In between Sunday afternoons spent watching Nickelodeon Guts and Family Double Dare and all the other kid shows that permeated every kid’s existence in the kid-friendly, kid-centric Nineties, I was a baseball fan. My summers were punctuated by bruises and scuffed knees and mosquito bites that only seemed to multiply each time I scratched them. I had a glove with Ken Griffey Jr.’s name burned into the pocket, a wardrobe full of blue and yellow Mariners apparel, snapback caps with an “S” on the crown, and this belief, however foolish, that I would one day grow up to be them.
Throughout the duration of every season, I would type up, print out, and maintain a list of each player on the Mariners’ active roster. Jersey number, name, and position. If Dann Howitt got called up from Triple-A, then by god you’d find me in front of a Macintosh Classic typing Howitt’s information into Microsoft Works. And if I went to a game to discover that Howitt’s jersey number had inexplicably been switched from 23 to 44, upon arriving home that edit would be made, saved, printed, and kept. I could give you the details on every single player, from No. 1 (Greg Briley and Brian Turang) all the way to No. 96 (Mak Suzuki).
Fashion conscious as I was, my mother let me dress myself from an early age. So unlike many of my elementary school peers, adorned in expensive button-ups from Nordstrom and pants that didn’t have an elastic waistband, I was as comfortable and content as any child could possibly be — in third grade, for example, I wore shorts for an entire school year, just because. Mostly, though, I attired myself in t-shirts with cartoon images of Junior on the front, “life-size” jersey replicas of Randy Johnson, and colorful advertisements for the American League Western Division. I wore those shirts down to their last threads. I sweat and fought and bled and cried in those shirts. I had unforgettable experiences in those shirts. I lived an entire adolescence with sweatshirts tied around my waist, securing those shirts through recess after recess as we tossed Nerf Vortex Screamers, held footraces, shot baskets, kicked red rubber spheres, and chased our imaginations across wood chips and dirt fields.
I sat on metal benches — some with red backs, some with orange — and devoured nachos, peanuts, hot dogs, Milk Duds, and any other stadium fare one could conceivably dream up. I blew bubbles of Green Apple Bubblicious gum, then stuffed the popped remains into my lower lip to look like the ballplayers with their chewing tobacco, the ones whose bad habits I couldn’t help but emulate. I stood in the Kingdome concourse and marveled at the souvenir stands, staring down brand new caps, jerseys, jackets, pennants, trading card sets, pins, replica helmets, mini bats, photo balls, blow up bones, everything. Who didn’t want a gold No. 24 necklace? So what if it was $10? It was $10 well spent.
There was no cynicism in those days. We were bad, but we were a dignified sort of bad. We had never won, so there was no expectation to win. Our guys, they just played baseball. And when they won, we were happy. And when they lost, we moved on. We watched players come and go, the ones who wanted to be here staying until those star-crossed seasons when we actually began to win. They led us proudly into a world of expectation. When they left, when we lost again, our innocence was replaced by that cynicism, by a bit of newfound impatience that couldn’t be satiated until we won again. We won again. And even those players left. We lost again. We haven’t won since.
Every spring we find ourselves in this position. The days get longer, the sun shines brighter, and we start believing that maybe, just maybe, this will be the year. So what if we were downright mediocre last season? So what if our competition improved? Do you see that sunshine? Do you feel that warmth? It’s almost summertime! If the clouds can dissipate and the rain can cease and the sun can shine here, now…well, anything must be possible. We are easily swayed, us Mariner fans. Or maybe we’re just blessed with bigger hearts, bigger imaginations, and smaller whatever-it-is that makes you think clearly even in the face of sheer obviousness.
There’s a chance. We get to play the Astros 19 times this year. Nineteen! And the Astros might not even win a game. Really, they’re that bad.
We have a middle-of-the-order now: Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, Jesus Montero. We have hitters that actually scare pitchers — or if not scare them, perhaps make their blood pressure rise just a tad.
We have an ace, a King, and he’s not going anywhere for a long time. Players want to play with him, for him. They certainly don’t want to go against him. He’s our fulcrum. Everyone knows it, and everyone respects it.
We have pitchers who can pitch, hitters who can hit, fielders who can field, we got real jerseys and everything! Okay, so maybe that’s oversimplifying things a bit. But we’re not bad. We’re at least okay. And okay sometimes has a way of spiraling its way into good, which can sometimes spiral its way into great. And from there, who knows.
Mostly, though, we have players who won’t make a mockery of our memories. We have guys who want to wear a Mariners uniform. Guys like Felix Hernandez, who cried tears of joy when he inked a contract that will keep him here for the better part of the next decade. Guys like the aforementioned Morse, who was ecstatic upon learning he had been traded to the first organization that ever let him play in the big leagues. Guys like Raul Ibanez, who signed on to finish his career in Seattle just because he likes it here. Every time we’ve ever won, we’ve had players who truly wanted to be in Seattle. Players that made you like them, if for no other reason than the fact that they seemed to understand, in some way or another, that you as a child had worn the same logo they now wore, had scraped your knees in that logo the way they scraped theirs, had sweat in that logo just as they now sweat.
We don’t ask for much in Seattle. We’re an enigma to sports fans outside our corner of the map. We don’t demand winners so much as we beg for them. We don’t expect success so much as we bask in its aura. At the end of the day, all we really ask for is new memories to be made and old memories to be enhanced. Winning, as it turns out, has a way of fulfilling both those requests.
The Seattle Mariners are dealing with a generation of fans who grew up wearing the colors and the emblem of a team that sucked, but sucked in a beautifully organic, pure, simple way. Our innocence mirrored the innocence of an entire organization. We grew up together, and as we’ve grown up, our experiences have shaped the way we approach the future in tandem with one another. We can be cynical at times, we can be unsatisfied quite frequently, we can be down on our prospects, upset with our situation.
But every spring, right about this time of year, all of that is replaced by unbridled optimism. We see the good in one another — us in them, them in us — and we believe that this might just possibly be the year. Maybe. Maybe this is the year.