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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

September 6, 2008 at 5:01 PM

Two years and counting

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Ichiro, above, gets ready for batting practice ahead of tonight’s game.
Two years ago today, I hopped on a plane from Toronto to Seattle and got set to begin a new career and life covering the Mariners. I can remember arriving late at night, sleeping at my girlfriend’s place — she was on a business trip — and heading into the Seattle Times offices the next day for a brief orientation. The next night, I covered the Mariners and Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on a Friday night. Will always have a fondness for Cha Seung Baek because of his importance in my very first Times story. The Blue Jays came to town the following Monday and many of their players were not even aware that I had stopped covering them. That’s how quick the transition was.
It’s been a whirlwind 24 months of fun and surprises since. I think we’ve all created something special here on this blog, something I never imagined would be the case two years ago.
The highlights have been many. Visiting with Felix Hernandez down in Venezuela, a trip I departed for two days after the season ended — and three weeks after meeting Hernandez for the first time — was certainly one of them.
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As far as on-field action goes, it would be tough to top Brandon Morrow last night. I’ve never seen a no-hitter live. I wasn’t at the one-hitter game by Hernandez last year, as I had to fly home the night before to deal with some family issues. Back in 1998, I saw Roy Halladay come within one out of a no-hitter in his second major league start. Bobby Higginson of the Tigers ruined that bid by hitting a home run into the left field bullpen. But that was on the final day of the season, when guys were swinging at anything just to get home quickly. It was a little embarrassing for the game of baseball, to be honest. Last night felt a lot more legitimate, even if the Yankees were jet-lagged after arriving from Florida at 3:30 a.m. I had chills watching Morrow in the eighth. I don’t care if he was running on fumes. Sometimes, a little luck can get you three outs in baseball and I was already looking past Wilson Betemit in the eighth. A mistake.
Low-lites? That one’s easy. Last year in Cleveland, when the “Rick White game” saw everyone’s favorite reliever walk Kenny Lofton to force home the winning run. We received hundreds of comments on each blog post that night. It was a night the fans — for the briefest of moments — took leave of their sanity. Up until then, our comments area had been one of intelligence and decorum. In some ways, we’ve never recovered, but we’re all working on it. And I know some of you are as well. I left the ballpark at 2:30 a.m. that night and walked back to my hotel room, had a couple of beers, slept, then woke up a few hours later to fly on to Toronto for the next leg of a critical road trip. I was exhausted, but felt I had to stay up and man the blog while tens of thousands of you were logging on to vent and watch others vent.
Rob Neyer of ESPN loved the headline I put on that post-game blog: “M’s lose, bloggers go Insane”. Here’s what he wrote:
The Mariners have lost six straight. The games generally were not that close, but the M’s did lose one game (last night) by one run, and two others by two runs. Meanwhile, rookie manager John McLaren summoned J.J. Putz from the bullpen exactly zero times all week. Of course, you can hardly blame McLaren’s inexperience. Joe Torre does the same thing every chance he gets. The fans aren’t happy, though, leading to a great headline on Seattle Times beat reporter Geoff Baker’s latest blog entry: M’s lose, bloggers go insane. He was in the press box writing at 1:45 in the morning, which isn’t easy (I’m writing this at 2:10). But aside from the insane thing, I will quibble with one thing. Baker agrees that “McLaren has to show more flexibility throughout a game,” but argues that he’s still “feeling his way.” Well, OK. I know he hasn’t been managing the M’s for long. But you know, the guy managed in the minors for eight years, and was a coach in the majors for roughly 20 years. For two years, he was Lou Piniella’s bench coach with the Devil Rays, and this year he was Mike Hargrove’s bench coach for three months. I don’t doubt that McLaren is still feeling his way around the clubhouse. But is he really still learning about in-game tactics, after all these years? (And if you want to know how M’s fans are feeling this morning, check the comments on this blog entry.)
It was a long and lonely night. When the cleaning folks at the stadium pack it in before you do, there’s something wrong.

Strange, because that game came just a week or so after my favorite Mariners highlight, when a Jose Guillen takeout slide in Minneapolis helped propel the Mariners to victory. The Mariners were doing everything right up to that point, playing the game hard and the right way, winning on the road and deep into August. They had the wild-card lead, were within two games of the Angels with plenty of head-to-head games left. I truly felt I was covering a playoff team for the first time in my life. I was mentally planning a book that could be quickly written. And then, I learned what life watching the Mariners can be like. I know never to take the playoffs for granted, but, how does a team 19 games over .500 that late in a season lose 15 of 17? The simple answer? It doesn’t. As we told you on this blog, the Mariners were the first team in history to be that many games over, that late, and lose as frequently as they did the next 17 games.
Guillen was one of the personalities who helped shape this blog in the early going. He drove probably the biggest blog-exclusive news story we ever had when he criticized the team’s decision to call up Adam Jones in early August. We didn’t have time to get his comments into the next morning’s paper, but the audio clip of it on the blog was the city’s top sports story for two days (the team had an off-day the following day, which helped the news linger).
We have never had as much debate over any one subject on this blog as we did last year over the team’s decision not to play Jones every day over Raul Ibanez or Jose Vidro. We went back-and-forth with the U.S.S. Mariner over this issue, in posts totalling thousands of words. Many cybertrees died so the legend of Adam Jones could live on. Not sure whether that debate was ever resolved.
Our biggest notoriety garnered off one blog post? The reaction to this one outlining the proposed Erik Bedard-Adam Jones (and others) trade, two weeks before it happened. We all know how thrilled the Orioles were about that.
Bedard, when he was still pitching, did a good job of filling some of the void left by the departure of Jones — at least where blog hits are concerned.
This video down below is the most popular we’ve had on this blog. Some national sites linked to it and interest was over-the-top. Over 12,000 hits on YouTube alone. For every hit on YouTube, our blog hits increase fivefold. So, you do the math. Video generates interest.

But our biggest in-season video had to be this one below, of Bill Bavasi’s parting words after being fired by the team. Not as many hits, capped at roughly 6,800 on YouTube. But then again, not nearly as much work as the other one above took to produce. In this case, I just had to press a button and aim the camera. Not much editing needed.

And now, this coming winter, there will be many more items up for debate. There have already been this year, between the Bedard trade, some poor Mariners prognostications by yours truly, both on the Bedard deal and the team being a contender, and the decision by the team to hold on to Jarrod Washburn. This off-season, with a new GM, possibly a new manager and a new approach by the team, should be our most interesting ever.
And our numbers, setting records throughout the summer, long after this team fell out of contention, shows the interest-level amongst readers remains just as high. You all want to talk baseball, in your own way, and we’re trying to bring it to you in the most original and interesting ways we can think of. You don’t always have to agree. And I won’t always be right (well, OK, most of the time I will be, but you can pretend I didn’t just say that). But it’s been an interesting ride for two years and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next one brings.



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