And so it is written that it is incredibly difficult to say "Goodbye" to yesterday. We shall remember the wonderful times that made us laugh, they certainly outweigh the bad. I had a belief that we'd get Jeff forever, but as we can clearly see, forever's gone away. I repeat, it is incredibly difficult to say "Goodbye", "So long", and "See you on USSM" to yesterday.
The dust has now been given just about a week to settle since Jeff Sullivan's
passing decision to hang it up on the site he built into one of the best on SBNation, and already I feel like I've lost touch with the Mariners. To the point where I'm not sure how you pronounce the team name. Muh-RYE-ners? But with the Jon Shields announcement and his experience in the Maryners blogging department, I start to snap back to reality and remember that we are just days, or minutes if you will, or many nanoseconds, from a new baseball season.
That's when I start to regain the feeling that I had before Jeff
was run over by a pack of alpacas decided to take a long vacation from LL; I think the Seattle Mare-runners are going to surprise some people this season. And why not spend at least a little while with a little bit of hope for this season, rather than already bypassing 2013 for some future season? This chance to believe in this team, much like any team, might only last for so long.
But I truly believe that even in the AL West, and even if it's unexpected, that Seattle can be a good team right now. Especially considering that it seems like they're rarely ever the team we expect.
Their last winning season came the year after the 2008 debacle. When they won 88 games in 2007, Jose Vidro was the full-time DH, Richie Sexson hit .205, and the rotation included Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez, Cha-Seung Baek, and Ryan Feierabend at different times. Those were different times and different opponents in the West, but there's still nothing surprising about having a few surprising teams. The nonsensical Baltimore Orioles and the micro-budgeted Oakland A's are a testament to that. So why not the M's?
I write about the Seahawks over at Field Gulls and it's not like we share much of a different sentiment about the football team than we do the baseball team. Either way it has been many, many years of failure and disappointment and a bitter expectation that somehow we'll be fucked in the end. The only marginal difference up until recently was that the Seahawks had made a championship game once, while the Mariners left their disappointments in the ALCS and no further. Perhaps if anything, the baseball team could at least brag that they had some of the most legitimate stars in baseball in the 90's and also appeared in the Saturn Award-nominated classic Little Big League, a feat that has since not been matched by any team in professional sports.
But things started to change for the Seahawks over the last two years and gradually the fans have started to feel things that they've never felt before; a genuine belief that we can do this. That we can be as good as anybody else in the league and there's no reason that our fandom has to be rained on every year. Maybe there's legitimate reason for hope.
It started for me in 2011 when the Seahawks defense had started to show swagger unlike I have ever seen in that team. Richard Sherman did the talking, Kam Chancellor did the hitting, and Earl Thomas just quietly turned into the best safety in the league, but as a fan I started to feel this strange new thing that my therapist calls "confidence". Seattle finished 7-9 that year but by the end of it, you started to think that they had the potential to be very good but still something was missing. Then Russell Wilson filled that hole and I mean that in a very sexual way.
After a heartbreaking and surprising loss to the Miami Dolphins dropped the Seahawks to 6-5 last year, you could sense that feeling start to creep into the room again. The "rain" on our parade. The idea that we should kick rocks and give up and look to next year, but all I could think was "funk that". We invest so much time and energy and effort into every individual season that it seems pointless to me to give up when it's not over. You don't quit on a season or a team just because something looks too difficult to overcome. I wasn't about to give up on the 6-5 Seahawks just because their next game was at Chicago and we had lost a game we should have won when there was plenty of time to make the playoffs, and I certainly am not going to give up on the 2013 Mariners before the season has ever started.
There can be something special in Safeco, just like what has developed in the stadium across the way, and it can start this year.
In case you don't follow football, the Seahawks won their next five games and finished at 11-5. They went into the playoffs as the hottest team in the league but had to travel throughout because they finished a half-game behind the 49ers in the West. This didn't stop them from beating the Redskins and nearly upsetting the Falcons in the next round, and now one of the youngest teams in the NFL is also being heavily bet-on to win the Super Bowl next year. I'm fairly certain that the Seahawks have never been favored to win a Super Bowl for a single day in their history, but those feelings are beginning to change.
The Mariners have slowly been improving. They went 61-101 in 2010, scoring 513 runs and allowing 698. In 2012, they went 75-87, scoring 619 runs and allowing 651. They've got one of the very best stars in the game, and the "culture" shifted a little bit this year by guaranteeing his stay through 2020. Maybe Justin Smoak really has figured something out. Maybe Dustin Ackley can tap into that plate discipline and ability to make contact that made him one of the best prospects of the last five years. Maybe Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders can take another step forward. Maybe Michael Morse was actually a great addition. I don't think that any one of these maybe's is outlandish.
Maybe Danny Hultzen's walks last year were a complete fluke. Maybe James Paxton joins the rotation in July and is good. Maybe Erasmo Ramirez is great. Maybe Mike Zunino picks up 200 at-bats.
Maybe the Angels have too many hands in the cookie jar, and Josh Hamilton misses 90 games, and Albert Pujols' decline is real. Maybe the Rangers let too many get away. Maybe the Athletics were a total fluke and go back to 75 wins. Astros.
The point is that I could actually see a lot of scenarios where the Mariners are competitive as soon as this season. That they could be in a race for a Wild Card or even Division title as late as September. And if you're competitive into September, you might as well be considered competitive into October. And if you make the playoffs, there's an old saying that might be able to be applied to baseball that goes "it's anyone's ballgame."
I don't bring all of this up because I think there's a lot of negativity around here or anything, we've got enough to deal with after Jeff
was killed in a Surviving the Game-style hunting contest left, but I say it because I don't think we have to start dismissing the M's playoff chance this year. I think that they can do it, and I believe that just like the Seahawks, there's something special being built here. And just like in that scenario, it could be here sooner than most expect.
A note on Jeff:
I've killed Jeff several times in this post but I just want to say a couple of things in case anyone gets the wrong idea.
I have been writing about sports for over ten years, but the majority of that came on blogs I created and then destroyed after nobody read them and because I couldn't stay with the upkeep of writing for no audience. I also just wasn't very good but we are fortunate to get a lot of practice without an audience if we just keep plugging away. So I'd be on and off with writing for years.
At one point I found out that there were actually some really good Mariners blogs after I stumbled upon USSM and kept coming back to that site to get a new perspective on the game. I think many of us probably share this same experience. And then soon after discovering USS Mariner, I was led from that site to Lookout Landing and then my world got flipped turned upside down.
Now I'd like to take a minute to tell you about Sullivan, so just sit right there.
Dave Cameron makes you consider baseball differently, but LL does that and much more- you learn about the game while also being as entertained as just reading your favorite comedy website or Ziggy cartoon. I think Jeff Sullivan is the best baseball writer that there is. I thought that when he left LL, he'd be leaving to go work for ESPN because they offered him a stupid amount of money. I've already said that I write about the Seahawks for SBNation and none of that would have been possible without LL because Sullivan inspired me to want to start telling stories again. That you could write about sports and not be boring, or drab, and that you didn't have to follow any sort of guideline. I took a gig at FakeTeams, the fantasy baseball site of SBNation, and just decided to try my hand at trying to write about sports however felt right to me rather than however seemed "normal."
A few months after that, I was invited to participate at Field Gulls. A few months after that, I volunteered to help launch their YouTube efforts. And awhile after that, I have been given opportunities to write for the main SBNation.com site. Whereas I didn't feel like I had a whole lot of purpose in my life before, I've found that writing gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and that would not have been possible if I hadn't started reading Jeff Sullivan a few years ago.
Maybe you and/or a thousand other people don't like my style of writing, and that's okay, but I just know that I would have been lost without it.
My reputation at LL didn't start out, as they say, "good." I was banned at one point, and I emailed Jeff to complain about it and didn't make myself look very good at that moment. I think that I've changed since then, that I've done better and grown as a person, but I sort of got the sense that the powers that be were not fans of mine. Still, after I got the opportunity to write for more SBNation sites, I wanted some advice and I emailed Jeff again, this time to just pick his brain a little bit on SBNation if he was willing.
I wasn't sure what to expect because I don't know Jeff and if anything I felt like his opinion of me would be less-than-stellar based on our last email exchange. However, what I got in return for every question I asked him, were these very long thoughtful answers and dedicated replies, to the point where I felt like I was the one who actually had to cut him off because I was starting to feel like I was taking advantage of his generosity. A week after our last exchange, I got another email from Jeff that basically just said "Sorry, I can't recall if you had any other questions. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
He's not just a great writer, but he appears to me to also be a very good guy, and I think that SBNation will miss him more than we can understand at this time. So, just thanks very much Jeff, we all owe you a lot.
(And Matthew officially retired after I was finished writing this. While "contentious" is certainly one way to describe many of my early discussions with Matthew, I wouldn't know nearly as much about baseball as I would have without him. RIP Matthew as well.)