I love baseball. I always have. I’m a fan of many sports, but baseball has always been my favorite. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enraptured by the game. Baseball, to me, is just the greatest.
When people tell me they can’t stand baseball, you have to figure I’d be appalled, but I’m not. I get it. Baseball is long, often tedious, and rather slow. Games last three hours on average and rely on no clock to keep things moving. Not only that, but your best players will elude success seventy-percent of the time, and really, who wants to witness that much failure? Learning the nuances of baseball — the obscure rules, the unwritten points of etiquette, not to mention the lingo — is on par with learning Mandarin. And let’s be honest, going to a game isn’t necessarily cheap. All those things add up to a level of discontent that I can empathize with. Because frankly, I feel the exact same way about soccer.
It was bound to happen sooner or later: Mike Zunino had to be called up to the big leagues. The end result was imminent, yet the timing of that end result was a point of contention for pundits and fans alike. It was never about if, but always about when. That “when” hit today, as news broke this morning that the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 Draft would be making his way to Seattle to take over as the team’s starting catcher (or at least part-time starting catcher, with a nod to Kelly Shoppach).
Almost immediately, opinions on the move flooded the internet. The prevailing sentiment, naturally, is that this promotion was more of a job-saving maneuver than anything else, a way for those on the hot seat — namely, general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge — to try and salvage employment at season’s end.
The truth is, I don’t hate the Mariners. I never have, never will. You don’t hate the Mariners, either, I imagine. You might say you do, but you don’t. No one hates the Mariners. The Mariners don’t invoke hatred. Outside of the bubble that is Mariners fandom, the world could care less about this team. They are a punch line, if that. Rival fans — and I use the word “rival” very loosely — don’t give a damn about Seattle. For those of us who do give a damn, the passions evoked by our favorite baseball team are far more painstaking than detachment. What the Mariners inspire is a feeling that borders on apathy, yet results in frustration. It is that emotion, a reluctant resignation to a fate with a tragic ending, that makes this situation unique in a very sad, special way.
First, some context. The below video was made by a guy named Don Joss, owner of DJ’s Sportscards in Renton. For anyone who grew up in the Greater Seattle area and collected cards as a kid, DJ’s is basically a mecca. Occupying an unassuming storefront in a small strip mall on the corner of Duvall Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, DJ’s is stacked floor to ceiling with all sorts of sports cards and memorabilia. It’s been there since those of us who are now adults were kids. It’s a great memory for so many and unlike most similar shops around the nation, it still exists.
The owner, Don, is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He makes you want to collect cards again. If for no other reason than because you want him to do well. I mean, this is a guy who still, to this day, owns a card shop. That’s on par with owning a phonograph dispensary or a pager company. I don’t know what the going salary for a card shop owner is, but I have to imagine it’s not enough. Card shop owners are living out the dreams of every ’80s- and ’90s-era kid. When I was a kid, I only wanted to be two things: professional baseball player or sports card shop owner. I failed on both accounts.
Anyway, whether you care to purchase cards ever again or not, I urge you to watch the following video. This video is supposed to be an ad, of sorts, but I damn near shed a tear. Hoops, Skybox, Fleer Ultra, Topps, Bowman…so beautiful, all of it.
On October 22, 2008, the Seattle Mariners named Jack Zduriencik their newest General Manager. Assuming control of an organization that had been decimated by the foibles of its previous GM, Bill Bavasi, Zduriencik faced a daunting task in rebuilding the Mariners from the ground up.
Just 50 days after landing his new gig, Zduriencik made the first trade of his Mariners tenure. The trade was a blockbuster and would continue to have an impact on the ballclub four-and-a-half years later, where we find ourselves today.
In the aftermath of that initial deal, and leading up to our date of publication, May 28, 2013, Zduriencik proceeded to make 41 more trades for a total of 42 over four-plus seasons. The following is an analysis of all 42 of those transactions.
Trades are listed chronologically, from earliest to most recent. Players acquired in BOLD are current members of the Mariners organization. Grades associated with each trade are entirely subjective and reflective of the author’s opinion.
Trade No. 1: December 11, 2008
Teams involved: New York Mets, Cleveland Indians
In the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the title character, Borat Sagdiyev, imparts the story of his younger brother Bilo, a tragedy-stricken young man who lives in a cage. For years Bilo is taunted by his sister, Natalya, the No. 4 prostitute in all of Kazakhstan. Natalya, who has even earned a trophy for her whoring efforts, often dances before her confined sibling, flashing her “vazheen,” shouting, “You will never get this, you will never get it, la la la la la la!”
Restricted to a life behind cold, metal bars, Bilo cries. He cries, says Borat, as everybody laughs. And as they laugh, Bilo’s older sister issues a firm decree: “You never get this.”
I know how you feel, Sonics fans. I feel the exact same way. We’re frustrated, exhausted, angry, disappointed, all of the above. Why should we care about the NBA anymore? Why should we give a damn about David Stern and his godforsaken league? All valid questions. All valid reasons to walk away from this situation that won’t seem to find its happy ending.
Frankly, it would be easier to quit at this point then continue investing our energy in a dream that may never become a reality. It would be easier to throw our hands up, turn our backs on the Association, and be done with pro basketball altogether.
With all due respect to Steve Ballmer, the Nordstrom family, minority stakeholders, ex-players, political figures, activists, media members, and anyone else who has helped lead the charge to bring the Sonics back to Seattle, I have to dedicate the following letter of thanks to one man, Chris Hansen. Without Chris, none of this “Bring Back the Sonics” mania even exists. Without Chris, we aren’t sitting here trying to wrap our collective heads around the real possibility that we may get our beloved green-and-gold-clad squad back. And without Chris, we lack the most important thing we need to keep the memory of our team and the prospect of its return alive: hope.
I still remember the day that Chris Hansen came riding into town on a proverbial white horse, seemingly out of nowhere, determined to bring the Sonics back to our fair city. It’s been more than a year. The first time I wrote about the guy was February 9th, 2012. I didn’t even know him, but I wanted to hug him. He got me believing in something that had been comatose, on life support. Who knew if the Sonics would ever come back? It had been three-and-a-half years since they’d left and the political climate from both ends of the spectrum — in Seattle, and with the NBA — was far from favorable.
But then this dude, this hedge fund manager, this guy no one knew — Who? Chris Hansen? The Dateline guy? The predator catcher? — changed all that.
I can’t be more clear about this. I don’t care what Chris Hansen does from this moment forward. I don’t care how he’s gone about trying to get our team back. I. Don’t. Care. The fact is, he’s made one hell of an effort. He’s put this entire town, this entire citizenry of basketball fans, upon his shoulders and carried us to this point. He’s done what no one before him could do. He’s made those who wanted to say “No,” say “Yes.” He’s forced non-believers to believe and believers to believe more. He’s been, if nothing else, inspirational.
It doesn’t all come down to today. Today, the NBA owners decide whether or not the Sacramento Kings can be relocated to Seattle. A vote in favor of relocation would pave the way for Hansen and Co. to buy the team, unencumbered, from the Maloof family. A vote against relocation would essentially allow for a Sacramento-based group led by Vivek Ranadive (and, let’s face it, mayor Kevin Johnson) to seize the team from the Maloofs, assuming the Maloofs would be willing to relinquish their asset to said group. A vote for the latter is what’s expected, the latter that likewise favors the opposition. Regardless of what decision is voted upon, however, there will be backlash. So no, this won’t be over on Wednesday. Not at all.
But let’s say the vote, as anticipated, were to favor Sacramento, not Seattle. And let’s say that the NBA, as anticipated, tried their hardest to get the Maloofs to sell the Kings to Ranadive’s group. Let’s say expansion failed to appear as a viable near-term option. And let’s say that, by Thursday, the situation looked bleak, at best. If Chris Hansen were to give up at that very moment, I wouldn’t blame him. I’d be a little surprised, but I wouldn’t blame him for walking away. And when I looked back upon Hansen’s legacy, I’d be happy for what he gave us over the course of a year-and-a-half. Because he’s given us a ton.
I don’t think Chris will give up, though. I don’t think he’ll quit. Not until the Sonics are more than just a memory. Not until there’s an NBA team inhabiting our city once again. What Chris Hansen and his cohorts have done is beyond amazing. They’ve given us hope, yes. But they’ve also given us clout with a league that turned its back on us just a few short years ago. They’ve given us a voice, they’ve made the world take notice. We’ve scratched and clawed our way back to relevance when it comes to professional basketball, and that’s thanks in large part to one individual who was brought to action by his own bubbling source of civic pride.
Maybe that’s why it will be damn near impossible to ever speak one ill word of Chris Hansen. Because unlike so many other guys who have propped themselves upon pedestals high above us average Seattleites, Hansen is one of us. He cares about this cause as much as we do. He loves Seattle as much as we do. He’s as average as they come, as average as the rest of us, and yet above-average in so many ways. As far as I’m concerned, this guy can do whatever the hell he wants. He’s a saint in my book. He deserves a holiday in his honor. Preferably something in August, because August needs a goddamn holiday. Who wants a day off in August? I know I do. Saint Hansen Day sounds like a good way to spend a summer afternoon.
No matter what happens today, tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade, I have two words for you, Chris: Thank you. You’ve made all of this possible. You’ve brought a legion of fans together. You’ve united a city. You’ve given us passion, you’ve given us fuel, you’ve given us reason to believe. We owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude and I can’t tell you how much all of this means to us. We are the Sonics, all of us. You, me, every fan emblazoned with the Seattle skyline in a green-and-gold semi-circle. Until our ballclub returns, this team is thousands upon thousands deep.
As they say in one of my favorite movies, Remember the Titans, “attitude reflects leadership.” You have led us remarkably. And we are one badass group of basketball fans.
Thanks, Chris. Go Sonics.
You know those “Jesus is _____” bumper stickers? Every time I see one of those, I want to walk up with a pen and write “only hitting .203″ on the blank line. Sure, the vehicle’s owner might not get nor appreciate the joke, but hey, don’t buy a fill-in-the-blank bumper sticker next time.
In fact, you could make all sorts of “Jesus is” wisecracks when it comes to Mariners catcher Jesus Montero. Jesus is 0-for-15 in throwing out stealing base runners. Jesus is unable to hit a curveball. Or how about this one: Jesus is destined for Triple-A. It’s that last “Jesus is” that might be most concerning. But based on current circumstances, it should become the team’s reality.
I hate losing. I once sat in a 1991 Toyota Previa in the Factoria Square parking lot and bawled for an hour because I had pitched poorly in a Little League game and had cost my team a victory. My family went inside to eat dinner and I stayed in the van, refusing to eat, refusing to move. I don’t do well with defeat. I never have. Even now, there is little that can be done to assuage me when my team so much as drops a rec basketball game. I will either a) sit in grim silence for an entire car ride home, or b) verbally break down every single thing that went wrong on our failed quest for triumph. My friends deserve a lot of credit for dealing with that version of me that, to this day, struggles to cope with losing.
I guess in many ways it’s ironic that I am a Seattle sports fans — I don’t know how to lose, and seemingly all my teams do is just that. My whole life, I’ve encountered failure from these entities I hold so dear to me, and yet I’ve never learned how to accept the bitter taste of defeat. I sat through an entire childhood of Seahawks futility, labored through thousands (literally, thousands) of Mariner losses, had seats in the upper level for every home game of the only 0-12 season in University of Washington football history, then paid witness to the ultimate heartbreak when the Sonics were taken from us and moved to Oklahoma City.
Before reading the following, I encourage you to read Jason Collins’ first-person piece in Sports Illustrated, the article announcing the 34-year-old’s sexuality. No matter your stance on the issue, the article is incredibly well-written, insightful, and moving. Aside from such a groundbreaking announcement, Collins’ personal reflection is admirable and intelligent. The column should serve not just as a revelation in its message, but also as a lesson in self-awareness. Regardless of Collins’ status as a professional athlete, it’s absolutely clear through the strength of his voice and the content of his character that he is more than capable of being a vocal leader in the gay community. Props to Jason Collins on being a trailblazer and, in his words, starting the conversation.
Jason Collins is the first athlete in a major professional sport to come out as gay and my first reaction is not one of shock over his sexuality, but shock that he still plays in the NBA. Because in all honesty, I thought Collins had long since gone the way of Mouhamed Sene and departed for a league overseas or the sanctity of retirement. Alas, to my stunned surprise, that isn’t the case at all. In reality, Collins is still an active NBA player. Imagine that.
My reaction is just one of a litany of reactions that will be inspired by Collins’ announcement. Personally, I don’t care whether a guy is gay, straight, or what-have-you. Maybe that’s why I was more shocked to learn that Collins is still an active NBA player as opposed to a former one — my ignorance is limited to Jason Collins, NBA player, rather than Jason Collins, gay NBA player.
This is not looking good. I’ve been feverishly checking my inbox and have yet to run across a 100-page manifesto on the failures of local sports journalists, a manifesto I was expecting to receive no later than today. Granted, there’s still a ton of time before Friday comes to a close, but the situation is grim, to say the least.
I don’t even know what to think right now. I’ve gone to all this trouble clearing 100 pages of online space right here on this site and now? Now I’m at a loss as to how I’ll fill that space if my columnist doesn’t come through.
You may be wondering how I came to be fortunate enough to be promised a 100-page manifesto in the first place. Great question.
Over the past decade, the Mariners have been really, really, really good at spawning anger and dissent amongst their fan base. Really good. I can’t tell you how good they’ve been at this. To the credit of the affected population, rather than commit crimes or go on villainous rampages, fans have taken to the world wide web to voice their displeasure for the organization, because frankly, what else is this online environment good for, anyway?
You’d think that people would be relatively unified in their angst over a team that hasn’t been to the postseason in twelve years, but that’s not the case at all. So what if we all agree that the team sucks? Some people out there don’t agree enough. Some people out there show signs of occasional optimism, others show too much pessimism, some aren’t as critical as we’d like them to be, others are far too critical. We can agree that the Mariners are bad, but we can’t agree on the way in which we all agree about that very thing we originally agreed upon. If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.
Playing baseball on Sunday afternoons until the sky turned red and the shadows disappeared. Until my arm ached from hundreds and hundreds of tosses (forget pitch counts) and my legs tired from all the running. Until dirt stained my socks and sweat softened the bill of my cap.
I remember laughing for no reason and shouting for fun. Chasing ground balls and fly balls and bugs and just about anything else that was deemed worth chasing.
I think about diving into the grass over and over again, trying wholeheartedly to snag pop-ups that fell just out of reach. It wasn’t about the catch; it was about the leap and the fall. It was about the cushion that the cool, green earth somehow provided. That feeling of hitting the ground and caring about nothing else in the world besides getting up and doing it again.