55-85, Game Thought

New theme: Ichiro running away

This evening, I watched the Mariners lose. They almost didn't. They had an early lead and everything. But then a mediocre starter started throwing mediocre pitches, a mediocre offense made him pay for them, and a mediocre reliever gave it away for good. It was a very mediocre game, made up of very mediocre players, and so little of any significance happened that Mariners Live after the game cut straight to talking Huskies football.

You know those games where something incredible happens, and you tell yourself you'll never give up on a game too early ever again? This was one of those games that makes it so hard to follow through. It's funny how convincing yourself to watch bad baseball comes down to hoping for a miracle. "If I watch this Mariners game, someone might throw a no-hitter, or hit for the cycle." You might as well go sit on a bench and watch cars in the hope that one of them is a Transformer.

But I didn't only spend my night with Josh Wilson, Luke French, and a nectarine. I switched back and forth between FSN and ESPN, as the latter was airing the Padres versus the Dodgers. As many of you know, the Padres have been my bandwagon ever since the degree of the Mariners' suck first revealed itself, and I was most distraught by the ten-game losing streak that just about took the train off the rails.

And let me tell you - watching that more important contest was a whole other experience. Here's a section I'll call Notes From A Meaningful Baseball Game:

  1. There's crowd noise. The Padres have always drawn one of the tamer crowds in the league. Watching them tonight, though, there was enthusiasm. The stadium clapped. It roared. It chanted. It fucking chanted, at a baseball game. It doesn't matter that they rolled out the trite, uninspired "Beat LA." They were chanting, and they were sustaining their chants, and they pulled off at least a few of them without being prompted by the scoreboard. There was an actual environment.

  2. There are big hits. Miguel Tejada broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single. Later, in the sixth, Luis Durango provided critical insurance with a two-run bases loaded line drive. When good teams find themselves in run-scoring situations, oftentimes they deliver.

  3. There are big pitches. Every pitch is big in a low-scoring game, but none were bigger than Luke Gregerson getting Andre Ethier to ground into an eighth inning double play. Half innings aren't just sequences of pitches, some more impressive than others. They're sequences of pitches, some more important than others. There's an emotional rise and fall.

  4. There's tension. As you've undoubtedly noticed, Mariners games have a tendency to drag on, and there are few things we enjoy more than a game ending in a hurry. You're less aware of the elapsing time when the game actually matters. You don't tune in to get to the end. You tune in to watch a win, and you're willing to grant all the time that it takes. Long at bats, pick-off throws, pitching changes - they're less of an annoyance, and more a builder of drama. Important games have few dull moments, at least until they turn into blowouts.

Going back and forth between the Mariners and the Padres, the differences in the viewing experience were plainly evident. The Mariners game dragged. The Padres game - the Padres game that ended after the Mariners game - flew. It was kind of a nice reminder of why I do this. I don't watch and write about baseball all the time because I like it when it's bad. I watch and write about baseball all the time because I love it when it's good, and there are few things quite like watching good, meaningful baseball.

I think baseball may be the most difficult sport to watch when your team really sucks. Not only are there infinity games in a season; the pace of the games themselves is so slow. Baseball depends on those pauses and delays to build the suspense. Once you remove the emotional investment, they're just constant pauses and delays. At least sports like hockey, football, and basketball are fast. The games aren't quite so good at lulling you to sleep.

But when your team is good, and playing for something, baseball has it all, short of bone-crushing hits. And maybe this is why so many fans of bad teams pick another team to bandwagon. It isn't about experiencing a championship. You know from the start that a bandwagon title wouldn't feel the same as your own team winning it all. Maybe it's about reminding yourself of what baseball's like when it's fun. With so many games in a long season, it's easy to get beaten down and forget what the better days were like. Bandwagoning opens a window.

If you've got a bandwagon team this season, you probably know what I'm talking about. And if you don't, just know this - there's better baseball out there. It's somewhere, and the Mariners will find it some time. It isn't always going to be Luke French vs. Gio Gonzalez in front of 37 people. Baseball can be a torturous game, but it's a beautiful game, and a wonderful game, and when it's going well, it's an exciting game, too.

There's a reason you're here. Once upon a time, you found baseball to be among the most interesting things in the world. It'll get there again. For us, eventually.

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