On FanFest, And Something From Nothing

a baseball! - Otto Greule Jr

Not long ago I was reading an article about Jesus Montero, and I started laughing at the part where he said he had to learn how to run, because Jesus Montero is a professional athlete, and also a grown-ass human being, and he had to learn how to run in order to do his job better.

During a break in FanFest activities, Montero said his offseason in Venezuela was built around one specific goal.

"I spent a lot of time running and working on my techniques about running," he said. "That's what I did. I ran a lot and I learned how to run."

Haha! Players. "I ran a lot and I learned how to run." We all knew that improving his running was one of Montero's offseason projects, but it's still funny when we're actually confronted by the nature of the issue every so often. It's hard to think of a more embarrassing physical shortcoming for an athlete at the very highest level in the world. It makes you wonder about the Yankees' player development system. They let things get like this? Do they even pay attention? Do the Yankees even have a player development system or do they just have a solitary barracks and an automated hype machine?

But anyway, this post isn't about Jesus Montero's running form. Something else caught my eye, right above that quote. Excerpted, and referring to FanFest:

A record 17,952 fans attended the two-day festival at Safeco Field, breaking the previous high of 17,299 in 2010 and shattering the 2012 mark of 9,774.

The Seattle Mariners just set a team record for weekend FanFest attendance. They improved on last year by 84 percent. They edged out 2010, and that was the FanFest where we thought the Mariners might be on the way to being World Series contenders, what with all the Cliff Leeage. Last season, the Mariners finished in last place. It was their third consecutive finish in last place, and their fourth in five years.

These are FanFest attendance numbers I was able to recover through research. I'm not too worried about the voids.

2003: 15,437
2004: 15,884
2005: 14,155
2006: < 12,298
2007: < 12,298
2008: < 12,298
2009: 8,571
2010: 17,299
2011: 12,298
2012: 9,774
2013: 17,952

It seems somewhat meaningful to me that the Mariners just set a record. You'd think their attendance would've been a lot closer to last year's attendance. The team stayed in last place, it didn't get much better, and the team hasn't gotten much better over this offseason, if it's gotten better at all. You saw what we had to say about team-level 2013 projections. The Mariners aren't exactly generating local or national buzz, and yet people turned out over the weekend in record numbers.

There could be any number of reasons. Weather, I'm sure, plays a part in FanFest attendance. Not every FanFest is identical, and this year there were a bunch of new attractions, including a zip line. FanFests might be marketed differently, and they get different lineups of players and authorities to participate. I wonder if this year there might have been something of a Seahawks carryover -- everybody got all into the Seahawks, and then when the Seahawks stopped playing, people needed a sport to receive their leftover emotion. FanFest was something for sports fans to do that counted as sporty.

But as small as the actual FanFest attendance samples are, I wonder if this is indicative of something larger. Season attendance numbers tell a different story, as do the season ticket-holders, but I wonder if people are buying into what the Mariners are doing. I don't just mean getting Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse and bringing in the fences -- I mean getting young, building from within, trying to do things "the right way" by acquiring and developing a bunch of prospects.

People are aware of the Mariners' young talent. The Mariners seize every opportunity to talk the young players up, and many of those who aren't yet in the majors are getting ever closer. There's a certain sense that the Mariners are themselves getting closer, and I think there's some excitement -- not about the Mariners contending in 2013, but about the Mariners preparing to take that next step. Tomorrow looks brighter than today. The day after tomorrow looks brighter than tomorrow. Historically, fans haven't really responded that well to rebuilding efforts, but every effort is different and the Mariners have been making steady progress.

I follow the Ottawa Senators, and a few years ago the Senators had to rebuild after a long period of sustained contention. Remarkably, it seemed like the movement was embraced, as people acknowledged that it had to be done, and as people got excited about the young players they saw making progress at the rink. The buzz around the team didn't die, and now they're back to being playoff contenders again. They just beat Montreal a few minutes ago! Hooray! Moving on from hockey now.

The Mariners have tried really hard to sell what they've been doing. They've had to, but people have heard them, and they've taken in the information even if they didn't intend to. A lot of people also probably heard about the Hamilton and Upton pursuits, and while the Upton move would've cost the Mariners a lot of that young talent, it would've represented a real splash, and so the Mariners have kept themselves in the spotlight. Nothing has yet brewed, but, generally, something seems to be brewing.

I don't know. I'm reaching. I even know that I'm reaching, and still I'm here, reaching away. I can't pretend to have a sense of what the average Mariners fan thinks. I can't draw huge conclusions from an attendance boost at a January FanFest. There are things it could mean, maybe. Maybe people aren't moving on from the underachieving Mariners. Maybe people are thinking about the Mariners. Maybe people are starting to get excited about the Mariners, as both a team and a system. The Mariners have worked hard to advertise themselves to that end. Maybe people are buying in, eager to see what the wave of talent can do.

Or maybe this year's FanFest was just marketed unusually well. Maybe it had hands-down the best assortment of events, or maybe this is all an insignificant fluke. We're talking about 18,000 people, and who the hell knows what their motivations are for going to FanFest anyway? I told you right in the headline that this would be something from nothing. If you're unsatisfied you really only have yourself to blame.

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