13-2: Ignorance

So we find the Seattle Mariners…

(Photo Credit AP/Orlin Wagner)

I would challenge that most of you reading this knew, no matter the fun you had last summer as the Mariners rocketed into Wild Card position, and even provided the briefest and mildest eclipse of the Astros’ white-hot divisional dominance, that eventually divisional equilibrium would be restored. You knew that a formula built on a paper-thin rotation and hole-filled lineup somehow always getting a 1-2 run lead to its generational closer couldn’t last. Maybe you didn’t see the A’s coming (how can we not see the A’s coming, after all these years?), but you knew it, on some level, it wasn’t going to happen. Even though I myself gave in and announced it was time for the Mariner to make the playoffs, it felt more like a shrugging recognition of mathematical probabilities than any true belief in the team itself.

The truth now is that, after winning today’s game against Kansas City 7-6 with their pants over their heads the entire game, I have no idea what I believe about this team, and after spending a good decade and a half trying to view the game and team through a perspective that seeks to better understand it, that looks at the sport as a code to crack, I’m overwhelmingly happy to live in this ignorance. The truth is that, while searching for understanding can be deeply rewarding and enjoyable, knowing things, in my experience, often kind of sucks; doubly so when that knowledge is that your team is going to eventually fall short yet again.

So we find ourselves with the Seattle God Damn Mariners, who are 13-2, the second AL team to start with such a record in 30 years. No one, including very specifically the Mariners themselves, had the slightest expectation, plan, or belief that anything remotely close to this could happen. This lack of expectation, the joy that is intrinsically and very especially tied to happy surprises, is the magic touch everyone within 200 miles of this organization needed. This thing that has happened, this oh-holy-shit-these-stupid-idiots-won-again-somehow feeling is the very molecular center of what made so many of us fall in love with the game in the first place.

There’s something to this, and if you’ll forgive a little axe-polishing over here, I want to try and talk about it. You see, the history of the last 10-15 years of baseball have been about one thing, and one thing primarily: The quest to understand the game to better predict, control, and thus capitalize upon it. Outside of a few hobbyist-turned-front-office employees, the sabermeteric revolution has done little to advance the game for the only two sets of people in baseball who matter: The players, and the fans. You may be part of a very small subset of people who enjoys knowing that Aaron Judge’s average launch angle has increased 1.5 degrees since last year, and if so god bless go with grace, but understand you’re a rarity. No, the advancement of understanding in the game of baseball has been used as a cudgel to maximize certainty, and certainty attracts investors, and investors are the kinds of people willing to sit out free agent markets for years at a time so that a kid from Latin America whose entire family and community depend on his athletic gifts providing food and housing has to agree to a tiny fraction of his value at the height of his peak abilities.

The stockholder, Wall St, venture capitalist-mindest has subsumed the games higher levels; so much so that at the Mariners pre-season media luncehon Jerry Dipoto spoke about putting the team in position for “launch” during the 2021 season, as though they were a new iPhone model. These methods and concepts have no connection to the mindset that made us fall in love with the game. And without love, fandom is an empty, bleak experience.

So again we have this gift, these idiot Mariners with gloves taped backwards on the wrong hands, huffing sweatily around the bases, collectively praying their over-30 leg tendons do not pull or tear in the effort. These glorious, incomprehensible, 13-2 morons who do nothing but bash home run after home run, at rates heretofore unseen in the history of the sport. They are the team we need, the team the whole sport needs.

I’m willing to bet in your heart you didn’t believe in the 2018 Seattle Mariners. You probably don’t really believe in the 2019 Seattle Mariners either, and that’s okay. Goodness knows I’ve worn the skeptic cap with this franchise to rags the past few years. But I’m going to tell you something true, and I’m going to tell it to you because it’s both different than what I would have said any other time this decade, and the exact opposite of what I would have said two weeks ago:

Are the Mariners going to make the playoffs? My friends, I have absolutely not the slightest clue, and neither does anybody else, including the people who built this team. That makes me as happy a fan as I can remember being.

goms

gobiz

9-2: The Spirit of the Radio

“The real activity was done with the radio–not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television–and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind.” – Bart Giamatti, The Green Fields of the Mind

Transistor Radio

The lineups are posted as I’m making breakfast. Bacon and eggs with a side of Vogelbach. Coffee and Wade. The only sounds right now are our Sunday morning Beatles playlist, the sizzle of bacon grease filling the kitchen, and the pitter patter of my 2-year-old son’s feet running through the hallway. It’s three hours until game time.

Around 10:30 am, I log on to my trusty (hahahahaha) MLB At Bat App. The pregame show is starting. The routine begins in earnest. A recap of yesterday’s game, the Clubhouse Insider, the Roundtable, Blowers on Baseball, Clicks to Pick…none of the particulars matter. It’s all about settling into the rhythm of the season. It’s game 11 out of 162, only 7% of the way through the season, yet it’s as comforting as your childhood blanket or your favorite hoodie. You could probably stand to upgrade, but would it really be the same?

The game begins. I’m not watching. I rarely watch anymore. I listen. Aaron Goldsmith, as is his routine, gets things started with the same phrase he uses at the start of every game. “And now, here’s the voice of the Seattle Mariners, Rick Rizzs.” Rizzs, Seattle’s Great Uncle, is now going through his routine. Weather report, short recap of yesterday’s game, umpires, scouting report on the starting pitchers. I’m all caught up. Is some of this information repeated from the pregame show? Of course it is. But you weren’t paying attention to the pregame show, were you? It faded into the background, the way baseball is designed to.

Unlike radio, TV forces you to pay attention. It requires your attention. Full attention has a way of lulling you into a false sense of ‘knowing’ that radio doesn’t. When you were young, a Derek Jeter a jump throw looked great. But we have so many stats today that have helped us to understand how much our eyes lie. Analytics tell us he’s doing that because he’s out of position, slow to the ball, and needs to look spectacular to make the routine happen. TV announcers can’t tell you your eyes are wrong. The images and sounds must match, or the viewer will be thrown off. Radio gives you freedom.

We leave the house and make a quick Target run. I’m going to miss probably a good inning and a half, but it’s OK. I can look online instantly to see what I’ve missed. Plus, Rizzs will be sure to get me caught up at some point.

After leaving Target, I get into the car and Aaron Goldsmith is still detailing the top of the third. I’m very confused. It seems the M’s are good, offensively? We get home, and I start up the At Bat app again. The bases are juiced for Daniel Vogelbach. But it’s lunchtime, so I start making a sandwich for my son. If you have kids, you know that you can’t delay prepping food for them while you pay attention to the game. Prepping food for them takes your attention. The radio becomes background noise again, until I hear Goldsmith’s voice begin to rise. I can tell by the tenor of his voice this is not a grand slam, but it’s good news. The ball bounces off the base of the wall, and Vogelbach, who (we have been told numerous times) just needs opportunity, makes the most of this one, standing on second base having cleared the bases and given the M’s a 7-1 lead. I hand my child his sandwich, peel some mandarines, and sit down for lunch. The radio becomes background noise again.

There’s a rhythm to baseball on the radio. There’s a conversation happening and you can choose how to listen. You can listen intently, and you can gain incredible insight and details into the game. Or you can listen passively and only pay attention when the voice on the radio tells you to. And no one is better at this than Rick Rizzs.

You see, Rick Rizzs is the Platonic ideal of a radio broadcaster. (Put down your pitchforks. Dave is, and will always be, the greatest Mariner. Being the Platonic ideal is great, but not as fulfilling as being the GOAT.) Everything Rizzs says is purposeful. With intent. After finishing lunch, I begin cleaning the office, and my brain wanders away from the game. Rizzs is engaged in friendly conversation with Aaron Goldsmith, casually keeping us aware of the on-field activities. Suddenly, Rizzs’ voice rises and grabs my attention. I would be lying to you if I told you this was transcribed precisely, but what I remember is “…this one is…gone! Goodbye baseball! A line drive laser of a home run to left field, off the bat of Edwin Encarnación. He’s rounding the bases, carrying the parrot, after a 2-run home run here in the 4th, to give the M’s a 9-2 lead, and how about the day Eddie Encarnación is having with 4 RBI already.”

I know so much of it because Rizzs has a rhythm, a routine. There’s a purpose behind this rhythm. Every time. “Swing and a drive! Deep to [direction]! Going and going…goodbye baseball! [Player X] with a [x amount of RBI]-run homerun to [direction] to make the score [x-x]. His [xth] of the year, and the Mariners now [lead/trail] by [x] runs.” If you’ve heard Rizzs announce one home run, you’ve heard him announce all of them.

So much repetition. But when you’re listening to the radio, there’s no rewind button. You don’t have the visuals to help you. The rise in Rizzs’ voice alerts you to pay attention, and the repetition is there for what you missed. It’s OK to relax while listening to baseball on the radio. Uncle Rico’s there to help you.

At this point, the M’s lead 11-2, and the only drama left (besides how many runs the bullpen would let up) is whether the game can be finished before it’s rained out. I look outside. I have a softball game later tonight. I hope the rain will hold off both here, where I spent my childhood, and 2,000 miles away, where Rick Rizzs spent his childhood in, say it with me, the south side of Chicago. I begin thinking about what I need to do for dinner, cleaning the house, prepping for the week. I decide it’s time for baseball to firmly fade into the background. Rizzs will let me know if I need to check in.

(he let me know when Vogdor crushed his second dinger of the day, please continue to give that man ABs, Servais, plz and thank you)

See Hear you tomorrow, M’s.

7-1 (??): Marco Avenges His Fallen Zags

Marco Gonzales has never seemed to be much of a star. He’s in no way a typical front-of-the-rotation pitcher. He seems to take a page from the Russell Wilson school of athlete interviews: Say what you’re supposed to, wrap it in clichés. He’s invited some attention with his online presence, but mostly as the straight-man to Wade LeBlanc’s pseudo-straight-man. In a charming spring training video, the Mariners strapped microphones to Wade and Marco, and the results are perfectly enjoyable. But Marco doesn’t do much, aside from stand next to Wade, who riffs and cracks wise with his former Seibu Lions teammate Yusei Kikuchi. Marco seems like a very nice young man, all the way down to his “Oh geez,” after an errant toss.

Last year, Jerry Dipoto and company extended the very nice young man, after shortly after bringing him to Seattle, in exchange for one of the franchise’s most intriguing prospects (sentient human bicep, Tyler O’Neill). He looked fine. Plenty solid. And in light of an unproven Kikuchi and a fizzling Felix Hernandez, Marco was named the opening day starter for 2019. He had looked steady so far this year, getting credit for two wins in two starts.

Tuesday night felt different, though. Marco thrived on an abundance of weak contact from the Angels, who seemed overmatched on the night. There was nothing the Angels could do, it seemed. Marco had a slew of first-pitch strikes, he stayed in control. After a first-inning base hit to Trout and a ground-rule double to Jonathan Lucroy in the second, Marco retired seventeen in a row until Lucroy dribbled a single up the middle with two outs in the seventh.

But if the Angels looked helpless against Marco, the Mariners appeared to be equally inept against Trevor Cahill. The Mariners offense has been a fairy tale through seven games, but on Tuesday night, that all seemed to sputter and stall. Cahill was just as efficient as Gonzales, sitting down the Mariners in order in four of his six innings. Aside from doubles to Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, and Dan Vogelbach (who Aaron Goldsmith described as “rumbling into second base”), Cahill kept the game moving, allowing only one run over six frames.

No one expects the Mariners offense to continue to create runs at the rate they have thus far (54 runs in seven games entering Tuesday’s match up), so the cold bats weren’t a shock. But even more significantly, no one expects the Mariners defense to ever quite get its act together this season. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Seattle had committed a stunning thirteen errors in seven games.

When, in the top of the eighth, Ryon Healy made an impressive play on a hard grounder (his second or third solid defensive play of the game), I gasped at the realization: The Mariners had an opportunity to finish a game errorless for the first time this year. A liner into center raised the stakes, but it turns out Mallex Smith is very fast. Another out. Ryon Healy made a routine play (in spite of the unprecedented error-potential percolating from the hot corner this season), and suddenly Marco Gonzales was through eight innings with one run on three hits and only 88 pitches. And no errors.

A nice exchange from the television crew, discussing the 1-1 tie into the eighth:

Blowers: “Couple nights ago it was 10-8. I thought it was pretty entertaining, pretty fun.”

Goldsmith: “I mean, I’m not trying to put down a 10-8 game.”

Blowers: “Feels like you are.”

Goldsmith: “But I do like a pitchers duel.”

Daniel Vogelbach came to the plate, still a rare sight this season, and he did what he was made to do: He parked one over the centerfield fence, extending the Mariners streak to eight consecutive games with at least one home run.

As the camera followed Vogey into the dugout, bombarded by high fives, the words “Funk Blast” dancing in magenta above his head, Blowers chimed in.

“Daniel likes the looks of a 2-1 ballgame, doesn’t he?”

funkblast

Marco stayed in for the ninth, walked Trout with one out (who could blame him?), and gave up a single to Simmons after a tough battle. With his starter at 100 pitches, Scott Servais called upon Anthony Swarzak to make his Mariners debut after being activated from the injured list earlier in the day. Two on, one out, one-run game in the ninth–no pressure. After striking out Pujols, he coaxed Lucroy into a ground out to Dee Gordon to end the game. Frankly, it was a fantastic play by Gordon–running full-speed to his left, fielding and throwing the ball in one smooth movement, in spite of all his pesky momentum–and it was profoundly unlike the infield defense we’ve seen so far from this squad. Something new, something intriguing. There will be errors. So many more. But Tuesday night, they got the job done in a close game. Time for high-fives.

Though I’m not ready to fully buy into the absurdity of this team’s torrential start, it’s worth noting:

  • The 2019 Seattle Mariners won their fourth consecutive game tonight.
  • The actual 2019 Seattle Mariners played their fourth consecutive game in which a different pitcher recorded the save (for three of the four, it was their first career save).
  • Literally, the actual, real 2019 Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball reached their first 7-1 start in franchise history. Literally.

In a postgame interview, Marco said all the right, boring, plain, fine things (“This team has a lot of fight,” and “I’m a competitor,” etc.), but what sounded the most sincere was maybe the simplest thing out of his mouth: “Big win for the M’s.”

None of this makes sense, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

goms

Episode 24 – The Griffey Spectacular

Jerry van di Poto has a plan. He just needs some money…

Since the last time the we podcasted the Mariners have:

Fallen out of the playoffs

Fired/let go most of their coaching staff below Scott Servais

Been accused of racism and misogyny by an employee after less than a year of her working there

LOUDLY refuted those accusations on social media in a manner that one could even describe as PRESIDENTIAL

Traded Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, and Jean Segura

So, yeah, there’s a few things to talk about. Also we took your questions for a good 45 minutes, because we love you. Please rate and subscribe, so you don’t miss even a second of this white hot, indispensable content.

All it took was maybe the most completely disastrous three months in the history of the Mariners’ franchise to summon us from our blissful slumber! Here are the things discussed in this episode

-The Mariners, now hear us out, are bad

-Jerry Dipoto is Dutch van der Linde

-The rebuild is good but also not good because it’s only good if you do it good, so do it good

-Definitive scarf takes

-Something called a “Tie Bar”?

-YOUR Q&A

-The Mariners are bad

Episode 20 – Ohtani Bombs

The season is over let’s POWER RANK french fries

Wow after running an exhaustive guest appearance circut the boys, finally, are back in town. Nathan, David, and Scott break down the Mariners first week. We are here to praise Mitch Haniger and Robinson Cano, but also yowza Ichiro is the DH.

MORE IMPORTANTLY we welcome a prestigious guest. The Czar of Badness, Baron Von S-Curve, DJ Twerk Life Balance himself, the Social God Scott George.

Please enjoy this high brow discussion of baseball, self-checkouts, and Daniel Vogelbach Sandwiches.

(Music Credits: Three 6 Mafia, The Lollipop Guild, Turnover)

As always you can subscribe and rate us on iTunes here. Additionally, thanks to the very hard work AKA basic understanding of technology of blog grease monkey Dan Gomez, we are now available on Google Play.

Thanks, as always, for listening. I’m sorry we didn’t break down the Mariners 10-0 loss to the Royals last night. You probably wouldn’t have cared for it, anyway.