Why I still love the Mariners (the magic of Spring Training & the terrifying Jay Buhner)

I was looking through some old scrapbooks the other day, when I found a picture of my family at a Mariners game in the late 90's. This got me thinking about why I love the Mariners so much. The only things that I could think of from that early portion of my life were going to a few games, and being afraid of Jay Buhner. Looking back, I can't think of why I was so afraid of him. Maybe it was his baldness, or his hight. It could have been his goatee (personally I think he is an alien). I currently count Jay Buhner among my favorite Mariners of all time, but as a child I was afraid of him like other children were afraid of Santa Claus.

My earliest professional baseball memories involve the Kingdome and watching games on my parents TV. My mom has this thing where she would always take score cards to the baseball games and keep track just in case anything historic happened. We only saw one historic event, Lou Pinella getting ejected from a game (a rare sighting indeed), but what really amazes me was the sheer talent that I was able to observe at an age where I was unable to recognize it. Ken Griffy Jr. (the non sleepy version), Alex Rodreguez (the non A-hole version), Jay Buhner (terrifying), Edgar Martinez (awesome), and 2001 Ichiro (!) just to name a few. We didn't go to games often because we lived in Spokane, so I had to get my Mariners fix some other way.

As a young child I would often sneak from my bedroom into my parents room and watch the evening Mariners games while laying on their bed. Whenever I heard one of them coming up the stairs I would run like hell back to my room, hoping that I hadn't been caught. More often than not I would fall asleep during these late night Mariner games and wake up the next morning in my own bed (turns out I was a blackout drunk at the age of 4).

"Why all this emotional backstory?" you might be asking yourself. Well, I'll tell you. I couldn't think of why I love the Mariners and allow myself to get pulled up into so much excitement over them every year, but this might possibly be why. I loved the Mariners from a very young age for one simple reason. They were amazing, the greatest thing a 5 year old kid could ever imagine. If they had played baseball in space my brain would have exploded (or imploded, I can't remember how space works). Anyway, The Seattle Mariners were a huge part of my life as a kid; I had Mariners posters, a hat, a foam "M" head, and a pennant that said "Refuse to Lose" on it. I didn't care about ERA or x-FIP, all I cared about were the Mariners.

From 2004 to 2010 I didn't pay much attention to the Mariners. I went to a few game (2 against the Angels which they lost, 1 against the Rangers, also a loss, and 1 against the Red Sox, which we led through 9, but lost). Needless to say I lost interest in the Mariners as I aged. In 2009 I was saddened by Felix's losing of the Cy Young Award to Zach Greinke, but that was about it. I began to get back into the Mariners in 2010. When Felix won his Cy Young Award I was ecstatic. In 2011 I began to analyze trades and players, I calculated sabermetric stats and got into arguments with people over the state of the Mariners. In short, I became a sports writer who didn't know how to write (a description that applies to quite a few real sports writers).

In 2012 my dad and I went to the Mariner's Spring Training in Peoria. We went to three games and watched a few practices. Over those 5 days I saw middle aged men get into heated arguments over whose team was best, and I got to see little kids get autographs from their favorite Mariners. My dad told me that not much had changed since the last we had been to spring training, back in 1998. We spent a while watching the new catchers John Jaso and Jesus Montero practice catching and doing defensive drills. After they were done, Jaso came over to the fence, signed baseballs, and chatted with the ten or so fans that were watching. My dad, while talking with Jaso, made some really crappy joke about baseball. I smiled half-heartedly and a couple other fans chuckled, but both Jaso and my dad burst out laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world (I guess after working with Eric Wedge for even one half of a Spring Training, even the worst jokes become hilarious). This, and Jaso's late-game heroics, made him one of my favorite Mariners, which in turn made it hard to see him go, even if it does mean that we will get to see a ton of dingers from Morse. That Spring Training really turned me on to the Mariners again. Even though they lost a lot more games than they won and I wasn't able to go to any games, I enjoyed the season more than any other.

Throughout the 2000's, when I had the most time to watch games, the Mariners were awful, and now, as I enter the busiest 8 years of my life, they are starting to look really good. Attending Spring Training got me pumped up for the 2012 season, but now I don't need any inspiration (besides the Mariners themselves) to get excited for 2013 and beyond. I know that they might not be very good for a while longer, but that will make our future seasons of dominance that much sweeter. The rush that we get when the Mariners finally raise that World Series trophy up on high will be so much greater than any feeling that the Yankees fan's have had in 30 years. I am looking for the Mariners to be able to capture my mind like they did in the late 90's, with the power and swagger of a team on a mission. I can feel something special coming for this team, it might not be this year, but it is coming. It's like Elwood Blues often says, "We're on a mission from God."

Now when I go to sports games, I see people get angry at each other, grown men cry, and players act like children. The anger and stress surrounding sports these days is so unnecessary; and in my mind, we should all enjoy baseball from the point of view of a 4 year old kid. We should all cheer for a home run or a stolen base for no reason other than that it is an amazing achievement. We should be happy when our team wins, and sad when they lose because, in the end, it's just a game, and everybody deserves to enjoy it. I can think of no greater family activity than going to a baseball game. It doesn't have to be a professional game, the minor leagues are just fine. A baseball game lasts for around 3 hours, about the same length of time as a movie, and minor-league games can cost less than $8 for a seat. So, next time you want to have some family fun, go to a ball game instead of seeing The Dark Knight Rises. It will be more relaxing and family friendly, less expensive, and there won't be any spoiler alerts. If there isn't a team in your area then grab a glove and a ball and start your own. In the end, you and your friends/family will be better off for it.

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