The team that has the most fun wins. My dad always said this when I was growing up. It was that, and to play like your hair's on fire—because that's what Pete Rose did. The former made more sense to any teammates who heard either phrase from him or me, because if they knew of Pete Rose, it was only that he'd been kicked out of baseball.
For purposes of this season, team and post, the former makes more sense too—even if it only makes sense at all at this level because winning, itself, is the fun part.
But more than anything, that's what I want this season: to have some fun.
It's hard to know where to begin when talking about what this organization and its fans have been through, but the biggest complaint I have is that our seasons is always cut short. We never get to enjoy a full season of real, competitive baseball. There's no sport that lives in the macro more than baseball and, constantly, the Seattle Mariners are caught in the micro.
Maybe it's a hot July that grabs our attention, but often times, it's less—a James Paxton call-up, Nick Franklin's immediate offensive onslaught, a Brad Miller bases-clearing double, a Mike Zunino grounder for a walk-off.
Are those fun? Absolutely. But I want more. I want meaningful baseball in the second half, I want to scoreboard watch, I want a big series.
Pretend it's August 25th. With football season barely more than a week away, the Mariners are still in the headlines as they return to Safeco after going 6-3 on an 11-day trip that features six games against Detroit and Boston. Next up? Texas. And those unfortunate souls, just 1.5 up, get the Felix-Iwakuma-Walker triumvirate with 35,000 back at Safeco for a Monday night game.
I'm not going to "If It Goes Right" this, but it's been impossible not to let my imagination run wild with this team—more than any other in recent years. The Mariners, make no mistake, have their question marks. Even their most optimistic supporters, among which I would proudly include myself, acknowledge the fog of uncertainty that surrounds this team. The thing is, sometimes those question marks are good.
But here's one place where there isn't a question mark: the Mariners, right now, are good enough to go .500. It doesn't take any black magic, and it doesn't take any major steps forward. All the major projection systems have the Mariners at right around .500 with Fangraphs and PECOTA at 82, and Vegas right at 81.5. I understand that everyone does their own eye tests, and some will even trust their own enough to say that "this is the same team as it was last year, just with Cano"—which is beyond laughable.
But here, let's lay it out. Here's what it'd take for the Mariners to win the 82 games Fangraphs has them pegged at: Kyle Seager and Brad Miller, two talented young infielders who should be getting better, drop a half-win each from the paces they set last year; Felix Hernandez, now fully entering his prime, also loses half a win; Robinson Cano drops almost a win and a half from his 2013 value, and 3 fWAR from where he was at in 2012; James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez combine to be about as valuable as 2012 Kevin Millwood; and Taijuan Walker ends up being about half as good as Michael Pineda was in his rookie year, which saw the latter falter greatly down the stretch.
I could go on, but the point is clear: it isn't hard to find the extra wins. And while every team has volatility, the Mariners have it coming out their ears—and a lot of it is good.
But I've gone off track here. I don't know where the Mariners will end up, and while I'll go so far as to say that those preemptively bagging on them are foolish, I won't say they're definitely going to make the playoffs.
But why can't this be the team that finally recaptures this city's soul, one that I truly believe has always loved baseball most? Maybe I pay attention to it more than I should, feeling overly defensive when I shouldn't, but isn't it a little weird how much attention is paid to the Mariners in a negative manner? Still yet today, some Seahawks fans proud of their team's Super Bowl win act like guys hoping to make their ex feel bad as they flaunt their new fling with an eye towards their first love.
Whether the root of this derision is deep-down fandom or not, let this be the season that it finally ends. The city of Seattle is already short one major sport, it doesn't need to act like it's down another. And it isn't that the fans need to act better, or appreciate what's before them, because there hasn't been anything to appreciate.
But before this season starts, give this team a chance. I understand those of you being safe and guarding your emotions "because Mariners." Still, this is the most interesting Mariners team in years, and one facing an American League West more open than we ever could've imagined it would be.
Still, even if Seattle sports fans aren't willing to buy in before they've seen anything to buy into—and I don't blame them for taking this course—let this be the year that the Mariners finally make them.
Take a look at what Brad Miller's spring onslaught has done to the diehards who lurk around these parts. Now imagine what'd happen if this entire city caught wind of the fact that Seattle's home to one of the best shortstops in the game—and doing so in the heart of a July or August that finally matters.
And that end part is the biggest point: no longer should the positive moments be looked at with one eye deliberately towards the future. When thinking of what something means, let it not be a year or two in the future but a game or two in the standings.
This team is good enough to make some noise, it's good enough to make people pay attention and it's good enough to reward those who have been here all along. Whether they will is up to them, but this isn't some impossible feat.
I don't know where this goes—I can't say that enough. But there's no reason this team can't remind us why we love baseball and all that comes with it. And "what comes with it" is the beauty of the fact that we don't know what's going to happen. That's the fun part.
It's fun, as we sit here on Opening Day Eve, hoping for what could be—and it's fun seeing it come to fruition. Whether it will or won't is what we'll find out over the next 162 games. The time for conjecture is just about over, and now it's time to play it out.
Let's have some fun.