I gotta be honest. I’m not the biggest Mariner fan. I don’t dislike the Mariners, but in the order of rooting for teams in the 206, the Mariners might be fourth on my list behind the Seahawks, Storm, and Sounders. Look, baseball is a long season, and there are no quarterback sacks in baseball, so you had better make it interesting for me, and the Mariners have done a miserable job of that over the past decade and a half of major league baseball.
I haven’t cared greatly for Mariners baseball for a number of reasons, and one of the strangest, for a reason that I can’t quite wrap my head around, is the odd level of division between some Mariner fans and Seahawk fans.
Here’s a perfect example. Last Spring, I’m walking through Pioneer Square on my way to a show, and I’m sporting along in my vintage Seahawk T-shirt underneath a sports blazer (it’s my going out look). As I approach the theater, I walk through packs of eager Mariner fans on their way to watch some live ball. Good for them, as the 2018 Mariners have flashed reasons for going out to the park, but as I pass by this one group of twenty-somethings, this intoxicated gal looks at me, awkwardly lunges with her friend holding her back, and yells “Seahawks suck!”
Nice. “It must perpetually suck being a Mariners fan,” I thought to myself as I kept along my way.
Well, maybe not anymore.
I gotta say, and I know it is just a few games into this young 2019 season, but the 2019 Seattle Mariners are starting to make my head turn quite a bit, and if they can do that, that is a really good thing. 11-2 is a nice record after two weeks, but that doesn’t tell even a fraction of this story. It’s how they got to that impressive start that truly impresses. Thirty two home runs within the first twelve games is insane offensive production. There are teams that haven’t even scored thirty two runs yet. Thirty two home runs through twelve games is also a Major League record. In this very short start to this major league season, the 2019 Seattle Mariners have made history. Let that sink in, and marinate.
That’s not even what I find so fascinating. The thing that have my Seahawk fan head turning towards this club is that they doing it with youth, finally. Gone is overpaid and overhyped Robinson Cano’. Out-y is veteran slugger Nelson Cruz. Bye bye ace closer Edwin Diaz. Adios is star pitcher James Paxton. Kept are some selective building block talents such as steady right fielder Mitch Haniger, and the flashy second baseman Dee Gordan. In is a talented cheap youth movement with the likes of first baseman Dan Vogelbach, shortstop Tim Beckman, and athletic center fielder Mallex Smith.
The team ended 2018 falling just short for the playoffs yet again, and general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais where left staring at a roster that gave it their all, but ran out of gas and fell short. They also looked at a farm system that was depleted and ranked dead last in the Major Leagues. They decided to be bold about it, if not fully nutzoid, and they went on a massive selling spree to acquire youth. I admit, I wrote them off as crazy. Trade James Paxton? Really?!
Now, I’m coming around, and I’m more than eating my words. Not only do I applaud their boldness, I’m becoming “all in” on this team again, and that is something I haven’t been since Lou Piniella was the Skipper.
When Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over a struggling Seattle Seahawks team in 2010, they made sweeping changes off the bat. The team had expensive “names” like receivers TJ Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson, and defense end Patrick Kerney but did they have talent? Nah. Not really, and those names and salaries were replaced with cheap reclamation talents such as former first round bust of a receiver Mike Williams, a certain backup running back in Buffalo named Marshawn Lynch, and a pass rushing end that nobody ever heard of in Chris Clemons. Players that were drafted that year included Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, and Golden Tate. The Seahawks were building something, and it wasn’t with big contracts. After the season, and the playoffs that featured the Beast Quake, Seattle let well paid veteran starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck walk out of town when he still probably two or three more decent seasons left in him as a starter.
When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl three years later, they did it with one of the youngest and deepest rosters in the league. I could argue that what possibly hurt the Seahawks the most after their Super Bowl runs was that they paid too many of their star players, and because they paid them so much top dollar, they stopped developing their younger talent that they were drafting. I remain skeptical of the idea that Seattle stopped drafting as well as they had prior to 2013. Personally, I think they stopped developing the talent that they drafted as well as they did before because, honestly, no fourth round corner was seriously going to challenge the newly richly paid Richard Sherman. No fifth round pick linebacker was going to challenge Bobby Wagner or KJ Wright. When Frank Clark was a rookie, he barely saw the field during stretches of games because he was lost in the pass rush rotation that included Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Bruce Irvin.
Now, back to the Ms.
The Mariners, in my mind, for years were a franchise that was constantly mortgaging the future to compete in the present. They seemed afraid of a down year, or years, for years. They would chase the big names seemingly as a means of gaining relevance in a market that was increasingly becoming more dominated by its football team with each year. When the team traded promising young outfielder Adam Jones to Baltimore for veteran starting pitcher and curmudgeon Erik Bedard, I felt the vomit of burger I had for lunch sneak up into my throat. Then promising closer Brian Fuentes to Colorado for flash in the pan Jeff Cirillo? Argh.
But nothing is more painful than seeing the team getting absolutely snow jobbed into in signing Robinson Cano’ to that ridiculous contract in 2013. Brutal. The fact that Seattle got the Mets to agree to trade for Cano’ and that contract is nothing short of miraculous, but it also cost the Ms Edwin Diaz and $20 million. Extremely high cost of doing business, but absolutely necessary.
Then the egg is all over your face, and you peed your pants, own it, and then do something about it. I think that is what Dipoto and Servais have done in this offseason, and the result of these moves is a Mariners ball club that is youth, hungry, and driven. That is very Seattle Seahawks circa 2011-2012.
There can be something truly galvanizing when you are a franchise full of a bunch of no name players that are unified with the feeling that nobody is taking them seriously. At one point during the Seahawks’ rise to greatness, nobody heard much of or considered much of Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, and Doug Baldwin. Now all of these guys are Seattle icons. I’m not saying that Vogelbach, Gordon, Beckham, and pitcher Marco Gonzales are destined to become icons someday, but I am saying that they have my attention, I’m watching, and I am genuinely excited to see what comes out of this. It could be special.
And if it is special, and if I should ever see that drunk female Mariners fan ever again someday, I’m going to shout at her “Mariners rock!” – because, frankly, I am a better person than she is.