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.
I don’t have anything against soccer. I just don’t like it. I’ve given it a try and it’s not my cup of tea. When I was eight years old, I played organized soccer for the first time. I didn’t like the aimless running (there’s a lot of that as a kid), the rain, the mud, or taking balls off my face (feel free to have fun with that last item at my expense). Were it not for the mid-game orange slices and post-game snacks, I might have staged a sit-in halfway through the season. Soccer was that bad.
As I got older, my disinterest in soccer only grew. I had no desire to watch games or so much as kick a ball around with buddies. To me, soccer was the mushrooms on your plate as a kid or the math problems you had to do for homework. I acknowledged it existed and that’s where our affinity for one another came to its abrupt end.
Now here we are a generation later and soccer is the coolest thing going. Whodathunkit, right? I’m 28 years old, and chances are if you’re around my age, no matter whether you’re a soccer fan or not, you could not have seen this coming when we were kids. This is new, uncharted territory. We’re on the cusp of a soccer revolution that a decade ago would have been scoffed at. Sure, the world enjoyed fútbol, but not us, not Americans. We were the holdouts. Until this city, my city, Seattle, decided to become the soccer capital of the United States.
There are times I actually feel bad that I can’t bring myself to like the “beautiful game.” I tried assimilating to the sport as an adult by attending a match, but no luck. I was bored. Nothing had changed since my youth. And now, as we sit here today, I’ve simply come to accept that soccer and I will continue to exist not as friends or enemies, but two entities forced to share space with one another.
In spite of all that, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that soccer is having on Seattle right now. Between Sounders matches and World Cup Qualifiers, the nation’s soccer spotlight is pointed squarely upon the Emerald City. We don’t just embody American soccer; we are American soccer. It’s intriguing, even to a curmudgeon like myself.
With a competing sport as my first love, however, the overwhelming support for soccer in this town has cast a shadow on my baseball fandom. More than anything, I wish our baseball team gave us reason to cheer the way our soccer team does. We all know they used to do that. Once upon time, the Mariners were our main attraction. And we were just as inspired by them as we currently are by the Sounders.
Winning cures all ills, and since their inception in 2009, the Sounders have been winners. Contrast that to the Mariners, who have emerged as perennial losers for more than a decade now. Make no mistake about it, each of these teams has earned their respective standing amongst the city’s sports fans.
As the crowd at CenturyLink Field has grown, the numbers at Safeco Field have dwindled. Some would argue that each team carries its own unique fan base, completely segregated from that of its next-door neighbor. But come on. We all know that isn’t true. Seattleites are notorious bandwagoners, determined to ride the wave of success before disembarking at the first sign of trouble. Sports fans in the Pacific Northwest (with the possible exception of Seahawks fans, who are crazy — in a good way) are malleable, impressionable fad embracers that view games as social gatherings and often little else. They are young professionals who strive to fit in, who gravitate towards counter-culture movements because counter-culture is what’s in, you see, and occasionally requires skinny jeans and faux eyewear to really pull off. Never mind the fact that the most counter-culture are those like my friend Bob Condotta, he of the hooded-sweatshirt-at-the-club look, who don’t give a damn what others think and are awesome because of that. No, the Seattle sports fan is a heavily influenced breed that would like you to believe they aren’t influenced at all. But they are, very much so, and that’s where soccer, at the expense of baseball, has come to gather its following.
The Mariners and their seemingly oblivious front office are probably just starting to realize that fans aren’t being swayed by gimmicks or guys who used to be good a few years back when they were, you know, playing against us. Fans, especially Seattle fans, are swayed by a winner. Soccer is evidence of that. As the losses have piled up on the diamond, fans have looked elsewhere for their sporty get-togethers with friends. Sandwiched between early and late happy hour, the people have flocked to the pitch — the Sounders, along with their increasingly rabid crowd, have blossomed.
My wish, as I alluded to earlier, is for our baseball team to infuse this city with a similar passion to that of our soccer team. It’s not asking a lot, and it doesn’t take anything more than victories. So above all else, just win, Mariners. Because as simple and as stupid as it sounds, if you win, this city’s fans will return.