I suppose it's natural that rooting for a perennially disappointing team brings out a lot of existential philosophizing. Rationally professional sports fandom is a pretty stupid exercise. In baseball especially one season often involves devoting hundreds to thousands of dollars and, more preciously, hours into essentially watching grown adults do a job. There's not a logical way to defend these choices to those that view the endeavor as wasteful, empty and foolhardy. It is, often, all of those things. So for the purposes of the following discussion let's all agree that we're kind of idiots and suckers ok?
Three days ago I went to Cheney Stadium for my first viewing of Danny Hultzen. Having just returned from vacation and I was eager to get some writing material. After parking and walking into the stadium about 10 minutes prior to first pitch I ran to the restroom while lineups were announced:
Alone with the toilet I put my head down. I raised my eyes to find Cheney giving me some potentially sage advice. I left the game pondering what exactly to write about. "This is the perfect opportunity to remind readers of the fallibility of pitching prospects" I thought. Indeed. Indeed it was.
The same night as the Mariners future hopes were dimmed by a tight left shoulder their present was buoyed in part by Raul Ibanez' 20th home run of the season. Like every home run Raul has and will hit this year (most of his whole career, really) it was almost entirely devoid of any meaning other than adding a notch on his career total. The Mariners are pretty bad again and Raul is going to be long retired by the next time they're anything different.
This is the tormented schism the Mariners have created in us. Individual player success at the big league level is often disregarded unless that player is considered a part of some "core" of young position players that will be a part of the next playoff contender while we attach our emotions to prospects, most of whom will wash out of baseball prior to any major league success and who we largely never see play. In essence we are drug addicts subsisting on whatever smack we can get our hands on while scratching ourselves waiting for the next shipment of "grade A" to come in. It's not pleasant.
There's a line of thought going that part of the reason the Mariners have been so perpetually disappointing is that fans in Seattle are less demanding of excellence than fanbases in other cities, where the history of the game runs longer and deeper. To me the idea that some sort of nebulous, hive-mind created "pressure" is going to force the Mariners to win more baseball games is the kind of thing designed to get callers during afternoon drive or keep your ink from seeping into salmon. Outside of the impact that television ratings and attendance have on payroll, something the Mariners have been able to fail with in both plenty and in want, there's no tangible way for observers of this team to affect it. Ours is to simply watch, to feel, and to process. It's hard, confusing and really, really boring a lot of the time. That's the truest baseball to life analogy I can come up with.
Danny Hultzen, one of this organizations brightest points of light going forward is a complete crap shoot at this point. He very well could have a long, injury free major league career or this terrifying shoulder issue could keep him from ever wearing a big league uniform. Raul Ibanez has hit another home run since Tuesday and is on pace for 11 more home runs than any quadragenerian in the history of the sport. Every single dinger has been like a stray bottle rocket fired off alone into a dark night, far away from the real fireworks show. Those home runs aren't a part of some grand success and they provide neither the victories or hope of future victories that we are all so desperate for.
This is our task as Mariner fans: We are faced with trudging towards a far off oasis of contention that may very well be a mirage. There has been and will continue to be failures great and small. Injuries, blown saves, busted prospects, they're all part of it. Where is the fun? Why continue with this? There are as many answers as there are people asking themselves those questions and I'm not here to say one is greater than the other. But I do think finding the answer, your answer, is a worthy task.
My enjoyment is Raul's bonkers power surge. It's Tom Wilhelmsen's journey and Dustin Ackley turning his back on a fly ball hit over his head. There's no greater purpose or grand story. There's just some dudes wearing a uniform that says "Seattle" on it playing my absolute favorite game. That's all it is. That's all it's ever going to be. That's enough for me. But if they ever do end up winning? That will be a hell of a lot more fun.