In March (or February or whenever it happened), the Mariners announced the slogan for their upcoming 2013 campaign. Ever since the “Believe Big” catastrophe of 2010, each year’s slogan had become a source of ridicule; a target for Mariner fans to throw their sarcastic darts at. If there’s one thing the last decade has taught us Mariner fans it’s how to make passive-aggressive, sarcastic comments about the team. So, anticipation for this year’s slogan was, err… umm, high. Then it was here:
“True to the blue”
What? Maybe if I read it again.
“True to the blue”
Yes, that really clears it up. Since ‘Believing Big’ the team’s slogans had become more and more vague and less and less challenging of team’s play. 2011 brought ‘Ready to Play’ (Chone Figgins didn’t get the memo) and 2012 brought ‘Get After It’ (although ‘Let’s not kid ourselves’ was a champion around the blogosphere). In 2013 they clearly were just trying to make a sentence that no one really understood.
Then, the season started. Our M’s hovered around .500 early in the season. Then they had to go to Cleveland. Ichiro’s own personal Hell was where the season came completely unraveled. The Mariners were never to even peak at .500 again. They were running out lineups with Endy Chavez, Jason Bay, and Raul Ibanez in the outfield. At times the infield would run out Robert Andino, Brendan Ryan and Michael Morse. I have nothing against any of these players, well except Andino, but they weren’t the future that we were promised as fans. Yes, the minor leagues looked bright but the Tacoma Rainiers can’t win a World Series. It felt like the fans and the organization were stuck in a tunnel during road construction. We’d eventually get through construction, but there was no guarantee that the sun would be out when we hit the open road.
That’s when it clicked. These Mariners were true to the blue. They were true to the same navy blue and northwest green that I had watched for the last decade. The Mariners sucked because that’s who they are.
That was before the season changed. I can’t point to a date when it all changed. Some say it was the call-up of Brad Miller. Others say that Nick Franklin was more of the starting point. Good-guy Dan pointed to the birth of his new-born son as the turn around. Dates are arbitrary and there’s no way of knowing when this all started but the team changed. They became interesting.
They weren’t interesting in the ‘hugs and giggles’ way that the ’09 Mariners were. They were more interesting than the ’07 Mariners who seemed to be made up of smoke and mirrors. And they are definitely more interesting than all of the losing teams that have run out onto Safeco Field since 2003.
They won a few series and lost a few. The offense appeared to be strong and led by the younger guys. The lineup began to stabilize. There became 9 regulars, 7 of which are under the age of 27. They went to Texas and won a series. They went to Cincinnati, won another series and gained a compliment from Dusty Baker. They came home and played Boston tough but couldn’t quite get over the hump. No, these Mariners still hadn’t broke through but they gave fans hope.
It could have ended there. This team could have played .500 ball the rest of the season with the young guys and we still would have had hope. Thankfully, it didn’t.
Tonight, Matthew and I (along with our family) went to the game and witnessed the Mariners winning their 8th game in a row. The streak has been fused by the 9 regulars I’d mentioned. The pitching has gotten a little better and there have been a few breaks. Tom Wilhelmsen lucked into a crazy double play tonight to get his first two outs (when he had a guy on first and third with no outs). The fans rose to their feet, having been pretty involved (for a Safeco crowd) all game. Tom fired the final pitch of the night and Zunino framed it beautifully for a called strike three. Both pitcher and catcher erupted and, for a second, I thought that ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ would come over the Safeco speakers, just like it did in 2001. The Mariners played with more fire and attitude than they had since… Well, I don’t know when.
We’d grown accustomed to the same old Mariners. Frankly, I think the team had to. Much like the team across the street has done, a culture needed to be changed. The infusion of young talent has brought that change and these Mariners aren’t true to the Mariners we’re used to seeing. While a daunting East Coast trip is coming next week, we should all just dream for a few minutes about a miracle playoff run. We should all believe big. If it ends tomorrow, that’s sad but fine. It’s fine because this team would go out and expect to win the next day. Better yet, I’d expect them to win. A playoff run probably won’t happen (it’s about a 2% probability right now), but interesting baseball will happen for the rest of the year in Seattle.
The organization and fans are almost through the tunnel construction. We might hit a few speed bumps before we make it through completely but we’ve turned the corner and can see the sun outside. We can see that it’s still rising and bright as it has ever been. It can still get brighter though. Have you ever heard of Taijuan Walker?