It’s been a helluva season, hasn’t it?
A season that’s had a little bit of everything in it. Games canceled due to extreme cold and eagles landing on pitchers’ shoulders and a wildly improbable run of one and two-run victories with the league’s best closer slamming the door time after time. It’s a season that’s contained both what seemed like a sure playoff spot to a long slide down coupled with a division rival’s refusal to take that expected nosedive after their own wildly improbable run.
It’s been a season that showcased both the best and the worst of sports fandom. The kind of season that reveals who the fans of a team are versus who the fans of winning are. Not that there’s anything wrong with winning, of course. To quote Nuke LaLoosh, “it’s like, better than losing.”
But here’s the thing—and it’s just my opinion—if you truly love a team, you also have to love the game.
News flash: I love the game.
My love of baseball is the sole good memory I have of time spent with my father. (Also, as a Cuban girl, it’s entirely possible béisbol is in my blood.)
Growing up as I did in Miami in the 70s and 80s, we didn’t have a local team to root for. Not a single team in the state. Those were dark times. (I mean, it’s Florida, so dark times anyhow, but yeah—dark, man.) But perhaps because my parents had lived (and I had been born) in New York and because there were so many transplants, and because they held Spring Training in Ft. Lauderdale, a lot of people in South Florida were Yankees fans. Those national broadcast Saturday Major League games, nine times out of ten, we got the Yankees. And let’s face it—those Yankees teams of the mid-70s were a lot of fun to watch. A team of true characters of the sort you only find in baseball. Billy Martin and Sweet Lou, and Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, and hometown boy Bucky Dent, and of course, Mr. October.
But even so, they never truly felt like my team.
It wasn’t until I moved to Cleveland in the mid-90s that I felt as if I had a team I could legitimately claim. I didn’t even care that in early 1994 the Indians were still one of the league’s laughingstocks. It was baseball. In my city! I could go to games! My local grocery store was even an official ticket outlet, so I could pick up a pair of main level seats for that night’s game along with the veggies and cat litter! Seats were both cheap and plentiful because despite the move to the shiny new Jacobs Field, the team wasn’t really expected to do much. But boy, did they ever. In what seemed like a case of life imitating art, this ragtag team of kids and grizzled vets started out weak and then somehow began climbing up in the standings, not unlike the film Major League that documented a similar rise for a fictional Indians team.
Unfortunately, the strike cut down that season, so we’ll never know what could have been, but it did set the stage for what would be an incredible era of baseball in Cleveland. I even attribute the fact that my daughter was born during the 1997 World Series as the reason why she’s my best baseball buddy.
For the past ten years, however, I’ve lived in Seattle and after nearly a decade, I can safely say I’m a True To the Blue Mariners fan. I, too, suffer the tortures of the damned when the team misses the playoffs again and I revel in the absurd things that set baseball apart, from an eagle landing on James Paxton’s shoulder to Dee Gordon flossing in the background of a televised interview to deep fried grasshoppers to the rise of the Maple Grove as one of the best fan sections in baseball to a ridiculous haircut bet made between a manager and his young closer.
I’ve enjoyed Marco Gonzales’ and Mitch Haniger’s breakout years. My heart breaks a little watching Felix struggle to remain the King even as it’s filled to bursting to watch Nelson Cruz produce at age thirty-eight. I cheered like a lunatic when James Paxton threw his no-hitter and wept a little when Hisashi Iwakuma took his final bows as a Mariner.
Yeah, I’m deeply sad I won’t get to watch my boys play October ball, but by the same token, I’m not going to point fingers and issue blanket condemnations. I can be critical of the missteps and missed opportunities and be disappointed at the disintegration of what was once such a promising season, while still taking pride in the little things—like our record’s improvement from last year to this and Eddie Diaz’s emergence as one of the best closers in baseball and how we had five starters hit the 150 innings pitched mark—remarkable in this era of the specialized pitcher.
There are so many things I took joy in this season and nothing—not even not making the playoffs—can diminish that joy. Because of my love for the game.
So thank you, Mariners.
Thank you, Jerry and Scott and the entire coaching staff and every player who donned Mariner blue this season. Thank you for a season that gave me everything I love about the game of baseball.