They slowly wither away in dark rooms illuminated only by the iridescence of a television set, mainlining ROOT Sports coverage of Seattle Mariners baseball like heroin junkies slumped upon the dusty plywood surface of a neighborhood drug house.
They find comfort in Brad Adam, take solace in Angie Mentink. This is what they know, what they crave, what they need to survive this day and the next. They know they should quit, but how does one loosen the firm grasp of addiction?
They are lifers, these people. They bleed every shade of Mariners blue that can be bled: royal, powder, navy, teal. They’re in it for the long haul, despite the utter misery of the situation in which they find themselves.
For the most part, they are passionless, barely functional, hardly human. Losing is what they’ve come to understand, and each subsequent loss registers no more than a facial twitch or a shrug of the shoulders. Wins, those fleeting moments of abbreviated happiness, result in tempered celebrations that only serve to worsen the dependence upon this poisonous chemical.
There is, perhaps, just one thing that can bring these zombies back to the rest of society, back to a normal existence. It is the one thing they haven’t experienced in nearly two decades. It tantalizes and teases, pulls at heartstrings, consumes the mind, permeates the soul. It is the mecca for anyone who calls themselves a sports fan, the land of opportunity, of promise. It is the postseason, and it is the last remaining hope for a legion of infected diehards.
The Mariners own the longest playoff drought in major professional sports and their fans are dying of thirst. Lips cracked, skin burnt, gasping for air, crawling upon the dried, barren ground thirst.
Seventeen years without a divisional crown or a wildcard berth has taken its toll on the masses. To pledge allegiance to a team that consistently fails when the expectation is the exact opposite is definitively insane, and yet Mariner fans do it every year.
For the moment, they are optimistic. Their team is undefeated. They’re in first place. An entire 162-game slate awaits, with each contest presenting just two outcomes: win, or lose.
One-hundred-sixty-two unique chances to succeed. It seems so thrilling, so possible. Like the jackpot on a slot machine, flashing vibrantly as bells and whistles capture one’s senses and entertain the prospect of the improbable. Never mind the math (statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Mariners just a 26% chance to make the postseason), this is worth the investment, however frivolous. And like a gambler who finds his hands making their way to his wallet, Mariner fans are about to spend everything they have on little more than a pipe dream.
This could be the year, of course, much like the sixteen preceding years that could have been the year in the wake of the organization’s last playoff appearance in 2001. The emotional capital surrendered in that time is so massive that it wouldn’t make any sense to renounce one’s fandom now. But every realist in the bunch knows the 2018 edition of the Mariners are already in dire straits.
The Astros are World Series champs, the Angels are going all-in to contend, and that’s just within the AL West. Across the entire American League, seemingly every team has a plan that makes sense: they’re either buying to win now, or selling to build for the future. And yet those pesky, lovable M’s, stuck firmly in the middle of the pack, are neither of those things. They aren’t on the up or the down, necessarily. They’re just there. They are the median, the mean, the average. They are perfectly mediocre, and that’s a frustrating truth for loyalists to accept.
Hence, these true blue supporters find themselves on the precipice of another relapse. Six months sober since the last high and it’s all about to come crashing down. They’ll take another hit, another dose, and it will be back to the unbreakable cycle of addiction.
This is supposed to be enjoyable. Sports are meant to be fun. And yet for Mariner fans, this sets up to be another angst-ridden exercise in dealing with one’s emotions – emotions that will manifest themselves in wildly varying ways. There will be fits of out-and-out rage, vitriol masked by a meme of a cartoon dog in a burning house, GIFs of every sadly hysterical misstep, quarreling on social media, overwrought odes to distinctly unexceptional athletes, pathetic attempts at locating humor where there is otherwise none to be found, expletive-laden rants, tears, apathy, numbness, a smorgasbord of pain unleashed.
Or maybe the M’s will win it all and spare our hearts the agony. Fuck it. Let’s just go with that.