Tag Archives: Ichiro

Thank You, Ichiro

Matthew just wrote a post about Ichiro below this.  It’s based more on facts and what it means for both sides.  This post is more of the emotional aspect and I just wanted to write a few words about the legend.

For the last month I’d been planning to write a post about Ichiro Suzuki.  I’ve been a defender of his this past year and I had grown frustrated with the media constantly bashing him while overlooking other faults in the organization.  Every time I tried to write the post though, I couldn’t get it out.  The truth is, Ichiro just has been very good in the last couple of years and I couldn’t write a strong enough piece to totally defend him.  I guess, more than anything it bothered me how Ichiro was treated.

I’ve never been one to truly care about how much a player talks to the media.  I didn’t like it when Chone Figgins repeatedly said, “Next question.” but that’s just because I don’t like Figgins.  Unfortunately, the media doesn’t like it when players don’t speak to them and where do fans get most of their information?  The media.  With that in mind, I think number 51’s career was tarnished a little bit.  Ichiro Suzuki was one of the Mariners most productive hitters this season.  He wasn’t good, in fact, he was bad, but there truly weren’t many better guys.  Yet, talk shows spent hour after hour debating his spot in the batting order.  National media members (Jon Heyman) tweet about the Mariners once a month and it’s usually to bash Ichiro.

For some reason, Ichiro has gotten the label of being a ‘selfish’ baseball player.  This stemmed from him not interacting with people and always hitting singles.  Think about how ridiculous this notion is now that he’s not here.  You had 2,533 hits for our organization and you are selfish.  What?  Former players didn’t understand Ichiro and then bashed him, because of that, after they’d left town.

Over the course of this year, there have been many things said about Ichiro that shouldn’t have been said.  Jay Buhner said recently said he would have vomited if Ichiro was signed to a good-sized extension.  We all understood the sentiment, but don’t you think he could have made it sound better?  A Mariner legend, who will never sniff the hall of fame, just insulted a future hall-of-famer, who played in Seattle longer than he did, in front of the whole city.  No one would have done this to Jr. in his last season even though he was producing at a much lower rate.

I think, over the past year, we’ve diminished the player Ichiro was.  He’s been the face of Japanese baseball and will continue to be long after he retires.  I ask you to forget all things that were said this past year about Ichiro.  He’s not selfish, he’s from another culture and just came here to play baseball the way that he knew how.  He was great at it.  He’ll be the 2nd player inducted into the Hall as a Mariner, right after Griffey, and he should be treated like that.  He’s a legend and we won’t see anyone else do what he did, ever.  2,533 hits in 11 and a half seasons.  Read that sentence again.

Remember Ichiro for his laser throw to gun down Terrance long.  Remember Ichiro for the day he broke Sisler’s hit record.  Remember him for the player he was as a Mariner, not the picture some of the media painted him as.

I’ve always hated the Yankees.  I’m like most people.  Now, I will root like crazy for them to win the World Series.  Ichiro truly deserves that.

I’m sorry if you ever felt under-appreciated here, Ichiro.  I hope you know that you are loved in this city and you’re a legend.  Go hit .320, win a ring, wear it to spring training and punch Jon Heyman in the face with it on.

Andrew

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Goodbye Ichiro

In case you somehow missed it, Ichiro was traded to the Yankees today.  In a kind of sad, kind of cool twist, the Yankees are in town, so Ichiro was still in right field at Safeco tonight, but he was wearing pinstripes instead of northwest green.

It’s long been said that the only way Ichiro would be traded is if he requested it, and that proved to be the case.  Several weeks ago, Ichiro approached management and asked them to consider trading him.  He said he realized that the club was getting younger and he is getting older, and that he didn’t feel he has a place on the club for next year.  While he didn’t specifically mention it that I noticed, I’m sure that he also wants to play for a winner in the twilight years of his career.

It’s hard to know how to feel about this.  One of the characteristics that distinguishes humans from other animals is the ability to hold competing ideas simultaneously, and I think that is necessary here.  Ichiro leaving is sad, but it’s not necessarily anything to get mad about.

Ichiro has been my favorite Mariner pretty much since he got here.  He was just so cool and so stylish.  When he was going good he fit the city perfectly: a little aloof, metropolitan, did things his own way.  He modeled for a fashion spread in GQ and made legendary pregame speeches for the all-star game.

He was also the last tie to when the Mariners were good.  Anyone who was around in 2001 will never forget the way he took the league by storm.  He changed every game and was the talk of baseball.  He made the Mariners relevant and exciting.  I think at least part of the sadness of Ichiro leaving comes from the loss of what little identity the Mariners had left.  As long as they had Ichiro, they had something.  Now they’ve lost even that, and there’s no guarantee anyone will fill that hole anytime soon.

There are a few what I would call misconceptions I’ve seen floating around.  The first is that this is a trade made to help the Mariners.  I guess in a way it is, and I’ll talk about that in a minute.  This trade didn’t bring in great prospects or anything, though.  They got two pitching prospects who might someday be major league middle relievers.  That leads to the second misconception.  Trading Ichiro, even for a weak return, is not a failure by the Mariners management.  The only reason he was traded was because he requested it, and he had no trade value due to his play and contract.  This is completely a move made to take care of and reward Ichiro, and for that the Mariners deserve credit, even if it sucks to see him in a different uniform.  In most ways, this trade wasn’t about baseball, and that’s okay.

Bringing Ichiro back next year would have been a mistake.  It was simply time to move on.  No one expected him moving on would happen in this fashion, but it does prevent a potential headache this offseason if Ichiro had wanted to come back.  I was one of those who always thought he’d find a way to play well into his 40s, so his sudden decline is surprising and disappointing.  It’s time for the Mariners to build a winning team, and there was really no way Ichiro could have been part of it.

We’ll all miss you, Ichiro.  Even the last two years, you still had those moments where you did something amazing and brought us to our feet.  Thank you for so many great memories and for making the last ten years of Mariners baseball slightly less painful.  I wish you could have seen the playoffs in Seattle this season, but I’m happy for you that you’ll at least see them in New York.  You will always be a Seattle legend.

-Matthew

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The Most Important Reason to NOT Trade Felix Hernandez

A decent argument can, and has been made (almost weekly) for trading Felix Hernandez. I think we’ve all heard the basic elements of the discussion, but let’s review.

Trade Felix:
Felix is the most valuable chip the M’s have, and the likelihood of competing for a World Series before his contract expires after 2014 looks bleak (thanks to Tex and LAA). The national assumption is Felix will land in a big market the next time he hits free agency, because one can only handle so much rain, lack of offense, and of course, losing. And oh by the way, the Mariners offense is not so hot if you’ve tuned in this past decade, and there aren’t many top tier bats in the pipeline to change this. Speaking of top tier prospects, the M’s do have them, but they are pitchers. This side says trade your best asset to acquire offense (Pineda for Montero part 2), rather than stay this depressing course.

Do Not Trade Felix:
The argument I hear for not trading Felix mainly comes, naturally, from Mariner fans. This side says to be successful, you need an ace, which Felix is, and trading him for 1-2 MLB ready players plus a handful of prospects is not equal value. Furthermore, re-signing Felix may not be impossible based on his steadfast comments about the city and organization, and his desire to be a Mariner. Check out his comments from just two days ago:

“I’ve got two more years to go on my contract,” said Hernandez. “It’s not my decision. But I would love to stay. I love Seattle. I love the organization, and the city. I would be disappointed [to be traded],” Hernandez added. “I don’t think they will do that. I love them. And I think they like me, too.”

Lastly, what’s the rush to trade him now? Whether Seattle can contend before 2015 remains to be seen, but if two years from now the team is still struggling, and a trade must be made, Felix will still demand a nice package in return.

If you just consider the main points of each side, from 30,000 feet trading Felix looks logical, and inevitable. The trade Felix side has a compelling case. But let’s land this plane in Seattle, and dissect the lesser discussed, but most important reason the M’s should not trade Felix Hernandez: The Mariners needs an ace, yes, but more importantly, they need a face.

As a long suffering Seattle sports fan, I (and the other Good Guys) have insight and a pulse of the sports community that national writers and transplant Seattleites just don’t have. This town has seen too much losing, both in the record column, and in seeing it’s homegrown stars depart at the peak of their career. This list is long, headlined by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Kevin Durant, Rashard Lewis, Joey Galloway, and Steve Hutchinson. These are the superstars that began their pro career in Seattle, then for various reasons left in their prime, leaving fans wondering what if? The other list is short, most notably Edgar Martinez, Ichiro, Shaun Alexander, Walter Jones, and old timers Steve Largent and Fred Brown. Adding Felix to this list would mean so much more than a couple prospects that may or may not become MLB players.

Losing Felix via trade or free agency would not only hurt on the baseball diamond, but the morale blow and symbolic loss would be felt for years. To this day I wonder what Kemp and Payton could have been had they stayed in Seattle another 5 years. Or those mid-90’s Mariners that had the best core in baseball, could Jr., A-Rod and Randy have brought Seattle a World Series? I tend to think yes. The Mariners especially can ill afford to lose a superstar, given its history of doing so, and also its current public relations state. Felix has made clear time and time again his desire to be a Mariner, and he backed his words by signing a 5 year extension. The Mariners owe the fans to put up a fight to keep Felix in Seattle past 2014, rather than trading him. He is too unique, too special, too important to this city, both in the short and long term. He is the king, our ace, our face.

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Ichiro!

Listening to KJR in the wake of the Chone Figgins benching, I heard the question asked why Ichiro isn’t moving into the leadoff spot instead of Dustin Ackley.  That’s a legitimate question, insofar as you think batting order matters.  I honestly don’t care much about it.  What is more interesting to me is the conversation on Ichiro.

When it was decided that he would move to third in the order, a lot was made of how he would have to change his approach to hit with more authority.  Fans talked about it, Wedge acknowledged it, Ichiro even came to camp with a revamped swing.  A month into the season, he’s pretty much back to his old swing, and going by what I heard on the radio today, people think that he’s pretty much the same old Ichiro.

I guess if you thought he was going to turn into Barry Bonds or Adam Dunn or something, then he hasn’t changed that much.  If you’re a little more realistic and look into the numbers a bit deeper, we’re seeing a changed Ichiro.  Continue reading

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Are the M’s an 80 Win Team?

The Mariners are only 13 games, or 8% into their 2012 campaign. It is hard to make many conclusions yet, other than the obvious ones like Ackley is a budding star, and Olivo should be in another profession. Again, its just too soon to guess what the remaining 92% of this year will hold. But already we are starting to see the identity of this team, the good and the bad. In short, I like what I see. I’ll take it one step further and suggest, albeit prematurely, that this could well be a team that wins 80 games, just as I had hoped when I wrote about my expectations for Year 4 of this rebuilding process.

My optimism is rooted in 3 observations.

1-The top of the order has been solid. Figgins, Ackley, and Ichiro are all stinging the ball with consistency. Hitting the ball hard does not guarantee results, but it means the batter is not being fooled, he is using is lower half to generate power, and he’s getting the barrel on the ball. I’m seeing this out of all 3 guys, which is extremely encouraging.
2-The starting pitching is just fine. All 5 guys have had at least 1 great outing, and only twice has a starter been pulled before the 5th inning. I was especially worried about the back of the rotation, and my fears still remain, but I think our 3-5 guys will be alright, at least until help arrives in the summer…Paxton! Hultzen! The exception may be Millwood, who I could see getting torched on any given day.
3-No insurmountable weaknesses. If the M’s win 80 games, it can’t have a glaring weakness. Okay, so the offensive woes we’ve watched for the past years have not been totally solved. The M’s are still 14th in average and OBP in the AL, but they are 14th in MLB for runs, and that’s what counts. The offense is still the single biggest reason why this team won’t contend for the playoffs, but when Carp returns and the weather warms up, this is a middle of the league line-up. The rotation, defense, and bullpen are also not glaring weaknesses.

Most of us would be pleased with 80 wins, maybe even ecstatic, given the 67 and 61 win Mariner teams of the past 2 seasons. Others would say 80 wins is not a playoff team, therefore not relevant. These are mainly casual fans, but their perception matters a ton to the M’s, because these are the bandwagon fans that fill Safeco when the team is winning. Side note: M’s average attendance is 22,110 according to ESPN, which ranks 28 out of 30 teams. Oakland is ahead of us, averaging 24,630 but I’m assuming that counts the Japan games which Oakland was the home team. Anyways, the point is, 80 wins does not mean you are a good team, but it also does not mean you a bad team. For me, that would be progress, and more importantly, it would keep the plan on track to contend as soon as next year. It’s always next year isn’t it?!

Finally, we can turn on ROOT each night and watch a young, promising Mariner team. This team is not build on sand like the ’08 squad, nor are they world beaters. If you ask me (and admittingly I’m a homer), they are an 80 win team on the rise. So go Enjoy Felix tonight, seriously, tickets are dirt cheap. Just bought me a seat for $20, 12 rows up behind first base. You might see me when a lefty comes to bat, I’ll be the guy drinking the Mariner Kool-Aid!

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Review and Look Ahead

Last time we met, Dan was talking about how the Mariners pulled off a minor miracle in Texas.  Since then, nothing too exciting has happened.  The club did what we expected (maybe even hoped for them to do).  With that being said, I think we all have different feelings about the team right now.  I’m encouraged because the team won the games they were supposed to and that’s with the bats not being close to where they’ll finish the season (although, how many times have we said that in the last few years).  Dan is slightly happy with the team but can’t get over Miguel Olivo’s inept play.  They’re the team Matthew thought they’d be but he’s still annoyed about seeing his 3rd abysmal home opener in a row.  Joe?  He’s trying to hunt down Chuck Armstrong and make him write a letter that says if Seattle doesn’t have an NBA team within a year that he has to sell the Mariners immediately.*  So, with all of those different opinions in mind I’ll try to write a quick review of the Oakland series and a preview of the next one.

* I don’t actually know if that’s how any of them are feeling.  It is a fairly educated guess except for the part about Joe.  That’s what Joe wants to be doing, not what he is doing.

The Mariners took 2 of 3 from Oakland this weekend and won’t play them again until late June.  Some people think that’s a good thing.  It’s a good thing for entertainment reasons.  For winning purposes, this is a terrible thing.

On Friday night the M’s lost to Oakland 4-0.  I’ve heard the pre-game ceremonies were classy, as usual.  The video of the boy stealing 2nd base and finding his dad home from Afghanistan is touching and extremely well done by the organization.  Otherwise, it couldn’t have gone worse for the home team.  This is three years in a row that Seattle has played a terrible game in their home opener.  The stadium also had their debit/credit card system break down and could only accept cash for a large portion of the game.  These things happen but it was an unfortunate night for it to happen.  Otherwise, Felix looked pretty good.  His groundball rates still aren’t where they usually are but they progressed as the game went on so lets hope that trend continues.  I still think he’s perfectly fine.  The offense disappeared so there’s nothing to recap there.

On Saturday nights game, it was the Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi show.  Also, I guess it was the Michael Pineda show because without him the Mariners wouldn’t have those guys.  Maybe anytime Jesus or Hector do anything good the Mariners should flash Pineda’s picture on the big screen with the word “THANKS” written across it.  Or they could do that with the Yankee logo instead.  That’d be cool.  It could be done for all trades even.  I’d laugh, along with 3 other people in the stadium.  Anyway, Noesi pitched 8 shutout innings with 6 K’s.  When he came over, it seemed like he’d be a fastball/slider guy but it’s easy to see his 2nd best pitch is his change-up.  His fastball velocity is good and I think he’s going to be just fine after that rough, first outing in Texas.  Jesus hit his first home run as a Mariner and added a double just for kicks.  His home run was a shot to straight-away center showing off his power.  The guy can hit and he’s only going to show off more power as the year goes on.  He also looked good defensively behind the plate.

On Sunday, it was the Cliff Lee trade that paid off.  Justin Smoak homered.  Blake Beavan pitched pretty well.  John Jaso sat on the bench (he’s a product of this Lee trade if you pay close attention.  Josh Lueke for John Jaso!).  Those were the storylines but Brendan Ryan homered and Ichiro doubled home the winning run.  It’s good to see those guys do things.

So all in all, it was a successful weekend.  These are the series that the Mariners have to win and they did.  Sure, a sweep would be nice but we can’t really complain about a series win.

Some actual thoughts instead of a recap and a preview after the jump.

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Cautiously Optimistic?

Last year the Mariners started 2-0.  Then they lost 7 games in a row.  In 2010, the Mariners won their first game and then lost 6 of their next 7.  In 2008, Seattle won their first game and then lost 5 of their next 6.  I’m going to stop there.  The point is the Mariners have started every season since 2007 by jumping out to grab at least a share of the division lead and then promptly losing it.

Now, keep that in mind while you read the rest of this post so I don’t look like a fool once the Mariners go get swept by Texas.

The Seattle Mariners have scored 15 runs in the last 2 games.  Yes, they won and that’s the most important thing but take a second to reflect on all of the times in the last 2 0r 3 years that this team has been on the verge of unwatchable because of the inept offense and that will make you appreciate these last 2 games even more.  Everyone got a hit.  Chone Figgins had 6 hits, and 2 of them were for extra bases.  Michael Saunders hit a double and a home run.  The bottom of the order was good.  The top of the order was great.  The middle was decent but it didn’t have to be anymore than that.  This won’t continue but these 2 games showed us what the offense could be.  Singles galore with a few extra base hits thrown in.  If Montero and Smoak show off some of their upside this offense could be (dare I say it) good.  Not great, or anywhere close to it, but good.

I’m going to go player-by-player in the lineup, tell you what I see and then jump to the bullet points.

Chone Figgins looked like a completely different hitter.  He hasn’t swung with that much authority since his days with the Angels.  Yes, the bunts were nice and well done but that’s not what had me excited.  At times in the last 2 years I honestly couldn’t picture a hard hit ball coming off of Figgins bat.  Chone hit 5 line drives in 2 games.  Not soft liners either.  He tucks his shoulder in, loads up and swings hard at hittable pitches.  He was measly swinging through pitches right down the middle last year but the last 2 days there was no sign of that guy.  I’m not saying this is a turning point or even close to it.  It could just be apparition in the Figgins awful span as a Mariner.  His last gasp of trying not to get cut.  But, confidence is an impossible thing to gauge and this psychological move to lead-off (because surely you wouldn’t  move him there for any other reason) may actually work.

I could write a whole post on Dustin Ackley’s swing alone.  It’s a thing of beauty and sooner or later, all left-handed hitters will begin to take his approach to hitting.  Instead, I’ll just leave it at this.  Dustin Ackley is really good, and will probably be great before too long.

Ichiro is Ichiro.  I was never too worried about him and I’m still not overly concerned.  His line drive rate last year was a bit alarming and it seemed like he hardly ever hit the ball hard.  But, for all the people who say that he’s selfish, Ichiro is one of the hardest workers in the majors and he’s not going to be held down like he was last year.  It doesn’t matter what Jon Heyman, talk radio, and fans who don’t pay attention to actual baseball say, Ichiro is good and has been so valuable to this franchise.  I don’t see that changing this year.

Justin Smoak is having a little trouble with the inside fastball.  I’m fine with this.  I know it sounds weird to say that it’s okay that the teams cleanup hitter is getting jammed by 90 mph fastballs because he’s behind them but stay with me.  Smoak would get in trouble last year because he would pull off of pitches and be way out ahead.  He wouldn’t make a commitment to hitting to left field and wouldn’t stay behind the ball.  We all learn in little league that you need to hit the ball where it’s pitched and that’s what Justin Smoak is doing, or trying to do now.  He’ll get around on the inside fastball soon, but I’m happy to see him hitting line drives to the left side of the field (which he’s done if you go back and look).

Jesus Montero is hitting the ball fairly hard but it seems like he may be out in front of the ball a little bit.  I think he grounded out to the shortstop 4 times in the last 2 games which happens while trying to pull an outside pitch.  Could he be a little anxious?  I think it’s likely.  His power is there, you can see it, but he just needs a few games to calm down and remember he’s going to be the next Edgar because he drives the ball to right center.

Kyle Seager is good too.  He’s like Dustin Ackley in that he’s drilling line drives everywhere.  He may not have the power Ackley has but he’s going to hit the ball and hit line drives.

Miguel Olivo is still Miguel Olivo but I’m okay with that.  He’s valuable in his own right  just not as valuable as some catchers.  I like the guy as frustrating as he can be at times.

Michael Saunders is… Wait, that was Michael Saunders?  He can’t hit home runs off of lefties.  Tonight Saunders worked the count against good ol’ Jerry Blevins and then drilled a home run deep to right field.  His swing is a little shorter and a little more compact but the key really is that he’s more aggressive when he’s in the right count.  His double to center last night was a beauty and just another example of him taking advantage of a hittable pitch.  Him being aggressive with hittable pitches is the biggest change I saw but I’m no scout.

Brendan Ryan had to use the uncomfortable hotel pillow last night and hurt his neck but before that he was tucking his front shoulder in and drilling the ball to left field.  He was also swinging with authority and just looked good.  If he can hit .280 or close to it and play 120-135 games he’s going to be a huge asset.

Munenori Kawasaki is kind of cool.  Jeff Sullivan said he could be a bad version of Ichiro which is just fine.  That’s valuable for a middle infielder.  Plus, did you see how slick he is with the glove?  He looks good and I think the M’s will try to find him more at-bats as the season goes on.A few bullet holes after the jump.  Continue reading

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It’s Game Time!

Almost.  It’s almost game time.  On the weirdest opening morning ever, Andrew and I are hanging out, watching the underrated classic Orange County, with The Sandlot on deck.  I hope the Mariners never have another 3 AM opening game, but it’s kind of like the Alamo Bowl was: not particularly pleasant, but pretty fun and well worth the memory.

So, what to expect from these Mariners?  The playoffs aren’t impossible, but they’re pretty unlikely.  It would take almost everyone developing like you would dream, Ichiro and other veterans having huge comeback years, and probably a lot of luck on top of it.  Stranger things have happened, but I’m not betting on it.  Call 81 wins the more reasonable goal.  Even that might be wishful thinking, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

This will really be a season about watching for signs of hope for the future.  Ideally this year would provide a couple of guys who can be counted on as future franchise cornerstones, a veteran or two taking a step forward, and the emergence of new prospects to replace those who are now or will shortly be in the big leagues.

More specifically, here’s a few things I’d love to see:

  • Justin Smoak hitting the ball (and staying healthy).  The future Mariners offense looks much better now than it did a year ago, but it still has questions.  Ackley and Montero are reasonably sure things given their inexperience, but few others fit that description.  If Smoak can consistently flash his talent, he becomes a third middle of the order guy and makes the offense much easier to build.
  • Ichiro bouncing back.  I love Ichiro.  I hope he goes back to his pre-2011 level and gets a contract extension and reaches 3,000 hits in Seattle.  Don’t know if it’ll happen, but I’m hoping.
  • One of the outfielders emerging from the pile.  The most likely bet here is that Mike Carp solidifies himself as a viable outfielder who can hit, but I’m personally hoping Michael Saunders can do something.  Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Franklin Gutierrez: any of you can take this opportunity to do something.
  • I’d really love for Chone Figgins to not be on the team in August.  That would mean they’ve either bit the bullet and released him, or he’s played well enough to be traded.  I’m good with either.  Sorry, Chone, but I’m just tired of watching you.
  • It’ll be great when/if the trifecta of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker make their debuts, but I’ll be watching before that to see if Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan or Erasmo Ramirez can make an impression.  Pitchers flame out and get hurt, so banking on three prospects is always risky.  The Mariners need to develop some depth.
  • It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those bullpens of death like the 2001 team or the Padres always seem to have.  I don’t expect this year’s team to change that, but I would love to see a few young relievers emerge to move them in that direction.

So that’s mostly it.  A few of those things happen, the M’s score a few more runs, and we get some good memories, and I’ll be fairly satisfied with this year.  Not saying I wouldn’t love a surprise run for that 2nd wild card spot, but if I’m trying to be realistic, there are worse things than a young team with lots to prove.  Like a team of Miguel Batista, Carlos Silva and Jose Vidro.  That is not a fun team.  This can be so much better than that.

Go Mariners! Believe Big!

-Matthew

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