If It Goes Right

Jeff Sullivan · March 31, 2014 at 8:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I’m sitting here right now, hating the Red Sox. Expressed like that, this is hardly unfamiliar. I remember I made the mistake of rooting for the Red Sox in 2003 and 2004, when I was living in New England, and as good an experience as it was when they won that first World Series, boy do I ever look back on that and shake my head. I haven’t been able to stand the Red Sox since the first day of 2005, and I’ve been pretty actively rooting against them for years. But this whole time, that whole decade, I’m not going to pretend like a lot of it wasn’t jealousy. Or envy. Is there a difference? I couldn’t stand them in large part because they were so successful. I was bitter about my own baseball team, content to lash out. For some time, I’ve hated the Red Sox, and I’ve rooted against them in important games. For the first time, I’m hating the Red Sox because I don’t want them to knock out the Mariners. Used to be I hated them because of what they were. Today I hate them because of what they aren’t. They aren’t us. They’re kind of in our way.

As I take this short breather to reflect, I think what gets me the most is the very obviousness of this outcome. Not that the Mariners, of course, were ever the favorites in this division, but look at the way things played out. This wasn’t a team that needed any miracles, nor was it a team that received any miracles. We had a sense this would be a talented young team, with upside given development. Talented players developed. Talented players produced and prevented runs. Talented players won games. If you forgot everything you heard about the front office, you’d almost be tempted to think, hey, this team did everything right. They entered the season with upside, and they were carried into first by baseball ability we all already knew about.

I remember paying so much attention to projected standings even weeks before the start of the year. FanGraphs rolled out its Cool Standings stuff, and then there were projections and then there were projected records. Initially, the Mariners were projected to be pretty close to the rest of the AL West best. Then they never really fell away. Not when the system was updated. Not when the depth charts changed. Not when ZiPS was included. PECOTA was saying similar things. On several occasions, I tried to figure out where the projections were going wrong. It seemed like the Mariners were being overrated, and the rivals were being underrated. Now in hindsight I feel like I was just acting damaged. The Mariners made me expect the Mariners to disappoint. It sure looks now like the projections were telling us the truth all along. The Mariners were right there with the other three from the start. The Mariners were a few player developments away from being division champs.

Obvious. The Mariners as a successful baseball team was obvious. Not obvious as a certainty, but obvious as a possibility. So many of us just weren’t ready to believe it. It was obvious the Mariners would be good in 2008, too. It was obvious they’d be good in 2010. When you’re hurt that bad, when you’re caught that much off guard, it changes your psychological DNA. We didn’t want to think that the flower might bloom, but the dirt was fertile and the sun was coming out. Flowers blossom in the right conditions, and it’s as simple as nature.

It was obvious that Felix would dominate. Felix always dominated. Why wouldn’t he continue to dominate? It’s always fair to point out that pitchers are unreliable and success and health can be fleeting, but when it comes to one’s own, there’s an over-inclination to be concerned. How often have we freaked out about Felix’s velocity? How often have we expressed worry when nothing was wrong? It never felt quite right for the Mariners to have one of the greatest players in the world, but that was on us, not him. Felix was amazing, so Felix would be amazing. That’s just pattern recognition.

It was obvious that Robinson Cano would be incredible. That’s what you pay $240 million for. Again, some of us acted like victims of abuse. We entertained notions of Cano coming apart in Seattle. One doesn’t soon forget Chone Figgins or Jeff Cirillo. One doesn’t soon forget another team’s experience with Albert Pujols. But what reason was there to be worried, actually? Cano had been one of the most consistently healthy and valuable players in baseball. Having Robinson Cano wasn’t all that different from having Miguel Cabrera. Cano was a superstar, and he played like a superstar. Yeah.

It was obvious there was other talent. One day in March, for reasons I never figured out, I flipped on a Marlins spring-training game. The broadcasters were talking about Jose Fernandez, then some guy hit a fly ball out to Giancarlo Stanton. I watched and thought, “hey, the Marlins have two unbelievable superstars, and they’re still projected to be the worst team in the league. Why should the Mariners be special?” It took me too long to realize, “oh yeah, the Mariners also have other guys.” Felix and Cano were the selling points. They were the stars, aligned. But there was always an abundance of talented support.

It was obvious Dustin Ackley wouldn’t be a disaster forever. He’d been obvious from the date of his drafting, and he’d shown signs of improvement down the stretch in 2013. It was obvious Kyle Seager would hit enough, because he was the reliable guy before Robinson Cano was the reliable guy. It was obvious Brad Miller would be a stud shortstop, even with the defensive issues, because his bat adjusted to the majors immediately and it always felt like he had a high floor. It was obvious Mike Zunino would improve from his initial, hurried cup of coffee. It was obvious Abraham Almonte would be a better player on this side of his alcoholism. It was obvious Michael Saunders would be regularly playable. It was obvious Justin Smoak would be just good enough.

It was obvious Corey Hart would hit, when he could play. It was obvious Taijuan Walker could overpower quality big-leaguers. It was obvious James Paxton could outmaneuver quality big-leaguers. It was obvious nothing would be wrong with Hisashi Iwakuma’s split-finger. It was obvious there was talent in the bullpen. It was even — dare I say — obvious the Mariners were in better hands with Lloyd McClendon than they had been in recent seasons past. In spring, I kept waiting to find reasons to be annoyed by McClendon as a manager. Obviously there were a few things, there are always a few things, but as managers go, I’ve been surprisingly pleased, and maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. McClendon was saying a lot of the right things from the beginning.

I’m saying too much about a season that isn’t over yet but I can’t really gain control of my fingers. They’re just typing at this point, happily typing about a baseball season I’m maybe trying to prove to myself actually happened. The more words I write about the 2014 Mariners, the deeper it’ll sink in that, yeah, those Mariners happened, and they’re still happening, and before long they’ll happen before a sellout October crowd at Safeco Field. People have said for years that the fan base was there — the Mariners just needed to find a way to tap back into it. Turns out Safeco can get full and loud, too. Mariners fans, Seahawks fans, Sounders fans — they’re all fans from the same city, and many of them are some loud sons of bitches.

This year’s Mariners aren’t done making memories. Maybe the rest of them will be bad, I don’t know. I thought I would’ve expected so, but these Mariners make me feel differently. Whatever happens, we already have quite the assortment of seemingly unforgettable season highlights. The 2012 perfect game made me feel deeply proud of a Mariner. The four-game May sweep of the Angels made me feel deeply proud of the Mariners, after thrashing their opponents — delightfully — 43-8. That gave me a feeling I hadn’t had in years. There were the two Walker showdowns against Yu Darvish, and it feels like ages ago we were worrying about those pitch counts. I think I remember two-thirds of the pitches Chris Young threw in his one-hitter right after Erasmo Ramirez’s elbow thing. Stefen Romero’s walk-off? Miller’s walk-off inside-the-parker? The game-ending play at the plate in Toronto? The consecutive huge rallies against New York? Every win had something. Every win always has something, but in a successful season, those somethings are connected, lifted to feel like and mean something greater than they would on their own.

I’m definitely thrilled to have finally washed the taste of Lollablueza out of my mouth. I couldn’t believe how long it had been since the Mariners played at least some later-summer games of significance, and this time they didn’t wilt. They didn’t wilt after losing the first one; if anything, it seemed to inspire them. The 2007 Mariners were never going to do anything anyway. It’s not like they could’ve been champs, had they just beaten the hell out of the Angels. But that series made me feel embarrassed, personally embarrassed by a baseball team I like, and now those demons are exorcised. Now it’s time to exorcise some other ones.

When Matthew and I would talk in the before-times, we’d often discuss whether or not we were even Mariners fans anymore. We certainly didn’t feel like it. We felt like they were just going to be terrible, and we felt like that was okay, and we felt like we weren’t even thrilled about the prospect of rooting for this team given some of the decisions it had made. I always knew I liked the Mariners the most, but for long stretches I didn’t feel like I was into them. I wanted to know how I’d feel about a successful baseball team. I couldn’t know, just imagining it.

I’m into them. We’re all into them. We were mostly all always into them — we just also had to protect ourselves. The introspective, philosophical baseball fan is a baseball fan of a bad baseball team. A baseball fan of a good baseball team doesn’t really give a shit about the bigger questions, not in the moment, because the moment is about winning the next baseball game against the next enemy baseball team. It’s just sports. You have to question yourself when you’re following bad sports. There’s nothing to question when you’re following good sports. In our defense, we couldn’t have known that.

I just want to read everything. I want to immerse myself in this, to bathe myself in this, to let this seep into every nook and cranny of my tall and awkward physical and emotional form. I always had so much trouble writing things like series previews about the playoffs for my job, because they always felt so uncreative and it always felt like no one would be interested in whatever analysis I could provide. I couldn’t in any way relate to the audience. I get it now — when your team’s in the playoffs, you never want to stop consuming media coverage, no matter how insubstantial. You just want to experience everything, and you want to force yourself to continue to experience everything. Used to be I’d feel a renewed love of baseball come playoff time, when I could watch good teams in boisterous atmospheres without the Mariners being terrible. Now the Mariners are in the playoffs. I’m not prepared for this, but I really want to try to be.

When I’m not writing about the Mariners, I’m reading about the Mariners. And right now, no matter what I’m doing, I’m also hating the Red Sox. Right now, the Red Sox are the baseball team I hate the very most. It’s not weird to be hating the Red Sox — I’ve been hating the Red Sox for a long, long time. But to hate them the very most? To hate them as my first or second thought after waking up in the morning? To hate them with every sip of hot, delicious, northwest-roasted pour-over coffee? This is all new. The only baseball team I’m used to hating that much is the Mariners.

I still don’t know what it means to be true to the blue. This season has raised a whole lot of questions, which, perhaps, is always going to be the case. I like new questions, anyway. Make me feel curious. But this season has also provided one big answer, separate from the littler ones. I know that I am a Seattle Mariners fan. And it’s October, and I know that I’m going to be an emotional wreck. How about that?


16 Responses to “If It Goes Right”

  1. New England Fan on March 31st, 2014 8:37 am

    Having lived in New England for a loooooong time, I know exactly what you mean about hating the Red Sox. It’s not just the team, it’s that superior attitude of their fans – even when they don’t win, they want to complain about how they were cheated and should have won. The scapegoating when they lose is really disgusting. “Noma” was the greatest shortstop ever – until he became a bum. Johnny Damon was the best center fielder in history, until he left, and then he was “always” a guy with a weak arm…it goes on and on. Sometimes it goes the other way, too. Jim Rice – a bum until he became in retrospect a hero. This is a fan base that just really makes me angry. It’s so bad that I will even root for the Yankees when they play the Red Sox – that’s how much I can’t stand the Red Sox.

  2. okinawadave on March 31st, 2014 8:48 am

    Thanks for the hope, Jeff. If there’s one thing that Opening Day brings us every year, it’s a new, fresh start and a glimmer of hope that it could, actually, come together this year.

  3. csiems on March 31st, 2014 8:50 am

    Okay. Just so we understand it, in your wildest fantasy, the Mariners make it to the AL playoffs and probably lose to the Red Sox.

  4. MrZDevotee on March 31st, 2014 9:01 am

    New England… You took my words… I don’t hate the Red Sox, or the Patriots, I hate their fans, with a passion. It’s that entitled belief that they somehow divinely DESERVE to win every season’s championship in every season’s sport, and if it doesn’t happen, it’s because of some evil injustice by naive folks who don’t realize that Boston’s teams should win EVERY championship, EVERY season, in EVERY sport. Ad nauseum…

    It gets old, in about 30 seconds of talking to any of them… Then, add to the fact that they’re EVERYWHERE in the country, around every corner, just waiting to tell you how much better they are than you, because they’re Boston fans.

    And you’re dead on about the “he’s a bum”/”he’s the greatest ever”… I sat behind two heavy-accented Boston fans talking about Marco Scutaro once (when he was playing for the Red Sox)… They were talking about how awful he was on Toronto, but suddenly he was really good, and a valuable part of the league once he joined the Red Sox. No lie. They were in heavy rationalization about why they DON’T hate Marco Scutaro anymore, and how just joining the Red Sox made him a better player. (rolls eyes)

    (Okay, I need to calm down… *laugh*)

    Great fun, Jeff… I always love these. Although you scared me with this part–
    “It was obvious that Felix would dominate. Felix always dominated. Why wouldn’t he continue to dominate?”

    All that baseball superstition stuff scares me about you writing this… Especially given Felix’s admitted belief in superstitions, and the fact that it’s Felix Day. I’m gonna go listen to some Stevie Wonder, and get it out of my system… “There is…__________”

  5. Sportszilla on March 31st, 2014 9:12 am

    I will never, ever, get tired of our hypothetical four-game sweeps against the Angels.

  6. jonw on March 31st, 2014 9:16 am

    OK, as far as projections go that is some kind of feel good, even feel great!!

    Now if you can do some projections to make me believe my children will live up to expectations my year will be complete. Seriously. Please?

  7. riversurge24 on March 31st, 2014 10:21 am

    Will there be a post “If It Goes Wrong”.. I have a sneaky suspicion that is a more likely outcome.

  8. maqman on March 31st, 2014 11:08 am

    If you believe it then it is.

  9. Gormogon on March 31st, 2014 11:35 am

    Today, I am all “Hey, we’re in first place!”

  10. f1chunk on March 31st, 2014 11:43 am

    This is always my favorite post of the year.

  11. Dennisss on March 31st, 2014 12:01 pm

    Riversurge, I mentioned the possibility last year of an “If It Goes Wrong” post, but Jeff did not write one. The regular season, however, provided the “If It Goes Wrong” scenario well enough.

  12. Mekias on March 31st, 2014 12:54 pm

    If I close my eyes and take just the right combination of hallucinogens, I’m almost there with you, Jeff. One of these years, I’ll experience that feeling again. Why not this year?

  13. MrZDevotee on March 31st, 2014 1:14 pm

    The “If it goes wrong” post is also known as “the reality of the 2014 season”… It starts tonight and ends in about 6 months… Very lengthy read, with lots of plots twists. But if you like Stephen King novels, it’s pretty excellent until the end when the hero dies, and has to wait until next year.

  14. georgmi on March 31st, 2014 4:25 pm

    I always feel like this post should go up on 4/1 every year.

  15. CrashDavidson on March 31st, 2014 11:26 pm

    Sheer laugh-out-loud genius. Thank you Jeff. Every year, I read these and think “Yes! It could happen just that way! And then in October we’ll all go back and be like WOW Jeff really nailed it! It’s like Mike Blowers calling that home run on the 3-1 pitch in the pick-to-click! It’s like the Onion article calling Iraq War II on G.W. Bush’s first election day.! Except awesome instead of eerily chilling! It’s just like he said!”

    And then.. well..

    Aw hell, why not go with this good feeling. I’m a glass half full kind of guy anyway. Why fight it.

  16. LongDistance on April 1st, 2014 12:00 am

    Great, as always.

    And the thing about the Sox. So true, especially with the qualifications of New England and MrZ that it’s the fans. The basic attitude towards other fans is beyond patronizing. You don’t have the Red Sox for a team?… you might as well go slit your effing throat.

    Go M’s.

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