With Cliff Lee long gone and on the heels of the torture storm we sat through last night, this seems timely and relevant. Why should you, the reader, continue to follow along with the last-place the rest of the way? What follows is my best effort. Well, it's not my best effort. My best effort would be a book, or a movie. What follows is the best effort you're going to get.
- The continued development of Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, etc. This is the obvious one, and the first one that comes to everyone's mind. Once a team starts to suck, people clamor for the coaches to play the kids, because enjoying sports is in large part nothing more than enjoying hope, and prospects and young players are all about hope. Saunders, Smoak, Ackley, and Pineda are easy to imagine as parts of the next great Mariners core, and when we see their little successes, we cheer not because it helps a lot in the immediate, but more because it allows us to envision achievements down the road. I don't really care if Justin Smoak hits a homer against the tonight. But I do care if Justin Smoak hits homers against the White Sox in the future when the M's aren't so bad, so I like to see little encouraging signs that he'll get there.
- The chance to see something special. I think this is the old Dave Henderson axiom, although I might have my broadcasters confused. The M's were 62-97 when Ichiro broke George Sisler's record. They were 54-85 when Brandon Morrow nearly no-hit New York. Jamie Burke hit his first-ever home run on the last day of a go-nowhere season. Big, memorable things don't only happen to big, memorable teams, and a team doesn't have to be playing competitive baseball to provide a memory you'll hang on to for years and years.
- The games can still be enjoyable. This is somewhat related to #2, but it's still its own point, because an enjoyable game doesn't necessarily mean a game you'll remember next decade. I got a kick out of Ryan Langerhans' walk-off games last August, and those weren't going to put the M's in the playoffs. It can be fun to play the role of spoiler. It can be fun to beat teams you don't like, like the or the . And sometimes it can be fun to get involved in a surprising barnburner or pitcher's duel against some other dreg. And remember the time that cat got loose in Kansas City? That game was awesome. Bad teams play fewer fun games. They do not play zero fun games.
- There's mystery and intrigue in the little puzzles. Chone Figgins hasn't hit. Milton Bradley hasn't hit. Jose Lopez hasn't hit. Ryan Rowland-Smith hasn't pitched. Why? What's going on? These are four huge reasons why the Mariners are where they are, and they're puzzling, because we were counting on contributions from each. Just because the ship of relevant baseball has sailed, though, doesn't mean there's no longer any reason to be interested in seeing if some of the underachievers can get it figured out. Nevermind what it could mean for the future. Witnessing puzzle resolution can be satisfying on its own. We're born problem-solvers. It's nice to see problems get solved.
It's baseball. This is the worst five-point list ever, but in my defense, I didn't put very much thought into it. "It's baseball" is a common refrain, the implication being that having baseball available is always better than not having baseball available, even if the baseball itself isn't very good. It doesn't always feel that way, but it's true, and the neat thing about this baseball is that the whole viewing experience has completely changed. At least for me, the All-Star break drew a clear dividing line between baseball I actively cared about and baseball I hardly care about at all. As soon as the M's kicked off the second half, I went into it thinking "okay, we're terrible, and this is going to be terrible. Let's make the best of it."
Baseball on this side of the break generally because less emotional and less frustrating, because the break grants everyone the opportunity to step back and realize it's not worth getting up in arms about anymore. So viewership becomes more passive. More carefree and less stressful. Things that might've been vexing before are now, finally, officially funny. Like the Jamey Wright thing. Wak loves Jamey Wright. Loves him to bits. Jamey Wright is bad. That's amazing!
Last-place baseball down the stretch is funny, insignificant baseball that can seldom piss you off. It's a cheaper beer you bought in a 12-pack. It isn't a fancy import or craft beer you're trying out for $15 a bottle, but those beers can be really disappointing given the price, and sometimes after a long day of work, there's nothing more satisfying than relaxing, sitting back with something cheap and familiar, consuming it, forgetting about it, and going to sleep. These M's may not be good, but they can help you unwind.