By Rob Bhatt
Rob Bhat lives in Seattle.
I was visiting a friend on a June weekend in 2006 when I first set foot Safeco Field. By the time Raul Ibanez walked up for his second at bat on that glorious evening, I was convinced that Seattle would be a great place to live and watch baseball.
Fans around me in the left field bleachers were rocking out to the strains of that crazy Warren Zevon song (Raaaaaauuuul!). Even after the Mariners let the game slip away, Occidental Avenue was basking in the full glow of prime Seattle summer sun.
When a job offer came a few months later, I jumped at the opportunity to move to the Seattle area and become a citizen of Mariner Nation.
After watching four losing seasons, including two 101-loss meltdowns, in my six subsequent summers in Seattle, I think I’m beginning to understand what it means to become a long-suffering fan. Granted, compared to you Mariners diehards out there, I realize that I have it pretty easy. After all, you waited 15 years for your first winning season and only cracked the .500 barrier twice in your first 18 years.
The Mariners I got to know from a distance were those never-say-die, late-inning rally-winners who started showing up on SportsCenter highlights in 1995. By the time the M’s signed Ichiro, I just assumed that the franchise that launched the careers of Ken Griffey Jr. , Alex Rodriquez and Randy Johnson had joined the ranks of perennial contenders. Maybe not quite the Bronx Bombers, yet the group that included Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone and Jay Buhner seemed to form a fine bunch of Sound Slammers.
Unfortunately, I got here for the tail end of the Richie Sexson/Adrian Beltre/Yuni Betancourt anti-dynasty. Despite that 88-win mirage in 2007, not to mention that 85-win effort during Junior’s 2009 encore season, these Mariners are testing the limits of offensive futility on an annual basis.
These guys make opposing middling pitchers look like Cy Young Award candidates on a nightly basis. Last year even turned the underwhelming Philip Humber into an immortal. Humber joined the ranks of legends last April with his perfect game against the M’s, but couldn’t keep his spot in the Chicago White Sox rotation. The team jettisoned him in the offseason. Now he’s with the Houston Astros, which means he’ll have plenty of opportunities to relive his glory day now that realignment brought his new team into the same division with Seattle.
In my relatively short experience as a “long-suffering Mariners fan,” I have come to admire the way six different managers (and counting) have been able to keep a straight face while commenting in postgame interviews on how the opposing team’s pitcher was “really dealing tonight.” I’m wondering if any of them ever meant to say, “That other pitcher was really dealing tonight … with an opportunity to lower his ERA against our anemic offense.”
So here we are again, nearly halfway into another season on the brink. With the exception of offense, starting pitching and relief pitching, this team seems pretty solid.
Yet, for some reason, I still think this is going to be the summer they turn things around. Raul has returned with a vengeance, and Kendrys Morales has proved that he can survive a walk-off home run with the Mariners better than he could survive hitting one against them.
I like the reboot that brought Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino to the parent club, and Blake Beavan is regaining the form that may make him, when all is said and done, the prize acquisition from that Cliff Lee trade (sorry, Justin Smoak). Sure, Jesus Montero may have flailed himself into obscurity, and Smoak may or may not be far behind, but there’s talk of a Dustin Ackley resurgence. And who knows what this kid Brad Miller might bring to the table if he gets a call-up.
I mean, if we can just … Who am I kidding? It’s nearly July. We entered Tuesday’s game 12 games below .500 and find new ways to lose night after night.
At least our payroll is about $30 million below its 2008 total, when we spent more than $100 million for players who lost more than 100 games — a dubious double-triple in any league. So that’s something to feel good about. Just because the fans are stuck root, root, rooting for a losing team, at least we’re not overpaying for our suffering.
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