword upon the ground. Instead he left the game with his head held high. With a lead. The Seattle Mariners would win the game with some combination of raw offense and bad defense. Nobody gathered came to see that, though. They came to see their King.

 

 

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.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Shohei Ohtani signs with LAA Angels

The worst-possible outcome has happened. Let’s think about what that means.

In what is likely the worst-possible outcome for a Seattle Mariners team hoping to compete for a wildcard spot, Shohei Ohtani announced today he will sign with the LAA Angels. Following this announcement, and assuming the transaction gets the all-clear from the MLB FO, one thing is certain, the Angels are acquiring a potentially transcendent talent at the lowest possible risk.

Shohei Ohtani has yet to face an MLB hitter or an MLB arm, but if the scouting report holds true, he is a likely top-end starter with at least an average bat. If the hype is true, the Angels may have essentially just added a second Mike Trout at the cost of pre-arb Willie Bloomquist who can pitch and hit (imagine ’98 Pedro with Frank Thomas’ power). This sort of player has never really been in the conversation before, ever, in the MLB.

A million articles will be written about this move over the next few days and weeks and months, less about the impact on the Mariners, but let’s touch on this briefly. Ohtani arriving with an ALW rival is the worst-possible outcome for the Seattle Mariners in their current build. The M’s need pitching bad, needed the West to get worse, and need to spend all sorts of money in an inflated pitching market. This plays directly against their hand and in likely the largest way possible for a playoff appearance in 2018 and even worse in ’19.

The time has come to start to consider the current window shut and while Dipoto likely will not, and it is not the ONLY way out, the current MLB roster needs to be seriously evaluated for what other organizations may want in exchange for bolstering Seattle’s farm. Use the newly acquired international slot money to find the next generation of Mariners. It’s time to sell.

The new era of the Seattle Mariners should begin today, and while it isn’t the one we wanted, it’s the one we have.

 

Darryl P. Skeeby: Or How I Came To Love The Bat

If you don’t read this you probably still play Pokemon GO.

The truth, huh? Alright, I’ll start with the truth, but truth can be a tricky thing when you’re face to face with a bull gator and nothing betwixt you and a bony dinner but the home-made poultice of orange-rind and cinnamon that Momma P. made for warding off the spirits. If you want the truth, it’s simple – Ol’ Darryl was knee deep in his evenin’ pastrami and egg sandwich when my pager went off.

Beep. Beep. Bop. Boop. Boop.

That’s how you always know it’s gonna be a good one. That late-night buzz. I know what’s coming next, I do.

A ring-a-ding-a-ling and what do you know, a familiar number flashes across the screen of my brand new Apple Watch, a gift from my Cousin Gus. A voice I know all too well, low and severe, like a riptide on the Snake River, cuts through the late-night air of my penthouse Motel 5 room,”Darryl, we need you.”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard it, well, I’d be one Dapper Dan. Which is to say, I’d have enough to purchase a can of pomade.

“What’s the skinny, Jules?”

Julia Peffercorn is the toughest chief investigator I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. Sure, most elevated to the position have some sort of chip, or bag of chips, on their shoulder, but her chip was more a whole plate of nachos. She never took “No,” for an answer, and never tried my herbal tea mix that I promised her would knock a possum out a tree at midday sun.

“Someone stole Griffey’s bat.”

It was then I knew that trouble was afoot. Steeped deep in my stories and a long cup of the self-same herbal tea mix I just described, I knew it had to be mere minutes past 10:37PM. The time for perfect crime. Quickly, I reached for my notebook.

Flipping through important sketches of 3D cubes I had made while waiting to get a hold of a real person at Comcast (I don’t trust robots) and a grocery list for the butler detailing the seven different beans I needed to make Mama Skeeby’s Famous Bean Salad for weekend supper, I came to my List of Lists.

Yes, dear reader, any detective worth their salt and pepper has a good, old-fashioned List of Lists. In there are all the learnings of a life hard-lived. I have pros and cons on purchasing a yellow car, hats and their proper occasions, different uses for paisley, and a whole sublist of lists containing best chili recipes. Having so many lists, I finally got to the one I was looking for: Reasons for Stealing A Bat.

What follows are trade secrets on motives for stealing a bat:

  • Researching origins of mammalian flight
  • Vampire breeding
  • Echolocation – I think that speaks for itself
  • Infect enemies with rabies
  • Too many insects in a room
  • Lonely – if you’re all alone a bat would be a fine pet, I suppose

The rest of the list has been redacted due to the explicit nature of the content and the potential of compromising Deep Cover friends. I still care for you, Barney. I called Julia back, certain I knew exactly who did this: Daniel Paul Valencia.

The motive was obvious. Who could more clearly be trying to master echolocation in order to find the strike zone again? Who could be more concerned with mammalian flight than a man in his mid 30’s looking to regain strength to “fly” across the outfield grass. Lean in closer, dear reader, and let me show you exactly how I know it was him.

In the Spanish League of soccer, known to the cosmopolitans amongst us as “La Liga”, the team representing the beautiful and cultured city of Valencia Spain has the following mascot:

Valencia

A bat, indeed, Daniel.

Full of culture and dreams of tapas, I call Julia.

“Ken Griffey Junior’s bat from the statue, you idiot. I swear to G-”

I quickly hang up, I cannot take her scorn. Embarrassed, I return to my List of Lists. This time, quickly searching for a list I made when I was a younger man, playing semi-pro ball in the lesser-known Cape Halibut League. Oh, the fish and chips we’d have. Simply sublime it was in those days. Lost in visions of lemon wedges and tartars, that’s when sleep became me.

I arose the next day with renewed strength and ambition. After a particular dream I called Julia again, sure that my night terrors had given me the answer to the case at hand. Ready to prove my worth to the investigator who just hours before had scoffed at me.

“Julia, I kn-”

“Darryl, let me stop you right there. We caught the vandal and the bat has been safely returned. We’ve had enough of your help on this case.”

Sensing this for the cover up I knew it to be, I pleaded with her for one more consideration. Sure that there was no chance they had apprehended the real criminal, I played my cards.

“The man you’re looking for is Daniel Paul Valencia, former first baseman of the Seattle Mariners.”

She waited a beat, released a short chuckle, “How do you figure, Mr. Skeeby?”

“The answer is quite obvious, Julia.”

I waited a pregnant pause.

“He still needs a bat.”

 

 

A too-early offseason post

If you’re going through Hell, well, sometimes there’s just more Hell.

The 2017 MLB Playoffs are roaring, and while one team from the AL West has already advanced to the Championship Series, the Seattle Mariners have not. In fact, the Seattle Mariners are all mostly on vacation, I’d assume. Some might be taking on new hobbies, others likely have been told they are not Seattle Mariners anymore. Some will comment, years down the line, on how, “It didn’t actually rain that much.” Others still might forget they ever played in Seattle in 2017 (‘sup Jean Machi). With all that being said, and the season-past still not-yet-passed, let’s take a brief look at what the viewing audience might expect from the Seattle Mariners this offseason, juxtaposed with the subjective opinions of this author. Admittedly, I am not a professional baseball executive. I do, however, have a Masters Degree from the University of California, Davis, and that’s basically the same thing.

Let’s sum up 2017 in a few quick sentences here since we all saw it, unfortunately. The Seattle Mariners, in their second full-season under GM Jerry Dipoto entered the year with an offense projected to be towards the upper tier of the AL and a starting rotation that looked like its ceiling was somewhere near the middle-of-the-pack if you squinted. The bullpen, a mix of retreads, up and comers, and some known quantities was, well, exactly what every bullpen sounds like before the bullets start flying. Dipoto solved offseason questions at shortstop and in the outfield by acquiring Jean Segura, a cost-controlled Mitch Haniger, and trading for Jarrod Dyson. Mike Zunino bounced-back from an atrocious end to 2016, and despite an early demotion, finished the year as a top-10 catcher in all of Baseball. Injuries hampered the season, but were likely less due to luck, and much more to team design, as the team was built to rely on countless players on bounce-back years or on the wrong-side of thirty. In short, the Mariners finished 78-84, good enough for 4th in the AL West, in a season that they somehow managed to be “buyers” at the deadline.

The offense was as-advertised, if not a little under-performing. In the end, they were tied for 5th in MLB in team wRC+ (with the Twins and Athletics), and 12th in total offensive team fWAR. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager both experienced relatively disappointing seasons in respect to their 2016’s, Nelson Cruz fell-off somewhat but only just-so, and first base remained a disaster. The loss of Jarrod Dyson in centerfield, and Leonys Martin before him, forced several outfield reshuffles that exposed just how much “depth” had been built up at that position (read: not much). Mitch Haniger appears to be the real deal, as his WAR/600 extrapolates to almost a 4-Win player as a corner outfielder. Jerry in his postseason press conferences has expressed a willingness to open 2018 with Haniger as his Opening Day centerfielder. I am not as optimistic about the defense holding up there. Gamel and Heredia both appear to be what Mariners teams of yonder years have had plenty of, 4th outfielders.

The time has come for us to face the music: Felix Hernandez isn’t going back to 2014. As such, the rotation as it looks will be built around James Paxton, a fitting ace, with a penchant for injury, and thus exists just bellow bonafide Ace-dom. Acquisitions of Mike Leake and Erasmo Ramirez have tied in the back end of the rotation, but there’s zero organizational depth that should be relied upon for a successful (read: playoff(?)) 2018. The Mariners are left in a tough spot with their pitching. Felix is still on the books for $25M while providing, at his best, the quality of a 2-3 starter. Paxton is cheap, but can’t be relied on for 150 innings. So, left with the choice of Andrew Moore and a host of unknowns, they’ll likely have to spend. In comes the question mark named Shohei Ohtani.

Ohtani will post sometime within the next few months and will be had by some team at a massive bargain if the hype is real. A player who appears to have more arm-talent than bat, he allegedly may have the chops to be a two-way player in the MLB. However, if he’s truly arm-first, my personal belief is that he and his organization would be better-off having him focus on pitching, and leaving the DH’ing to field players. Ohtani represents a real chance for the organization to extend the current window. They simply have to land him before dozens of other teams and hope he’s truly a 5-7 Win pitcher.

It all depends on how you view this organization, but per their words, they aren’t letting 2017 put them in sell-mode. The fact is this: anything tradable within the organization was either traded already or lost value over the past season. Edwin Diaz, Nelson Cruz, hell, even Kyle Seager, are all worth less now than they were this time last year. Moving large contracts like Cano or Felix would likely mean eating a ton of money, which the ownership hasn’t expressed a willingness to do. So here the Seattle Mariners are, stuck in the middle with an ever-aging roster and as close to zero in-house talent to improve them as imaginable. In all reality, 2018 might be the last chance this team has in creating a Wild Card roster in years. So, let’s go forward assuming this is the strategy of the front office. One last hurrah with this window.

The organization has to buy pitching, probably needs to find a rent-a-firstbaseman since they appear unable to make Daniel Vogelbach stick there, and has expressed desire in acquiring an outfielder (again). All this is to be done with what appears to be tight budget restrictions and in Jerry Dipoto’s apparent final-contract year. Shohei Ohtani represents a chance for this organization to really change its outlook for the next two or three years, yet its a long shot and a gamble all wrapped in a massive “what-if”. If anything, maybe that sentence is the most honest outlook for 2018 I could write.

Forced into an offseason coming off a disappointing year, with bloated contracts to aging stars, and a farm that appears to have no help arriving soon enough, the Seattle Mariners will likely be able to squabble together a squad that could be in the running for a Wild Card Spot. That likely means something to a large part of the fan base and shouldn’t be discounted. However, there’s no denying the truth that they’re years behind the Astros, and could easily be outpaced by both the Angels and Rangers again. Is building a team that simply hopes to compete for a play-in game a strategy that can allow the organization to overcome its obvious shortcomings? I guess we’re all going to find out together, huh.