1. The Heartbreak
I arrived at my seat, with some family members, about an hour before game time. I was in such a hurry to buy tickets last night, they weren’t at all where I thought that’d be but we had a great view of the Seattle skyline and we were sitting by people who cared in game 162 of the season so it didn’t really matter. As we took our seats, Oakland took a 2-0 lead. Not the best start to the day, but it didn’t seem to be a crippling blow as it was only the second inning in that game. There were a lot of people there but the energy in the building was definitely a nervous one.
The first ‘moment’ of the day was when Felix came in from the bullpen after his warmup tosses. As has been customary this season, Aloe Blacc’s ‘The Man’ blared through the Safeco PA as Felix walked in, Zunino by his side. My wife had just ran in to a friend from her hometown that I’d met a few times before. She stood and talked to her, while I stood behind her. As they were having a conversation the crowd rose to it’s feet, saluting the man who’s been here when these games didn’t matter. The yellow towels were swirling and the crowd was roaring. Felix didn’t flinch, he just kept walking. A man on a mission. I slowly backed away from my wife and her friend so that they didn’t see the tear in my eye. I’m not sure why I got emotional. Maybe it was the Dave Niehaus call I had heard about half in hour earlier that I had been reflecting on ever since. Maybe it was the stress from the last 2 weeks in my personal life finally having an outlet. Most likely it was the realization that my favorite player was pitching in the last game of the season and it finally mattered. Felix and Seattle have been joined at the hip for a long time and I think we’ve started to empathize with each other. Whatever it was that got to me, I brushed it aside and got in my seat.
Watching the game was a mix of waving my yellow towel around when the game necessitated it and following the A’s-Rangers game on my phone. There was the joy of seeing Felix rise to the occasion and the Saunders double. There was the hope of the Rangers having first and third with no outs followed by chants of ‘Let’s go, Rangers!’ by the Safeco crowd. But, in the end it wasn’t enough. The Rangers just couldn’t get anything off of Sonny Gray. As the Mariners were taking care of business, the sobering thought that this was the last game of the season took hold faster than a Felix fastball reaches Mike Zunino’s glove. The A’s had scored 2 more in the top of the 9th. It was all over and it was only the 5th inning.
Once the shock wore off, it was followed by a wave of sports depression. The Rangers game was just about to go final, they weren’t mounting a comeback, and thoughts of all the missed opportunities wandered over to my head. Just one more game. If the M’s had just scored 2 runs for Walker on Wednesday. Or if Brad Miller hadn’t flipped the ball over Cano’s head on an April night in Arlington. Maybe if John Buck had been better at catching baseballs. What if Rodney had been able to throw strikes in the 10th against the A’s a few weeks ago? Or what if he hadn’t prematurely shot an arrow over the Anaheim dugout right after the All-Star game? Never mind on that last one, that was cool.
Maybe it’s the Seattle fan in me. I think the long-time Seattle fans fit in well with the Legion of Boom. We always feel slighted, regardless of if we should. I truly believe we don’t catch half as many breaks as other teams do. I believe that we get jobbed by umps more than any team. I have no idea if it’s true but I believe it is. What if we had just caught a few more breaks or had a few calls go our way.
The Texas-Oakland game went final.
Those were only some of the games where the Mariners had a chance. And as the brain thought about those terrible wasted games, it moved on to players. Did Kendrys Morales not pick up a bat all winter long? Did he just eat the whole time? Why have Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia not had an extra base-hit in what seems like 2 months? Why was James Jones playing so much after it was apparent he was ineffective? Why was Sean Barber a major league umpire? There were so many things to be upset about but it clashed with another emotion. Gratitude.
In the midst of the sadness that there wasn’t going to be baseball in Seattle tomorrow, there was a whole lot of appreciation to.
I was 5 years old when Edgar hit ‘The Double’. I was an 11 year-old who didn’t have cable TV at his house during the 2001 season. 2007 was okay but I was busy playing baseball myself and then there was that terrible losing streak. And Jose Vidro. 2009 was the season I remembered best. I still love that team but they were built on nostalgia, quite a bit of luck (check out that run differential), and they were never really in the pennant race despite their parade around the field after the last game.
This was finally my team. A team I followed through thick and thin. Whether I was in a cabin in the mountains without internet or in a theme park in Orlando I always knew what this team was doing. There were so many moments to remember. Watching Opening Night with the rest of the Good Guys, followed by a sweep of the Angels. There was the Seager walk-off and resurgence after the 8 game-skid. Roenis Elias’ complete game against the Tigers, those routs of the Red Sox in Safeco, and Felix’s unbelievable run. There were the 2 times the Mariners came back to score 5 runs in the top of the 9th when they were down to their last out. There was the Robinson Cano home run in front a sell-out crowd that tied the game up against the A’s. And there were the last 3 days. As much as the last road trip hurt, the last 4 games were a joy. They also described this team. A young, resilient team with character that just didn’t quite have enough.
Felix Hernandez was pulled from the game shortly after Oakland had clinched a playoff spot. He received an ovation fit only for royalty. That’s what he is in Seattle. As he left the field I (and I’m guessing any Mariner fan) felt so many things – pride, sorrow, joy, hope, anger, gratitude. We felt those things for Felix and Felix felt those things for us. Empathy between the king of a city and his loyal subjects.
Robbie came off the field a few outs later and as I watched him and Felix embrace I felt more hope and gratitude than I did sadness. Although, the sadness was still there.
4. Letting go (or not)
As I was driving home after a few stops, the Mariners post-game show was wrapping up. Gary Hill and Shannon were talking about how it was all over, they sounded a little shocked still. It was time to end the season, let go and get ready for next year. As the show ended they played a montage of moments throughout this season. All the great moments from this season came through the car’s stereo one last time. I could have listened to that all day. I wanted to get home to watch highlights from my favorite games.
During the game, once the Mariners chances at the playoffs were gone, I cracked a few jokes. “This will probably be the last time I see Kendrys hit in a Mariners uniform!” “Hey dad, what dates are you taking me to Spring Training again?” It was my way of getting over this season and looking ahead to the next one.
I’m probably not going to let go of this team though. Depending on the next few years, this will either be the team that jump started it all or missed a big opportunity. I probably won’t be letting go of this team but I will look ahead because the future is pretty bright.
At the end of the day, the Mariners missed out on a big opportunity. But at the end of my day, I went to go see my nephew who was born 3 months early in the hospital. I got to see him open his eyes for the first time. It makes sports seem pretty small and puts them in their place. Sports are important to me but they can’t ever bring me the joy that I have when I get to see that little guy.
Selfishly, I hope the Mariners just decided to wait until next year. That way my brother can enjoy the run more than he was able to this year, and he can do it with his son on his lap.
Surely, this was disappointing but there’s reason to be hopeful. We have a manager who understands his team, which might be more important than I thought. We have a star second baseman and third baseman. We have the young pitchers who were promised to us that came up big down the stretch, Paxton and Walker. We have Ackley, LoMo, and Saunders who all look like they’ve found something in the last few months. We’ll have those same arms in the bullpen. And there’s a good amount of talent aside from that too. There’s also Felix. He’s ours. The foundation was laid this year, now it just has to be built upon.
I’ll save an off-season post for later hopefully, but the age old Seattle Sports Insider question of ‘Can this player win me a pennant?’ is turning more and more in the Mariners favor. So, I’ll look forward to next year. I’ll be sad tomorrow night around 7 when I wish I could hear Dave Sims say goofy things and Blowers come back with his increasingly good insight. But for now, I just look forward to the off-season and next year. Go M’s!