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.

 

 

Shut Up With The Dumb Tweets

Everyone has seen the posters. You know the ones: it’s a, like, an awful I Just Bought A DSLR And Found The Option In Photoshop To Blur The Background To Make My Black And White Photo Of My Girlfriend Pop Out (I Made Her Lips Be Red Because Girls Are To Be Looked At Instead Of People). Or maybe it’s a dumb stock photo with the shutter speed set real slow so it makes the water blur (blurry = profound, you see), and then you have a line like “Stay Focused and Let Your Inner Light Burn.” I wish I made that up.

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Well, the good news is that Mariners Director of Player Development Andy McKay didn’t literally tweet such a thing today. But you know, in our wonderful postmodern media landscape, “literal” has come to mean both something that’s actually literal as well as those things which are simply metaphorical, but the adjective is too good to let up. I literally died when Dee Gordon caught that popup. I literally fell out of my seat when Mitch Haniger was doing a Cool Thing on instagram. And so on and so on. And so, cue, this:

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McKay has a job, which is more than you can say about me. But one thing I can say is that I have if not an expertise knowledge then at least an Ivy League postgraduate understanding of art history in concert with a deep skepticism of the way in which Silicon Valley bullshit has been used as a discursive blanket to elide deep structural problems in our economy (global capitalism) that can be smoothly mapped onto similar problems in the baseball world (also global capitalism, but with some ESPN faces defending it). I would also like to reiterate that I don’t think that it’s not for nothing that the Mariners are starting to treat things like mental health seriously (as, also, a medicated person suffering from a number of mental health issues), nor do I think that being less Just Play Through It is a bad development for the old boys crew or anything.

What really irritates me is that I know this kind of bullshit speaks to nobody, that it is a reassurance for the powers that be that they are Creatively Addressing An Issue And By Proxy Beating The Other Teams. What irritates me is that I know that this kind of posturing is not meant for an AA prospect who knows he’s never going to break into the bigs, that it’s meant for John Stanton and maybe even Jerry Dipoto to say that no, we aren’t like that last group who favored things like home runs and ISO (as if their options were that or a cool inspirational tweet that could be posted up on the office bulletin board).

I think, though, aside from the furor and the irritation that Mariners Director of Player Development is woefully misrepresenting art history, that what really bugs me about this is knowing full well that all this team literally has to do right now is say the following: “Hey! We might suck but also, guess what folks, you, like me, were so excited to see Tim Beckham–AL Player of the Week!–hit a bunch of dingers, and we know that this might not be sustainable but what an exciting thing to actually sell tickets on! It’s fun that some kids are outperforming their expectations, that this Mariners team is not beholden to draft lists and the franchise capital-D duty that tanked top prospects Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and so on? Why can’t they just fucking say that?!?!?!

If none of that is good enough, let me put on my pretentious asshole hat and have a problem with the way that McKay is talking about art here. It’s absolutely laughable to claim something–as many do–like the fact that a big block of clay somehow contains the world-historical masterpiece of David inside of it or something, were only we were able to wait for Michelangelo to come free it.

Art is not a thing hidden in the parts waiting to be uncovered, it’s something that is called into being which did not exist before. An uncut big block of clay will never become David again, because Michelangelo is dead, and he can no longer paint or make sculptures for us to put in museums to raise tourist money for Montparnasse or whatever. This might sound like The Weeds, but the reality is that this is the approach the Mariners front office has taken to making sense of what these rebuilding years are, and to be honest, you should be extremely upset about it.

David never existed in a mountain of clay waiting to be discovered. It was made with some clay that happened to be available to a world-historical artist working with the materials given to him.

Not a single one of these prospects the Mariners are currently trotting out to Save The Franchise have a David in them, waiting to be uncovered. They are good baseball players who might be contributors to a good team someday, but that’s all they are. And that is all anyone–Mike Trout included!–ever are or have or ever will be. When we pretend that there is a secret Best of All Time hiding inside every Brendan Ryan we ignore the truth that what made Brendan Ryan one of the most adored Mariners of all time is that he was good at one thing, and that one thing could be slotted into an otherwise designed lineup. But he didn’t have that great talent waiting to be found, deep inside. That is not a dig on Brendan Ryan. It’s a realization that his talent was wasted by a front office who didn’t know how to properly utilize the one thing he was good at.

In the coming months the Mariners will build a series of clay tablets and out of them they will design some beautiful, sculpted men, some of whom can hit a baseball and some of whom can catch it. But the problem will be that at precisely the moment that this franchise should be excited to sign another Brendan Ryan–a bat-last infielder who can free the spots for the Tim Beckhams and the Mallex Smiths to learn how to tick their averages upwards to .300–they will turn every last person into the Michelangelo sculpture finally designed to save baseball for the Emerald City.

Of course, what I hope you realize is that what they are actually saving is not baseball but their own stupid jobs. And why in god’s name do you care about that?

Ok, so the Mariners are trading Mike Zunino for Some Guy

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Ok for real though we heard something like this was coming with Divish’s tweet yesterday, which depending on how you felt about Tuesday’s impending #POLITICS nightmare either was a huge deal, or just a tweet you scrolled past. Either way man, Jerry got at it fast, as is his wont.

First: a rumor he’s gonna tear it all down, to the bone. Then, denial, no, maybe just making some people available, but building a core around x, y, and z. Then less than 24 hours later we’ve traded the Mariners top pick in the 2012 draft to the Tampa Bay Rays for Mallex Smith, a legitimate Major League Baseball Player who was also born in like 2009 or something. This bodes well for the rebuild. It’s coming, either through a big-ol’ tear down or a middle one. Either way get ready folk’s.

Look, it’s a bit of a bummer, only in so far as we knew this team was ill-equipped to compete with any number of teams built to you know, actually succeed in the playoffs. That doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to watch guys we started to identify with and enjoy go elsewhere, even if all that happens is they accrue 4.2 fWAR over the next five seasons and get a bad spiderweb elbow tattoo. Mike Z was a dude, by all accounts, and I’m gonna miss him.

Still, we asked for change. I think about what the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis said after the 2016 election, challenging people on both sides of the aisle. You may think this is upsetting he intuited, but the real question is do you actually want the world to change, for the better? The Mariners trading their twenty-something catcher for an outfield prospect certainly doesn’t matter at the same level as family separation at the border, or any other number of timely issues facing western democracy. But I have to think it might be an ample metaphor for our baseball fandom, as we now enter, what, the five-hundredth season of no playoffs in Seattle: do you really want them? do you really want the Mariners to make the playoffs? Do you really?

 

 

Dog days of fandom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast and Biz 4/20/18 – 10%

Everyone have a beer

It’s always funny watching baseball in April. The catharsis of the game’s return tends to dominate the first week. Soon though, particularly after as contentious an offseason as Mariner fans just experienced, must come the takes. The games count now, and so they must be filled to the brim with meaning.

It is understandable, particularly in a region where recent transplants to the region and/or newer sports fans have largely entered sports fan culture through the NFL, and the Seahawks, where sixteen games is all you get, and a full year’s purpose and effort and cheer and lament has to be packed in.

We are fortunate, then, and would do well to remember, that baseball allows for more space, and more calm. We haven’t quite reached the point where going 0-5 does nothing more than drop his batting average six or seven points, or where a three game losing streak just feels like “a rough patch”, but we’ll get there soon.

Yesterday, the Mariners got destroyed by the Houston Astros, 9-2, after losing 7-1 the day before, and 4-1 the day before that. The fact that rooting for the Mariners to beat the Astros is somewhat analogous to rooting for a 12 seed to beat a 5 in March can be depressing, or frustrating, or really anything you want it to be. The Astros winning the last three days doesn’t change anything. Regardless of record, they were always going to be the more talented of these two rosters by a wide margin. That’s……that’s just the truth.

And that’s ok! The Mariners are 9-8. They have survived injury, largely disastrous starting pitching (Marco Gonzales had by an extremely wide margin his best start of the year yesterday, and did not make it through five innings.), and a bullpen that has, as bullpens always do, crawled afresh from the primordial ooze of April. Like all bullpens it will evolve into its final form sometime around mid-July, and this bullpen has already formed a hell of a giant stinger at the end of its tail.

So, it is with some years spent in this game I tell you, rejoice! The Mariners are 9-8! They are not going to win the division, almost certainly. I don’t know a single Mariner fan who actually believed that they would, so we should be all clear there. While the Mariners have been getting sawed in half by the Astros, the Angels have been getting quartered by the Red Sox, and that is probably the Mariners’ truest inter-division competition for a playoff spot. Nothing anyone has realistically hoped they would be in 2018 has been lost, and in the process I’d add this team has shown it can be pretty damn fun to watch.

Yesterday the Mariners lost, and I went outside. I went for a walk, mowed the lawn, and played with my kids. There have been years when baseball, and more specifically the Seattle Mariners, have played a large part in how I feel on a given day, but those days are past now. It is, of course, verboten to tell others “How to Fan” so I will not do that. I will say, though, that if you enjoy the sun, if you’re fortunate enough to be near family, or if you’ve just felt shut-in the past six months of wind and rain, to maybe just put the game on the radio for a few days, or even maybe not at all.

The Mariners are out there, sure, but they aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be right there, where you left them, anytime you need them. Baseball is a sport wonderfully adaptable to your chosen or needed lifestyle, and will just fill in whatever gaps you choose to leave for it, making for a nice snug fit. I’m going to let it do that this year, and I encourage you to do the same.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/3/18 – Pressing On

A consideration on growing old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz, 4/2/18 – First Steps

We needed the games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go M’s.