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8/25: Open Game Thread

First Pitch: 5:35pm PDT


Jones CF Kinsler 2B Vidro DH Laird C Guillen RF Young "SS" Zombie Shakespeare "LF" Sosa DH Beltre 3B Byrd CF Sexson 1B Botts LF Johjima C Cruz RF Lopez 2B Saltalamacchia 1B Ballgame SS Metcalf 3B ---------- ----------

                            Wright (3-5, 4.11)

For the past four weeks, the Mariners have been on fire, pushing to the front of the Wild Card and putting a ton of pressure on the Angels, who've lost three games of ground since August 8th despite going 9-7. It's the first race in which we've participated in years, and it's all but guaranteed at least six months of exciting, meaningful baseball.

And yet, I feel like I haven't been enjoying it as much as I should be. For a little while now I've tried to put my finger on exactly why that is, and after some brainstorming, I've come up with two main reasons. I know Dave's going to talk about one of them in Slate in a few days, and I don't want to steal his thunder, but Geoff Baker hit on the other just yesterday morning:

I know it's still too early to lose that "other shoe to drop" feeling.

That's exactly what it is. Deeply embedded in my mind is an enduring impression of the Mariners as an average team, a team who'd entertain the thought of competing for a little while in June or July before abandoning that idea and looking more to the future. That's the team I prepared myself to see for the entire offseason, and the conditioning was so thorough that it's taking me forever to get used to the Mariners as a legitimate playoff contender.

This is the burden of the fan whose team takes him by surprise, I guess. When your team does well, you're living in constant fear of the fairy tale coming to an end. You spend more time waiting for the other shoe to drop than you do actually enjoying the team's success, and even though you're aware of this, you can't do anything to change it.

But then, what's the alternative? Is it really any more fun to root for a team you expect to win from the get-go? A big part of baseball's appeal is being able to witness the unpredictable, so if you lose a lot of that, what's left?

I dunno. I guess I can't really answer that, given that it's been forever since the last time I expected the Mariners to win a bunch of games. But the point is that every hardcore fan has his issues to deal with that kind of take away from his ability to enjoy the season. You could make a pretty convincing case that the closer you get to a team, the worse you feel about the lows, and the more infrequent are the highs. Sometimes I wish I could step back and just watch this season like a casual fan and take in the wonder of a 73-53 team that no one saw coming, but I know I can't, because I spend so much of my time analyzing every last detail. And it's because of that that I'm sitting here, nervous, having lost sight of that other shoe and just waiting for it to come crashing back down.

The way I figure, there's about a one-to-one ratio between the time it takes to build expectations and the time it takes to change them. Most of us spent about six months talking about the Mariners as a .500 ballclub, so it'll probably take six months to convince us of otherwise. We're almost there, but we haven't yet arrived, and knowing what's now at stake only makes us that much more apprehensive. We're at the point now where everybody wants to be wrong, but still isn't convinced that they actually are. Such are the mental battles of a Mariners fan.

I could try to persuade all of us (myself included) to believe in this team 100%. I could try to tell you that 126 games is a meaningful sample, and that we don't need to get to #162 to know that our preseason forecasts were incorrect. But I know that wouldn't work, because no matter what you say, there's no expediting this process. We're going to be nervous every single day until the end of the season, and all we can do is hope that when we finally get there, the M's are still alive. That six-month expectation adjustment period is set to expire in early October. With any luck, we'll get used to the idea of following a winning ballclub when there's still more baseball left to watch.