Today It's Officially Spring

By and large, I think fans tend to be pretty objective about their teams during the offseason. Fans of pretty good teams usually know that they're fans of pretty good teams, and fans of less pretty good teams usually know that they're fans of less pretty good teams. People are realistic, perhaps because, during the offseason, there is the opportunity for things to change. Situations change as players change teams.

But after the offseason, I think there comes a point every spring where just about every fan, no matter who he or she roots for, thinks "well, maybe". There'll come a point at which A's fans think things could break right. There'll come a point at which Astros fans think things could break right. That objectivity never quite goes away completely, but come spring, fans are more aware of potential upsides. This is necessary, by the way. This belief, and sometimes this delusion that our teams can compete helps to amp us all up for what's a six-month slog even at the best of times.

Between objectivity and daydreaming, there is a midpoint. At this midpoint, the switch is flicked. Now, here, I'm only going to talk for myself, because I don't know what's going on inside all of your heads. But I think today I reached my midpoint. Today, the Mariners are playing the Mariners again, for the second time in three days. The intrasquad began somewhere around 11:45. Not long after that, the following tweet showed up on my screen:

The Mariners are playing an intrasquad game today, and we don't really care that much about what goes on in an intrasquad game. But in this particular intrasquad game, Franklin Gutierrez hit a home run off of Felix Hernandez.

There are so many reasons why this is basically irrelevant. Felix is just getting stretched out, and he's hardly giving it his all. Who knows what pitch he threw or where he threw it. Maybe he was just working on something. Maybe he was just messing around. The ball flies pretty well in Arizona. The park dimensions aren't huge. This is an intrasquad game in Peoria. You don't get excited about home runs hit in these circumstances.

But earlier today, in a game situation, a pitch left Felix Hernandez's hand, and Franklin Gutierrez clobbered it over a wall. Last season, Franklin Gutierrez hit one home run, and last spring, Franklin Gutierrez hit zero home runs. I don't know if Guti might've hit one in an intrasquad game, but he didn't hit any in Cactus League action. They record those stats and not intrasquad stats because Cactus League stats are vitally important.

The Rangers and Angels are incredibly strong. The Mariners, meanwhile, are coming off a bad season, and they didn't exactly stock up on the market. I haven't even tried to pretend that the Mariners might stand a fighting chance. But I saw this tweet, and it was after reading this specific tweet that I felt myself going a little nuts. If Gutierrez bounces back to 2009 form, he's a legitimate star. Felix is already there, and there's talent in the bullpen, and Dustin Ackley is great, and Jesus Montero could be great, and Justin Smoak could be really good, and what if the Rangers or Angels suffer through injury problems? What if things blow up for them the way things blew up for the Mariners in 2010?

It's all insane, but what's really insane is the fact that I can convince myself that it's not. I think the chief side effect of spring training is that we all go insane in a few ways - we go insane waiting for spring training to be over, and we go insane believing that our teams could actually do something. Some teams will and most teams won't, and it's the uncertainty that props the doors open.

Nobody asked me about the Mariners yesterday. If somebody had asked me if I thought the Mariners could make the playoffs, I would've laughed and said "well I mean I guess they could." If somebody asked me now if I thought the Mariners could make the playoffs, my answer would be different. I still know in my soul that, no, no, it isn't going to happen, it's probably never going to happen, these are the Mariners, that's crazy talk, but my faith cortex has been activated after a winter hibernation. Because Franklin Gutierrez is back, see. And there's a lot of talent on this team, and when you put all that talent together...

In an entirely meaningless game, Franklin Gutierrez faced Felix Hernandez and hit what feels like a profoundly meaningful home run. Maybe you're not the same as me, and maybe you're not crazy just yet, but it's going to happen eventually. There's no use trying to fight it off. At some point soon, if not already, you're going to feel good about this baseball team.

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