Baseball is here.
Until yesterday, it was difficult to believe. Spring had thus far fallen short of its meteorological ideal, as though the season had woken up hung over. Instead of the songs of sparrows and lawnmowers and and the grinding chainsong of swing sets, all was the percussion of rain on rooftops and windows, the tearing of tires against wet asphalt. Moss crept audibly through the grass.
Even in Seattle we were still asleep. Storefront readerboards maintained their congratulation for the Seattle Seahawks, and rightfully so. Next door, and a world away, the Seattle Sounders partook in some form of sporting events (I am told). People in cubicles everywhere talk about "brackets". Through all this, even the Mariners seemed a bit behind: their rotation and lineup settled just in time, like a procrastinating undergrad.
This weekend, almost too late, I slipped away from my rasping fever-strewn daughter and slipped to the couch with a copy of Roger Angell's 1988 book, Season Ticket. In a matter of seventeen pages, the season turned. Angell is one of those rare writers who can breathe warmth into a page, like Bradbury, and the two share many of the same metaphors, of warm sunshine and youth and particularly that green, green grass. When they write you can feel it growing.
Yesterday, the sun came out. Today, a day early, it is April.
The first chapter of Season Ticket is entitled "La Vida", and as befits a baseball book, it is a spring chapter. He tells a few minor stories, like a pitcher testing out his fastball, and then he rears back. "Baseball is not life itself, although the resemblance keeps coming up," he writes. "But nowhere is this metaphor more insistent than baseball's sense of slippage; our rueful, fleeting awareness that we tend to pay attention to the wrong things - to last night's rally and tomorrow's pitching matchup - while lesser and sweeter moments slide by unperceived."
As baseball fans, we're guilty of this, and as Mariners fans, doubly so. It has been a trying time. For months Nelson Cruz hung over us like the Sword of Damocles, and afterward saw a (fruitless) wait to meet the player signed to supplement Robinson Cano. Various disgruntled employees have reminded us that the people who run the team we care about would look at home as villains in a bad eighties movie. Yesterday was disaster, tomorrow the culmination of disastrous plans. There are people who are tired of this, tired of the promises and the prospects. It is hard to blame them.
Modern baseball fandom is predicated on process, the foundation and culmination of winning, and the Seahawks have provided a perfect blueprint for it. Whatever the Mariners are, they are not a transparent and inevitable climb from obscurity to greatness. We will not get to watch everything come together, piece by piece.
Part of that is the Mariners, but a large part of that is also baseball. In football, every game is heavy with significance, almost wearying. Meanwhile, the glacial pace of baseball, the relative inconsequential value of each win or loss, is actually its greatest asset. Baseball, unlike football, has April.
April is the month of lies, of .375 batting averages and faulty pattern recognition and overreaction. It's the month of Tuffy Rhodes, and the 1988 Orioles. It's also the month of Chris Davis and the 1984 Tigers. Baseball fans are forced to create a defense mechanism against April, become agnostic toward any statistic. We wait for each stat to normalize, first velocity, then strikeout and walk rates. We treat April like it's meaningless, because we don't know what it means.
We've talked at length about what makes a successful Mariner season, whether it be 82 wins or a playoff spot. We talk about meaningful August baseball, try to remember what that feels like. But what this theoretically improved team has really provided us with is meaningful April baseball. Given the projected tightness of the AL West this year, with its bulging infirmaries, the slightest of fast starts provides a lasting advantage. Even if those wins are "unearned", created through unrepeatable successes like Chris Young shutouts and Willie Bloomquist home runs, they still count toward the final tally. The Mariners may not be favorites, but they're a standard deviation or two away from first place. Enough to care, or to worry.
The Mariners are almost certainly not the best-run or the most talented team in their division. It's certainly possible that every prospect suddenly develops, that Jesus Montero unzips his fat suit and returns like the prodigal son, hitting twenty home runs in the second half. More likely, though, is that a winning Mariners team is like the 2012 Orioles: the kind of team that wins one-run games, that happens to get its hits with runners in scoring position, that starts Endy Chavez for some reason. It might be ugly. It might not make sense. But it doesn't always have to make sense.
Between yesterday and tomorrow, baseball is here. Beyond winning and losing, beyond Randy Wolf's feelings and Roenis Elias's inexperience and the ghostly green retina-stain of Joe Saunders's face, baseball is here. Let's all sit down together and enjoy some baseball.