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

July 8, 2010 at 11:40 AM

Mariners fans show passion in discussing who they are

Loved yesterday’s discussion on Mariners fans, who they are and how they have evolved over the years. A lot of it made me think, which is the point of going through these exercises. The simple answer is, not all Mariners fans are the same. There are different types and they all have their way of caring about things.
When I wrote the other day that Mariners fans, as a group, need to show more awareness about what is going on during games and with off-field issues regarding the team, it tended to gloss over a lot of smaller issues with regards to the fanbase that need to be addressed. And I’m glad we have done that the past two days.
For one thing, yesterday’s exercise reminded me just how passionate the fans here can be when they are away from Safeco Field. I remembered writing this blog post until the wee hours of the morning in Cleveland back in 2007, when the M’s were in the midst of torching what had been a contending season to that point. I was the last person to leave the ballpark that night, after Rick White infamously blew the game, and had a flight to catch only a few hours later. But I stayed up writing half the night because I was shocked by the level of intensity and anger coming from the fanbase. That’s why I suggested fans had gone “insane”.
So, yes, the fans of Seattle can indeed be aware.
That same year, Richie Sexson criticized fans for booing him and the team in their own ballpark and I believe I was sympathetic. I’ve tried to find the exact post for the last hour but have been unable to track it down. But, I believe, at the time, it had something to do with the context of the players trying to overcome their miseries and how fans riding them night after night wasn’t making the situation better.
Well, OK. But then it’s a bit hypocritical of me to go on ESPN 710 yesterday and tell Kevin Callabro and Jim Moore that the fans here have to start letting players and management know that sub-.200 hitters in the lineup all year are not going to be tolerated. That booing will get the message out there. None of you called me on this obvious discrepancy but, that’s OK. Don’t expect you to remember everything I’ve said or written. I’ll call myself out on it. Let’s just say, we all evolve. And I’ve been reminded, through yesterday’s discussions, that fans here do indeed have the ability to turn on the team and players when things go south.
I believe that at the time, given the context of 2007 and a team that was a surprise contender right through until early September, part of my reluctance to see the M’s booed stemmed from a “pick your spots” mentality. In other words, the team was playing well. Booing them for an off night or one horribly struggling player just didn’t seem right. But I’ve come around. As I keep saying, the Mariners have won little that matters throughout their existence. If fans want to boo, let them. Especially in a year like this one. Brandon League has had a pretty good year results-wise up until the last two nights and probably didn’t deserve the intensity of the boos he got last night. But so what? The team stinks. And yeah, fans should let the team know they aren’t happy. If League has to be the conduit, it’s somewhat unfortunate, but it is what it is. He was the guy blowing the game.
Now, that’s not to say I’m willing to let the fans here totally off the hook.
I still do believe the fans at the game are a little too distracted or “unaware” at times compared to what I’ve seen elsewhere. And the sheer volume of comments and private emails I have received the past two days agreeing with this premise have led me to believe I’m not imagining it.
The fact that so many people here got defensive when Cliff Lee made his post-game comments to Brad Adam in New York about how fans in that city don’t need a teleprompter to tell them when to cheer tells me I’m not imagining it. Lee may or may not have been taking a subtle jab at fans here. I don’t know, haven’t asked him and don’t care. It was the defensive reaction of people here, borne out of the experience of fans here not clapping until a video scoreboard message tells them to, that was the real story on that subject.
It would be nice to believe the tepid response Russell Branyan received from fans during his first return at-bat the other night was because of some greater fan disenchantment with the poor 2010 season. This theory was again suggested to me over the airwaves on ESPN 710 by Moore and Callabro yesterday.
And it’s a bunch of crap.
They were distracted by whatever they get distracted by at Safeco Field. If the fans were really so disenchanted with the team that they couldn’t be bothered to cheer a new, returning player his first time up, why would they even be at the ballpark? Why did Branyan get louder cheers when he came up later in the game following a home run in a previous AB? Because their “disenchantment” with the team wasn’t the reason they were quiet when he came up the first time.
The fans didn’t initially cheer Branyan because they were unaware of the situation, plain and simple. Even with the strains of John Sebastien’s “Welcome Back” playing in the background to try to cue the crowd. The folks in the stands simply did not grasp the situation. Every guy gets cheered after he hits a home run. But it’s the non-obvious situations in baseball that some of these Safeco crowds need work on.
Just like they were oblivious that Arthur Rhodes was making a mound appearance in a Reds uniform a few weeks back and barely buzzed any recognition when his name was announced. Or that Ken Griffey Jr. was making what could have been his final plate appearance last September. Yeah, the fans cheered and, upon video review on Youtube, the sustained applause may have gone on for 30 or 35 seconds, not the 20 seconds I remembered off the top of my head. And that was after the PA announcer tried to stoke some awareness in the crowd by saying “One final time…” before announcing Griffey.
Where I come from, that’s not how you salute a guy who you claim — not me, but a lot of you — “built” Safeco Field as a local sports legend. The place where I grew up, in Montreal, hockey capital of the free and even unfree world, salutes such legends with ovations that go on for minutes and minutes.
Yeah, it’s a high standard to set. I’ll admit it. But it’s where I’m coming from and why, for me, a half-minute seemed rather sad.
And we discussed a lot of potential reasons on the blog yesterday.
Photo Credit: AP

Is it that the fans here are “dumb” about baseball? No, I don’t believe that. I just believe they are not as alert about potential situations like that. Just like they don’t seem to spontaneously get noisy in order to try to distract an opposing pitcher who is having trouble hitting the strike zone. Without, of course, the scoreboard video screen telling them to.
So, yes, there is a problem with that kind of thing here. Denying that it exists won’t make the situation better. It’s why players who have spent time on East Coast teams often grumble about the atmosphere of being in Seattle (unless of course, they were booed out of East Coast towns and therefore love the lower pressure environment here).
Many of you reminded me that it might be unfair to compare East Coast cities to Seattle. And yeah, I’m starting to agree on some levels.
Teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, with a century of tradition, will automatically have several generations of diehard followers who teach their kids to live and breathe a team’s lore. I get that. And we do see that type of generational appreciation when it comes to the Washington Huskies football team. That is a rabid fanbase with the history behind it to lend context to how they act. A Huskies fan will be ecstatic if the team ever goes back to a Rose Bowl, not because they understand it to be their birthright, but because they’ve lived through the highs and lows of history and understand what an accomplishment that is.
I used to laugh at Mariners fans griping in 2007 about having not been to the playoffs since 2001. Or about how they’d “only” had four post-season births since 1995. Or zero World Series in 30 years.
Tell that to Red Sox fans who waited 80 years for a title. Or Cubs fans going on 100.
At first, I thought the baseball fans here were completely spoiled by their 1995-2001 success. And I still do, albeit to a lesser extent.
The fans in Toronto were the same way. They had great success from 1985-1993, with two World Series at the tail end, and, by the time I began covering the Blue Jays in 1998, the fans there thought they deserved a playoff bid every year.
But it is about perspective. And changing perspectives. This is still a relatively young baseball fanbase. And I’ll guarantee you that if the M’s ever do make the playoffs again, the fans here will appreciate it far more than they would have in 2003.
And really, what it boils down to is, even if the fans here were a little spoiled earlier in the decade, who cares? They are spoiled in New York as well. And by demanding excellence of their teams, it puts pressure on those teams to be competitive. Do you think the New York papers would have the Yankees and Mets on their front and back covers daily if the fan bases weren’t rabid? Uh, no way. I’ve worked in a market where the baseball team was continuously on page 5 of the sports section. Demand for a team is what drives media exposure. And the baseball teams in New York — Mets and Yankees — compete for that exposure by trying to one-up each other for the hearts and minds of their demanding fans each winter.
Criticize the Mets for their moves and desperation at times, but no one can argue they have not tried to be a championship team.
So, yeah, be a little spoiled about 1995-2001. But I’ve come to realize this probably is not a bad thing. The Mariners do need to be pushed at times, even if that pushing can show a lack of perspective about past accomplishments. We’ve applauded the 1995 team enough, thank you. I wouldn’t mind seeing a push for the 2011 team to give fans here something to remember in 15 years.
Also, as many of you reminded me, Seattle is not like the East Coast because of the transplants here. Guys like me. There are a ton of them. Again, it takes time to build a rabid following with newcomers, unlike folks in Boston or Philly, who have lived and died with their local teams for decades on end.
Also, Seattle is not like the East Coast, as one of you reminded me, because it isn’t the East Coast. There is a laid back feel to being out here. I’ve felt that vibe watching games in Anaheim as well. So, maybe it is me who has to tone down expectations a little on that front. There is a lot I like about living in Seattle. Being able to go to a game with another team’s jersey on and not get mugged would rate as one of them. Being able to breathe clean air and smell the flowers is another.
So, maybe the goal should be to be a little more like the East Coast fans without the rabid dog aspect.
Maybe it’s a hopeless cause to wish that the Safeco Field fans won’t get drowned out by the New Yorkers in attendance tonight. I’ll settle for them not getting drowned out by the Canadian fans who visit when the Blue Jays play here. How’s that? Small steps.
Oh yeah, the ballpark itself. The one prevailing aspect I’ve seen in your comments from yesterday is that the sanitized nature of Safeco Field makes it next to impossible to do things like spontaneous cheering in the ninth inning. And that’s a shame. I’ve heard this complaint too often the past few years to ignore it any longer. The Mariners have got to tone down the over-zealousness of some of the staffers patrolling the yard. Believe me, I completely understand that the team does not want Safeco Field overrun with drunks who make life miserable for families there. And as a business model, the team has done quite well with the family-friendly approach.
But it can backfire as well. The team has also struggled to attract free agents to Seattle and the baseball atmosphere here is one reason why. Does the team really want to be grooming its next generation of fans with the thought that it’s a bad thing to stand up in the ninth inning and cheer without being told to by a video scoreboard message? No, I don’t think so either.
The fans don’t get off free of charge on this issue either. The security staffers would not be sprinting over to order fans to sit down if the tattle-tale fans behind them weren’t complaining about it. Use some discretion folks. In the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied, you can lift your butt off the seat for a few seconds without having to exert yourself all that much. I’ve had six knee operations, so don’t whine to me about medical conditions preventing you from standing up once in a while.
And again, the team itself should do more to ease the way these rules are enforced. Use some discretion, based on the timing of the game and the situation at hand. Train the staffers at the ballpark to recognize these situations and give a little more leeway to the fans trying to make something happen on their own. Hey, they’re supporting your ball team, Mariners. As long as they aren’t being drunk and abusive, there should be a happy medium.
The in-stadium stuff is actually quite fun at Safeco. I have zero problem with Hydroplane races, or Bobblehead giveways as a practice. The ballpark is supposed to be fun. In Montreal, we grew up watching “dot races” at Olympic Stadium because they couldn’t find a sponsor of cars or hydoplanes. The fans still loved it.
It’s the fans who line up outside the park hours before, get a bobblehead, then don’t bother watching the game, that give the whole bobblehead thing a bad name. Bobbleheads and Hydroplanes have come to symbolize ignorant fans, but I don’t think the giveways and in-game entertainment itself should be derided. The M’s do a good job on that front.
The other main thing I was reminded of by some of you is that fans are still paying for the Mariners product by watching it on television, even if they aren’t going to games. You’ve got me there. Yes, this is entirely true. I’d even suggest that Safeco Field being financed with tax dollars and entertainment subsidies on season ticket packages means you are paying for it as well.
And yes, you do have some power with that.
Why do you think the team traded for Russell Branyan? The M’s do not want this season collapsing into another dismal 100-loss campaign. Yeah, the real season was over a month ago. But the people who show these games on TV still have to have viable content for people to watch. And yes, I believe this is a big reason Branyan was added. We can be cynical about it, or we can take it as a concession that, on a small level, the fans here do matter. And their power to turn off the TV set may have pressured the team into making a move that really doesn’t make all that much sense.
Yes, it’s a very small step.
But just like the whole cover-page thing with newspapers in New York, the fans here do have the ability to pressure sports teams to be better.
The thing is, it can’t start after the fact.
You can’t moan about the payroll after a team falls 15 games under .500.
The time to moan about it is months before that payroll is even set. The time to moan about Ken Griffey Jr. being brought back for a second go-around after a .214-hitting season is not when he’s hitting .214 again. It’s when the team begins to think that a fanbase will accept that idea.
And maybe this fanbase did accept that move and I am in the minority. In which case, OK. But then, you forfeit the right, as a collective of fans, to gripe about the Griffey move when he does come back. Actually, let me rephrase. Gripe away, yes, and put pressure on the team in general. But you forfeit the right to expect anything serious to be done about the Griffey situation when you endorsed it as a collective fanbase earlier on. And while there were some dissenting Griffey voices online and on the radio, there were not enough of them for the team to rule out doing it.
Just as there were nowhere near enough dissenting voices on the payroll thing for the team to think about not doing it.
Even now, there are still fans out there trying to rationalize the payroll cuts. They point to the economy, to the dwindling attendance at games, to the perceived lack of superstar free agent options. Thing is, a team can use that as justification every year. It doesn’t make Seattle “smarter” as a fanbase, to point this out.
If you’re going to point it out, do so in the proper context. The Mariners are a private business, one that turned a small profit last year, and one that could sell the team (which, again, plays in a publically-financed ballpark) and still walk away with a ton of money for its investors.
There is, of course, also the old axiom that you have to spend money to make money.
And yes, the Mariners do spend plenty of money on the team. They spent $93.5 million on the team this year and that’s hardly chump change. But it wasn’t enough. They needed more players. And that, frankly, is an argument I’d have liked to hear from more fans here last winter. Not the standard cliches about pegging budgets to attendance and the economic slowdown hurt them…blah, blah, blah. This is not a mom and pop convenience store, folks. It’s big business. One that relies on you to survive.
The Yankees spend $200 million per year and believe me, they hear it from fans if they’re perceived to be balking at something that makes sense.
Again, more awareness of the issues can help. And that’s something, through this exercise, that I’d like to see more of. An understanding of issues that can impact wins and losses before a season begins. Not excuse-making on behalf of a team. But a little more pressure.
I’m not trying to be the baseball version of Che Guevera here. Especially because I have no desire to go up in front of a Bolivian fire squad. But a lot of it is common sense for you, as fans.
Many of you have started to be assertive on this blog, and others, like U.S.S. Mariner, Lookout Landing and Seattle Sports Insider. Some of you have formed your own, smaller blogs. Even Pedro Calderon.
So, yes, you are not a passive bunch on that front. And maybe there are several issues beyond your control preventing you from becoming an East Coast mob at the ballpark itself. But there are also issues within your control that could use just a little more attention. I’ve tried to highlight some of them here in the longest post I’ve written in years. But this post deserves the length because it is a complicated issue.
You, as fans, do have a degree of power. And you can start to exercise it by being more assertive, in public, with the tools — computers, radio hotlines, booing in the crowd — to get a team’s attention. And it could take years to be heard on some issues. On others, maybe not.
Remember, the team did hear the fan reaction after 2008 and made several fundamental changes to the front office and the way it evaluated players. Teams will always hear fan reaction if it’s loud enough. Media members will hear it too, if they’re called out repeatedly for being too “soft” on teams. But the need for fans to demand more can’t be limited to one 100-loss season. In the good times as well, like in a surprise 85-win campaign, the scrutiny can’t go out the window.
That’s all I’m suggesting. Raise the level of awareness a bit. Be just a little more demanding than you’ve been. Applaud outstanding play or front office moves and be just as critical of the poor stuff. Believe me, it can’t hurt. Over the last four years, my level of awareness has certainly gone up on a lot of issues with regards to Seattle baseball. And this city needs to get itself a winner at some point soon. It needs to push this team into getting there.



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