8-2: The Mariner Won Today

Congrats on correctly predicting this, no one

Photo credit: Matt Marton / AP

The Mariners won today, 9-2. I’d love to tell you how that happened in detail but I couldn’t watch, and also there’s no particular reason for this roster to win any game on any particular day. So how did the Mariners win today? Well brother and sister, you tell me. I know It’s by and large a lot more dingers from a variety of guys the Mariners either acquired because they had to in order to get rid of someone expensive they didn’t want, or guys that were so bad last year they were hanging around the MLB clearance rack, snot-covered from over eager baby hands smeared all over him.

What I really know is the Mariners should have probably lost and instead, like eight of their first 10 games, they won. Because of the way this team has historically been, and the way I very much am, I want to use that to talk to you about depression.

(What a seamless transition!)

“Depression lies” is a phrase I hear a lot when talking about mental health. I’m sure that in many circumstances it can be true. For myself I’ve always felt that depression, by which I mean that feeling that sucks any ability to engage, share, or facilitate emotional experience with either myself or the people in my life who need me to be emotionally present straight through my nostrils and dumps it in a fat puddle on the floor for up to weeks at a time is the byproduct of too little lying. The truth is, looking around at the state of things, we probably shouldn’t be happy, and any unchecked mental push towards that reality without some built in fail safe distractions, or mild self-deceptions can lead us too far down a path most of us aren’t really meant to go down.

I’m more fortunate than most, but I have plenty of my own baggage. I got married far too young, and had children before I should have. I’ve been, in the past, extremely poor with my financial management and responsibility. I’ve abused alcohol, neglected anything resembling exercise, lied to avoid work responsibilities, and a lot more. I’ve shut myself in my bedroom with curtains drawn and a bottle of whiskey, door locked and wife and young children on the other side, just to try and grab a moment’s escape from the world. I count those experiences and many more like them as losses, and I’ve lost. I’ve lost plenty.

The latter half of 2018 was not kind to the Mariners, and it wasn’t kind to me. As the team’s hot start and miraculous May-June run faded into a fractured locker room. 17th consecutive missed playoff appearance, and an avalanche of self-induced scandals, I and my family were threatened by mounting work stress, financial obligations, fracturing relationships, and my response of bottoming out and being completely useless. Any honest appraisal of the situation in both cases could only return that, while things weren’t lost, there just weren’t a lot of fact-based reasons for hope. As the Mariners broke up their roster I spent the the holiday season in a self-medicating fog; each day’s challenge merely and solely to not go to bed before it was over. As I fell to sleep every night, it always felt like a loss.

Nothing substantive changed, for either of us. The Mariners did not stumble upon a previously undiscovered Next Moneyball, and find themselves three steps ahead of the rest of the game. I did not break through my depression through therapy and/or medication, as useful as both can be to so many. All I can say is for awhile now small problems that would have recently left me quivering in a heap have been overcome, one at a time, day by day. Work stress feels like nothing more than exactly that: the stress of a job that doesn’t define my daily experience, and is dealt with and left in the proper proportions.

It never feels easy or routine, and I always expect it to fall apart. There are so many reasons it should, and probably will. In the past I’d have almost thought those reasons into existence. But I had a thought a few weeks ago about things turning to shit, and I’ve held onto it ever since: It doesn’t have to. All I have to do is win today. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

The Mariners are 8-2, and you probably don’t need me to tell you that, well, lol. They really shouldn’t be. They can’t pitch. They CANNOT field, and the bullpen is Evel Knievel soaked in gasoline jumping over that Game of Thrones green flame stuff while holding a box of lit matches. It really, honestly, probably will end very poorly. But it doesn’t have to. It just might not. The Mariners won today. That’s all I can ask of anyone.

4-1: Teal Laces

Flipping on the TV on a lazy Saturday morning shows James Paxton, freshly shorn like a newly enlisted soldier. He stands tall and strong as always, but something is off, because he is not only no longer ours, he appears no longer him. Where once was a tall, awkward, good-humored guy from British Columbia now stands just another smooth-faced cog; just another Yankee.

Nate Karns is there, starting across for Baltimore across from Pax. Ours for one season, for 94.1 innings in 2016 we tried to convince ourselves the promising, powerful pitcher from Tampa was in there, somewhere. It was just a matter of consistent mechanics. And staying healthy. And executing his game plan. The next start was always going to be the one he figured it out. Then there weren’t anymore starts. Until today.

Drew Jackson is in centerfield, and in the major leagues no less. A Mariner only in dream; a slick-fielding shortstop who just needed to be held upside down and shaken until the Stanford dripped out of his swing. He was going to be ours, we dreamed, and that’s all a team’s prospects are. They’re all dreams, and hopes, and future parades and confetti and sweet, sticky champagne covering locker rooms. Future glories stored up in our minds, waiting for reality to fall in line.

Brett Gardner swings at the first pitch and lofts it to center, the ball’s gentle parabola allowing Jackson to settle under it easily. He shields his eyes, and squeezes it tight. A big leaguer, but not ours.

***

They are scattered everywhere now. The Mets won on Opening Day behind a Robinson Cano home run, and a perfect Edwin Diaz 9th. Jean Segura is trotting home as Bryce Harper hits a ball almost 500 feet in Philly. Nelson Cruz looms in Minnesota. They did not bring us the postseasons we are so desperately, hilariously overdue for, but they brought us much, much closer than anyone else has in a very long time. Despite falling short, I’m still very grateful to them for the run.

The ex-Mariners are everywhere, it seems, and we are going to see them all year.  They will haunt us, because they are the past, and that’s what the past does. When this year’s team stumbles, as the season’s math trickles into the gaps in this roster’s inadequacies and slowly widens them into canyons, we are going to miss them. As losses pile up we will sit, and we will wonder “what if?” That’s the price of giving up before the end. That’s the cost of not doing everything you can.

Jay Bruce is a Mariner now, today, at this very second, and tonight his three-run home run in the 5th inning gave the team just the amount of cushion it needed to survive the already glaringly obvious issues facing this team on defense and in relief. It doesn’t feel right to me. Jay Bruce isn’t a Mariner. He’s a Red. He’s the super prospect who became a star by 23. He hit the home run that sent them to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. He was supposed to be a great one, instead he’s a failed attempt at a salary dump. His transient existence on this team exists merely as placeholder. The few moments of joy he provides are ancillary, the good memories an accident of process, loose strands of happiness burped from a machine that seeks nothing but greater efficiency

We are going to feel this way, all year, and we’re going to have to decide what matters for us. Being a sports fan means rooting for “our guys”, but our guys are almost all gone. They’ve been scattered to every corner of the sport’s map, a re-imagining that asks you, requires you, to root for laundry and laundry alone in a more obvious way than seems fair. The Mariners won tonight, and that was great. They’re 4-1, and a fast start sure is more fun than the other, more familiar start. But I struggle knowing what to root for. I think I’ll struggle all year. More and more, I just find myself finding and rooting for my guys.

***

Jesus Sucre is catching for Baltimore. The 2019 Orioles will be terrible, and I imagine Jesus knows that. Like many of his teammates, he is being asked to do more than he has in the past. He’s being asked to do more than he can. In the bottom of the first, Karns spot a moving fastball at the knees to Aaron Judge. Sucre’s practiced, deft framework snaps the glove shut and holds it still, and there you see it: Sucre’s glove has teal laces. He was ours once, and part of him is ours forever.

3-0: Mariners decide to beat Red Sox, rub it in pt. III

(pt. I here)
(pt. II here)

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The pink glow stretched out its arms amidst the afternoon sun like an eclipse–light on light, bright on glow. Faces weren’t lit as much as they were unshadowed, a low undereye glare, the opposite of what eye black is supposed to provide for the players but perfectly designed to tell fans in a rebounding year they must be there for a reason. It’s glowing, and all.

Can’t see what’s happening on the basepaths? it says. Well, why would you? Look, pink glow, buy a new fun lightup cocktail. It’s on the sign up above. Fun at T-Mobile™ Park with your friends. Uh…um…………Cougs night, or Dee Gordon Bobblehead or something.” Glare is Good, says Gerry GekkoDipoto. Glare is Good.

He saw it all as he stood in line, his printed-out ticket crumpled on acid-free Hammermill copier stock grasped in his hand as if were his pass to get into heaven, St. Peter waiting with scanner in hand to deliver redemption or damnation.

He saw it all inside there, and he didn’t pause, he didn’t stop for a minute to think about how different it all looked in this, the first year of the park’s new branding. The new lineup. He wasn’t exactly the kind of person to notice these things, so the strange conversations bubbling up amidst the fans around him in line– mom, who is that guy? Where is Ichiro? Will Félix pitch tonight? –went past his grayed ears like a peopled language in a newly globalized city. But minutes later he was told at the gate that they weren’t accepting printout tickets any longer. With the line held up, he was soon downloading a newfangled app on his Google Pixel 2, the damn thing the text is so small how can you even see it here on this damn thing wait…is it…no AH HELL now what have I done close the app wait no before they scanned the barcode. just this time , she said, with ticket gun in hand.

It was always something, with Harold. Last time, he locked his keys in the car, missing almost the entire game he had planned weeks to see. But it was different back then, knowing he was going to see Big Papi and maybe Kevin Millar, although he did recall it had been a while since he saw him actually on the field. Nevertheless, he made it into the newly-mintedpinked walls before first pitch this time, barely, setting down just in time to see Chris Sale strike out the side–Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana, and Jay Bruce–all wearing Mariner white.

Soon, Chris Sale was giving up home run after home run: two off the bat of someone named Tim Beckham, one from Edwin Encarnación, even one from Ryon Healy, who sent Harold to google on his phone for the duration of the fifth inning trying to understand why someone named “Ryan” had a 0–or was it an “o”–in his first name. It was Lenin who once said there are decades when weeks happen and weeks where decades happen. Well, poor Harold sat there in section 201, watching children young enough to be the children of his own ordering alcohol, and parents of children with tattoos up and down their arms like scars and he realized that the real truth was there were decades where decades happened, and that he had lived through them all. He left to get another beer.

Deborah was there, of course. She had given up fantasy baseball and started a new retirement career editing manuscripts for a literary journal based out of Cambridge where she had first met Harold, in graduate school. They both knew that she was the real brains of the operation, but in this moment what Harold really wanted was a refill on his beer, so he didn’t mind the Sox walking in a run during the sixth with Jay Bruce at the plate for the M’s. He long ago gave up the delusion that he had to “explain” baseball to his life partner who had always been one step ahead of him in the first place. Meanwhile, the Mariners kept adding runs, and everyone in the park knew it was one of those random things they shouldn’t take for granted but nevertheless would: the statistical outcome of 162 games colliding with one misplaced pitch to a 26-year old draft pick bust which suggests that maybe, just maybe, anyone could do it.

But Harold knew that was all a lie: the structural lie that gives baseball its particular lure, as well as the inevitable betrayal that comes to all who take part in its fiction. He stood in line for an Elysian on the main concourse while the Sox bobbled an infield grounder from Tim Beckham, and he didn’t think about what this kid was going to do in July because he was thinking, first, that he needed a drink, and second, that he didn’t know how to tell his son about the cancer that was living inside his bones. His phone buzzed, and soon, he was departed with nine dollars.

The sun was setting by the time he got back to his seat, and he kissed Deborah on the side of her head as he spilled a little of his overfull beverage on the side of her jacket. Clumsy Harold. Were they in their twenties it might be A Thing, but they both laughed, and watched as the sun began to set behind the flags in left field they both knew would switch positions daily for the next sixth months, as if any given day their relative order meant anything permanent, at all, whatsoever, as if time ever ceased its endless march to let a moment sit still. Then Domingo Santana hit a home run.

As the game wound down, Harold wasn’t upset about the new pink lights or the strange sign up above that didn’t quite seem to fit the aesthetic of the brick additions to the postmodern park that many consider to be one of baseball’s crown jewel cathedrals. He didn’t think about missing Robinson Canó or ask where Kevin Millar was, because he had given up on thinking about those things a long time ago. Instead, he handed Deborah some napkins for her jacket and took a sip of his pilsner, smelling the crisp spring air and feeling the wool from his socks on his feet that used to irritate him, their itch, and he welcomed the feeling because he knew that feeling something, anything, even an itch, was one of the most miraculous events in the history of the universe.

After the game, he was funneled out of T-Mobile Park with the rest of the masses like cattle. He overheard various conversations about what kind of hope this Beckham kid might embody, what prospects Encarnación could bring in August, or if Félix had enough to survive until June. He heard these words and they went straight through him, around him and past him as he moved through space and time, his feet measuring the concrete distance between the plastic seat he had just sat in and his parked car next door in the parking garage. He thought about telling those kids the secret that he had discovered, why he had been thinking of other things, but decided against it knowing full well that they would, if willing, find it themselves if they managed to live that long. He wished he could tell them what it means to make a moment mean simultaneously everything and nothing, and how to live with that contradiction.

He wished they could know, but he knew that someday, they would, and that for now, he had to get to his Acura before the garage closed.

9/24/17

I took my son to his first Mariners game on Sunday, September 24th, 2017, the final home game of the 2017 season. He won’t remember any of it, but that’s ok. It wasn’t really for him anyway.

When he was about two hours old, sleeping under the amber glow of a heat lamp, and his mother, exhausted from the effort needed to bring him into this world, was resting, I signed him up for the Mariners Kids Club. It was, at its core, an incredibly selfish gesture. Here I was, as one of my first acts of parenthood, assigning a fandom for a team known mostly for failure to my son. It was picking a college major and choosing a favorite color all rolled up into one. Except he had no choice in the matter, and I gave him a dud.

The day started as I would imagine most first games start. We made all the requisite stops: Section 128 for his First Game Certificate. The Kids Club for his backpack, complete with three wiffle balls. We said hi to Dave and got our picture with him. We spent most of the game in our seats, watching the game. And I do mean watching the game. I was convinced my 8-month old child would be distracted by the people, noises, and smells that give Safeco Field a large part of it’s charm. But like the die-hard old couple we’ve all sat next to that attends every game and insists on living the optimistic life until the siren’s call of the Fat Lady’s voice, he spent the vast majority of the game transfixed by the action on the field.

The Mariners, playing a game hundreds of feet away from the rarefied air of our seats in the 300 level, had my son enthralled. All the players, so tiny in our eyes, loomed larger in our minds. In the 5th inning, Ben Gamel drilled a first pitch fastball just over the fence for a home run to tie the game at two. Rather than get frightened at the sudden eruption of sound from what had been, up to that point, a rather reserved crowd, my son found the festivities amusing. He insisted on standing on my legs, dancing back and forth, a smile as wide as the gap in left-center field across his face.

Later on, between innings as the giveaways continued, Tom Hutyler’s familiar voice rang out with a sound I had never heard before. My section. My seat. We had won a signed Ben Gamel baseball. I’ve been attending baseball games for 30 years, having spent a large portion of my childhood inside the magical neon confines of the Kingdome, and referring to Safeco Field as my summer home for my entire adult life. I have not so much as whiffed the scent of a baseball. My son, in his first game, completely unaware of what was even happening, became the owner of not only a baseball, but a signed baseball by a player who had hit a home run that very day.

As the game wore on, and the group of dads I was with began to disperse, I wandered down with one of them and his son to the Kids Clubhouse. My son, being too young to independently play, quickly began to fuss. I assumed, perhaps naively, that because he had been awake for hours, he was tired, and that it was time to go home. When I was young, I rarely caught the end of games. We had a ferry to catch, and if you missed that 10 o’clock ferry, you were stuck in Seattle until nearly midnight. Things would be different when I got older, I vowed at a young age. I would never leave the game early. And for years, I kept my own ridiculous promise. But a child changes things. You no longer have jurisdiction over your schedule. When a child is ready to go home, it’s time to go home, even if that means missing the 9th inning.

But as we left the Kids Clubhouse to return to the car, I had to make a pitstop behind the right field foul pole to adjust a bag. As I stopped, my son’s attention turned back to the field, and his fussing eased up. It was the top of the ninth, and Emilio Pagan had just struck out Francisco Lindor on a 3-2 count. I couldn’t take him away from the game now, could I? Could he somehow survive another half inning of baseball? The most magical of innings – the bottom of the ninth. Where hope springs eternal and the home team can stave off the clock striking midnight for as long as the crowd believes.

The M’s were down 4-2 with the bottom of the order up. Of course it was the bottom of the order. Nothing is ever easy as a Mariners fan. But if just one man could reach base, it’s back to the top of the order and Hero of the Day Ben Gamel would have an opportunity to cement his legacy as the Gomez Family’s Favorite Mariner of All-Time. Facing Cleveland’s closer Cody Allen, Mike Zunino struck out, then Guillermo Heredia grounded out to second. With two outs, Daniel Vogelbach was brought in for only his fifth at bat of September to pinch hit and promptly struck out on three straight pitches. There was to be no miracle today, at least not in baseball terms. We made our way to the car, sat in traffic, and drove home. My son slept the whole way, exhausted from a day of new experiences he won’t remember, but will be one of the first scenes that plays on the highlight reel of my life.

I don’t know if my son is going to grow up to be a baseball fan. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. You don’t get to choose your kids’ interests. Ask any parent – you don’t choose their interests, they choose yours. Of course, I hope he becomes a baseball fan. I dream of him becoming the person I talk baseball with. Criticizing the team’s latest free agent signing, bemoaning the schedule, and endlessly repeating the mantra of every lifelong Mariners fan: “maybe next year.” Maybe he won’t like baseball. That’s OK, I’ll become a fan of whatever he’s interested in. But for one perfect, sunny, fall afternoon, we had each other, we had baseball, and all was right in the world.

FoulPole

A Felix Hernandez FAQ

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT WAS, IS, AND SOON SHALL BE

So, like, you all have seen Felix’s numbers this year right? He’s got a 5.73 ERA, and a 5.03 FIP in over 120 IP. You all don’t like, still think he’s good. Right?

I am glad you asked. Felix Hernandez was among the very best pitchers alive from 2009-April of 2015. Unfortunately, it is now August of 2018 and, over the last three and a half seasons, the small leak in Felix’s dominance has been rapidly widened by the flood, and water is now gushing everywhere, ruining electronics and control panels, and reducing him to what he largely is today: An ok fifth starter with poor command, decent stuff, and an inconsistent outlook.

The answer to the question is no, I do not think Felix Hernandez is still good. He hasn’t even been “squint your eyes and pretend” good since a few starts in 2016. That’s a long time ago, and to deny that reality is pretty foolish and naive.

Ok, well then I’m confused. It seems like you’re always coming to Felix’s defense anytime the team talks about removing him from the rotation. Do you think he should stay in the rotation?

Well first of all, for me and my house, this is about loyalty before anything. Felix is the King. Secondly, look, I don’t know. Like I said above, Felix isn’t very good anymore. Felix was never going to be very good in 2018. Everyone knew this, including the team. That’s at least part of what has made Jerry Dipoto’s attempts to spin this season’s outcome as somehow contingent upon Felix becoming something he hasn’t been in years so infuriating.

If the team is half as smart as they very publicly try to make themselves appear, they know far more than we know. If we knew that Felix was probably going to struggle this year, it makes depending/planning on him being something other than that, with only Erasmo Ramirez and his 11.94 FIP to fall back on, seem like folly.

Well now it feels like we’re getting somewhere raw and pretty emotional. Do you think the Mariners want Felix to fail or something?

/bites inside of cheek extremely hard

Well, no. The Mariners front office wants to win baseball games. Felix Hernandez pitching like an above average starter in 2018 would have greatly helped them in that regard, particularly as they made little to no effort to build up major league depth at pitching. That’s something they could have really used, given that they’ve traded Luiz Gohara, Freddy Peralta, and Nick Niedert the past two years for Adam Lind, Nate Karns, and a leadoff hitter with a 1.6% walk rate.

The Mariners needed and wanted Felix to be good again, but the need was created through their own poor trades and inaction. Rather than look inward (or upward, to ownership’s miserly penny pinching) the team seems to have focused its frustration on Felix himself. To myself, and I believe to other like-minded fans, the pattern from the front office has been a combination of ill-founded/disingenuous expectation, coupled with a paternal, overly public shaking of the head whenever Felix has struggled. This pattern not only needlessly, publicly, agonizingly draws attention to Felix’s decline, but seeks to distract fans from the fact that this failure is at least as much one born by the team itself as the player they seem hellbent on shaming.

Well then, smart guy, what do you want them to do instead?

I want them to go back and exhaust their mental and financial resources to shore up this rotation. I want them to correctly predict, and proactively plan for, an incredible buyer’s market this past offseason. I want them to understand that this fanbase and franchise existed well before any of them got here. I want them to get that respect is earned, not given, and that slapping a “Mr. Manager” badge on your chest and walking around a dugout in uniform doesn’t earn you a damn thing with players or fans.

I want them to quit smiling and accepting all praise, and bristling and deflecting downward all blame. Given that they are more than willing to publicly consider the future of their franchise icon, I want them to do the same for their lead off man with a .303 OBP, or their starting first baseman who has been worth -0.6 fWAR.

More than anything, seeing as how this front office and management caters to public appearance and “openness” more than perhaps any other in the game, I want that same openness to indicate an understanding that the failure of the players; even proud, stubborn, declining icons, is their failure too. I want them to understand that there is a very good chance in seven or eight years, when we pack whatever Safeco Field is called at that time for Felix Hernandez’s jersey retirement and statue unveiling, that we will struggle to recall their names.

Wow, uh, that’s quite the rant. Do you have anything else you need to get off your chest?

Letting Felix burn in the Texas Hellfire  last night was unforgivable; an unnecessary and seemingly petty insult towards a longtime Mariner great. Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto are meddling with love forged over years of sacrifice and shared loyalty. They are forces they do not seem to fully understand.

Felix Hernandez forever. Long live the King.

 

Felix Hernandez Lasts

I have always struggled to write about Felix. I am a mediocre writer, and a mediocre man. Often the words I am happiest with are the ones I write without thinking or feeling. But Felix and my connection to this baseball team, and in many ways this region, are tied together too deeply. It is a knot my brain cannot untangle. With Felix, the music stops. There are, to quote the King of Prussia, too many notes.

That said, here on the cusp of what may actually be his last start as a Mariner before he suffers the indignity of whatever fate time, thousands of innings, and Jerry Dipoto have in store for him, is my honest attempt to express what Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariner, means to me.

*****

To grow up is to learn disillusionment, and in that way professional sports are an excellent teacher. The various games, leagues, mythos, romance, ideologies, and on in place were invented, refined, and sold to us for one purpose, and it was to profit the men who owned them. They sell themselves expertly, particularly to the young and naive, and once we learn to love something as children, it is incredibly difficult to rationalize away from it.

There comes a point, though, when we realize the empty falseness, the Wizard of Oz-like con game that can seem to be at the heart of so much of all this stuff we spend all this time loving and caring about. It’s usually a player leaving in free agency, or traded to another team once his useful (i.e. cheap) years with the team have run out. We don’t stop loving sports, because we have always done it, and to stop feels like we would stop being ourselves, but we learn the inequity of the transaction of feeling as a sports fan. Professional sports are, and will always be, a foolish and potentially emotionally damaging thing to care about.

*****

All hail King Felix. Hernandez worked five innings last night against Spokane, allowing just one run on two hits and striking out five. He also walked four, but it’s important to remember that he’s only 17 and facing much older competition, including some college players. I’m trying not to get too excited about him, but it’s difficult not to with the way he’s pitched so far.

The summer of 2003 was marked by the beginnings of the first split between the Mariners organization, and the newly burgeoning segment of its fans on the internet. On the field the team was in its final season of glory, a 93-win powerhouse, its fourth straight 90+ win season. Off the field, Lou Piniella’s recent war with the front office was fresh, Pat Gillick’s use of the the farm as nothing more than a resource to trade from to supplement the current run had bled it dry, and, to a few fans, the happy days were numbered.

There was disagreement, and there was infighting. There was name calling, and personal attacks, and resentment. In the tiny overlap in the venn diagram between the warring parties, there was Felix. He was 17 years old, and obliterating the Northwest League. USS Mariner, the mother tree of online Mariner fandom, called him King. Two years later he would be in Seattle, throwing eight shutout innings against the Twins.

As Felix ascended the Mariners spiraled into oblivion, like an untethered astronaut. They flailed, they screamed, they tried to change. Nothing worked. There was no friction. There was nothing. Only Felix.

*****

I was twenty-one when Felix was crowned King. I am thirty-six today. In between I have gotten married, had children, gotten fat, gotten skinny, gotten fat again, bought a house, nearly died, made and lost friends, and grown gray hairs. I’ve been to the Royal Court, seen Felix throw an immaculate inning, win a Cy Young, throw a Perfect Game, re-sign with the Mariners, and re-sign with them again and cry about it. I have never seen him pitch in the playoffs, and am now pretty close to convinced I never will.

Lasts are important. They serve as touchstones that spiral us backwards through our shared experiences, remembering that the feelings in our gut weren’t plopped there, but forged and nurtured, through time and affection. Lasts call back all that has come before, and with Felix, my god so much has come before today. The last Opening Day start already happened, the last shutout and complete game probably have too.

Now, today, with the Mariners desperately clinging to their playoff hopes, and Felix’s arm simply incapable of doing what it has done here for pushing two decades, we may be at the last start. The Blue Jays are the opponent, and it feels fitting. Maybe my favorite Felix memory is against Toronto, as is the game upon which it can be argued his career began its decline. That Safeco Field will be filled with non-Mariner fans feels similarly appropriate. Felix has always seemingly delighted in ripping out the soul of a hostile crowd.

****

“King” Felix has always been such a perfect nickname. At his height Felix not only reigned over games and seasons, but the talent gap between him and the rest of his typically terrible Mariner teammates was sufficient to set him apart. Like a noble of old. he stood atop the only raised part of the field and looks down like a monarch upon his kingdom. We rose and stood when he exited the bullpen and headed towards the mound. We chanted his name. I’ve grown into an adult with him, and he with us. Here, in the very lasts of his career, we recognize and acknowledge his legacy here is not contingent upon yesterday, today, or tomorrow. It is secure. It will last. So, tonight, we stand and rise, and we say, as we always have, and always will:

Long live the King.

It’s time now

It’s no longer about what should happen. It’s just time to yell.

1) You will recall, or you will not, that in the past we have written some overwrought, and angst-filled words in this space to the effect of what the Mariners making the playoffs would mean to us, and to our surrounds. That was for the 2017 Mariners, a team that slogged through a mediocre, depressing season while watching a division rival vault to a World Series championship, and final slaying of whatever power Sports Illustrated held on the national mystique. It was a very Mariners season.

The death of a Mariners season, however, for once, appears to have left behind something besides the nostril-stinging sweetness of death and decay. The corpse has fertilized the soil, and the 2018 Mariners, a team that by all accounts should be at or slightly above .500, is reaping a generational harvest of good luck and good timing. They are 41-24.  A quick view of the landscape of the American League, and where the Mariners sit amidst it tells a pretty clear picture, although uttering it aloud risks tapping into the vast ocean of ennui, paranoia, and superstition that is rooting for one of the most failure-ridden franchises in all of sports:

The Mariners are going to make the playoffs this year.

2) The truth is that, outside of a happy cosmic accident from 2000-2003, the Mariners have just not been very good. Clearly, there have been misfortunes, bad-timing, busted prospects, and injuries. For fans the slow, steady, geological-event style feeling of the years of same have led to a feeling of something like a curse.

There was no curse, and never has been. While Mariner fans exist in a world where mystical snares and devilish traps lay ready to trip us up the moment we let ourselves relax or expect even a single good thing to happen, those foibles never extended onto Safeco Field itself. The truth is the players were not good enough, the front office not adept enough, and ownership not committed enough to seeing it through. The fact that for thirty-seven of their forty-one and change years of existence the Mariners have not suffered under some gypsy’s vengeful hex, but rather the weight of their own shared failings may provide comfort, or push you further to despair. Which is largely up to you, but face that reality with honesty and courage, because reality it very much is.

3) We don’t really know how exactly the Mariners are 41-24, and will not pretend to have any deep insight into it here. By and large it has something to do with Edwin Diaz ensuring that in every game decided by an eyelash, which is almost all of them, the Mariners are the ones who did the best job getting those babies full and luscious. It involves a group of players that with few exceptions does not do anything spectacular on any given day, but also does not do that most Mariner of things: Horrifically fail. It is a team built upon a generally higher baseline of competence than is typical, and while we are resistant to offer too much credit towards Jerry Dipoto by habit, that is probably by his design.

We do know that this season, regardless of final outcome, represents an experience Mariner fans have not had in a very long time: A mid-season spot in a prime playoff spot, a summer of scoreboard watching, and a very real pennant chase.

There is magic in First Place, and as of the day of this writing, June 12th, the simple matter is that a quick look at the standings in the AL West, when read from top down, starts with “Seattle Mariners”. Beyond that simple, joyous, dopamine-providing exercise, the American League has shaken out to make the Mariners playing a Game 163 a (relatively) simple task. There is one team fewer than five games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card standings, and one other fewer than ten games. That second team, the Cleveland Indians, is also leading its division.

Of all the different Mariner seasons: undermanned, plucky group that stands just outside playoff contention. Spectacular, expensive, old, franchise-crippling failure. Losing season endured at the expense of Playing the Kids, and on, THIS Mariner season represents something so lost to time as to be basically new: The Blitzkrieg. The rapid, dominant, overpowering assault, followed by stockpiling provisions, shoring up supply lines, and praying that it all lasts long enough to ensure victory.

Regardless of where the Mariners are in late September, what happens between now and then is, for the people inside and outside of this organization, virgin, unspoiled territory. And that is a very exciting thought.

4) We are old. That is not a new thought, nor a new fact, but it bears repeating. It bears it because one of the byproducts of age is a narrowing of one’s emotional spectrum. Highs are lower, and lows higher. We imagine that much of the challenge of middle and old age will be trying to keep that spectrum from merging into a single line, but that is not the discussion for today.

Today is about what we want, and have always wanted: We want the next generation of baseball fans in this town to come into its own. Watching the Mariners of the mid to late 1990’s make the playoffs, and the region’s accompanying daily devotion to them, is still, decades later, the cornerstone of our entire fandom of all sports. We found heroes, we fell in love, we made relationships that survive to this day.

We were not alone in that. The powerful, intoxicating effect of those teams, combined with their early 2000’s brethren provided the momentum and voices that have kept Mariners fandom a largely enjoyable experience, despite all the Mariners baseball involved. It has been a long journey, with various factions and figureheads popping up, only to pass on the burden to the next group. For a short while, we carried the banner, and then had to lay it down. It was heavy and, frankly, smelled a bit. We figure Gary left it on the floor of his apartment and let his cat piss on it. That’s a total Gary move.

But now, finally, it’s time. The Mariners are good, one way or the other. The Maple Grove and other fan groups have provided a way for new fans to connect with each other and the team. Safeco Field stands poised to be a summer home for fans, new and old, to congregate and learn to love what we very truly believe to be the best game in the world.

It’s time to imagine. Look at a calendar, and circle October 2nd. Imagine the Mariners ending the Red Sox season in Fenway Park. Imagine watching it with your friends and family. Imagine filling Safeco for a viewing party. Imagine the first pitch. Imagine the final out. Imagine everything in between. Imagine sinking a frankly inadvisable amount of discretionary income into tickets for that first playoff game at Safeco. Imagine the pregame buzz in that place. Imagine trying not to cry.

This is not for us, and never has been. This is for Seattle, and for the future, and all the people who have never done this before. It has been long enough. It’s time, now. The Seattle Mariners are going to the playoffs. Have the summer of your lives, dear friends.

Go M’s.