This Feels Like a Turning Point
I don’t want to make too much out of one win, at home, against a bad Cleveland team. Especially with Felix on the hill, this is a game they win most of the time.
Still, this feels like a potential turning point for the relationship between the Mariners and the fan base. The Mariners got 39,000 people into Safeco on a Tuesday night against the Indians, and they gave those folks who don’t usually come to the park a reason to come back. This is the Mariners second seven game winning streak of the month, and they now have a reasonable chance at finishing the season around .500.
You don’t always have to be great to get the fans back – you just have to offer them some real hope. The Pirates have been baseball’s worst franchise for the last 20 years, but last year, they offered Pittsburgh some hope by staying in the race longer than usual, and their attendance went up by 300,000 fans even though they finished the year 72-90. Now that they’re showing that they can put a legitimately competitive team on the field, they’re going to add another 100,000+ this year. The Orioles are giving their fans a good product again, and even though they won’t win the AL East and might not make the playoffs, they’re still up 250,000 fans already, and will probably end the year with a 300,000+ attendance gain.
Long droughts without a competitive team drive away fan interest, but they don’t kill it. The flame smolders, waiting for something to blow on it and give them a reason to care about their baseball team again. Felix gave them a reason to care last Thursday, and they responded by coming out to the ballpark. If the team keeps winning, they’ll keep coming.
No, they’re not going to get 40,000 every Tuesday night, but this team is in the process of breaking off the negative cloud that has hovered over this franchise for the better part of the last decade. Even when Junior returned and the 2009 team played unexpectedly good baseball, it was still an older roster that needed a lot of things to go right in order to finish over .500.
As we talked about this morning, a lot of stuff has gone wrong for this team, and they’re still playing pretty good baseball. There are legitimate reasons to think that Jesus Montero is going to get better. That Dustin Ackley is going to get better. The organization’s five best prospects – all five are likely top 100 prospects in baseball – are all in Double-A or Triple-A, and each one could conceivably spend time in the big leagues in 2013. This is a young team with a wave of talent coming, and they’re already giving the fans some reason for hope.
They won’t keep winning 14 out of every 15 home games, but if they can finish the season anywhere close to .500, if they can get some progress out of Ackley and Montero, if they can point to what Zunino is doing in his professional debut in Double-A, if they can continue to establish John Jaso as a legitimate offensive threat… all of the sudden, this is a team worth paying attention to.
And just like there’s a death spiral that comes from bad teams cutting payroll and driving fans further away, teams can and do get their fans back. Seattle is willing to support the Mariners if they put an entertaining product on the field. This city wants to be a baseball town again. If they keep playing like this, it might not take as long as everyone thinks.
2013 might be too soon to expect everything to come together, but the Nationals were supposed to be a year away from contending this year, and they currently have the best record in baseball. No, the Mariners don’t have Strasburg and Harper, but they have pieces in place, and they have pieces coming, and they have a fan base that is ready to come back to Safeco Field if the team gives them a reason to show up.
We got our hopes up a few years ago and the whole thing crashed and burned, so you shouldn’t start printing 2013 playoff tickets just yet. But, when you watch this team play right now, and you see 40,000 people at Safeco, and you see Felix on the mound, you should realize that this team isn’t that far away from getting the city back on their side.