If I want, I can buy Seattle Mariners World Series tickets. They cost a lot, the games may not actually be played and I won't get the nice glossy tickets because I haven't already committed to the once-ludicrous idea of the M's in the postseason, but the possibility exists—if I want, I can log in to the Mariners.com season ticket holder portal and put money down on Mariners World Series tickets.
That's what's at stake now, that's what we're cheering for.
The Mariners winning the World Series—a concept out there with traveling faster than the speed of light and magically turning water into beer in an instant—represents the most flawless overlap between what will be satisfying as it happens, and what will be satisfying when reflected upon at a later date.
It is, of course, improbable that the Mariners will win the World Series in 2014. There are degrees to this, sure, but there isn't a single team for which it isn't improbable that they'll win the world series. I mean, take a look at the Fangraphs playoff odds page—the team with the best chance of just making the World Series, the Washington Nationals, has but a one-in-five odds of accomplishing that.
In summary: no, your team probably isn't going to win the World Series. But looking at them individually, every other team probably isn't going to win the World Series either. And all but a small group of fans among those backing contenders will have a moment of wretched heartbreak. That's going to happen, and it's something nearly all fan bases can share.
But what we don't all share is the same expectation for how it will play out, the baseline level of satisfaction with which we won't pull out our hair or shed a few tears. That changes with time, and for many of these teams that level of expectation was set months ago—and only emboldened as the season ticked off month by month by month.
Look at the Oakland Athletics. Seriously, just look at them. They have been, by all measures, a fantastic ballclub. For a majority of the season, they were head-and-shoulders above the rest of baseball. Now they've lost six of seven to their two biggest rivals and face the reality where their best-case scenario nearly certainly involves playing in a one-game playoff.
How horrifying must it be to go all-in—to part with six years of Addison Russell and more—only to face the prospect of a coin flip game. Now, to be fair, not long ago I asked if it really made all that much of a difference to go all-in for a coin flip game when, in a perfect world, you're still going all-in to win three straight short series in a baseball tournament. The difference is debatable, but what isn't is how grave pushing everything you have to the middle of the table makes something as trivial and random as baseball.
And that's what the Mariners didn't do, go all-in. Like I wrote on in the previous link, the Mariners struck the balance perfectly as Jack Zduriencik didn't give up too much, filled the Mariners' biggest need and added a couple of fliers to the pile. Now, the acquisitions haven't performed to the level we would've liked, and they haven't thrust the Mariners to the front of the wild card race as we would've hoped—but the Mariners are still right there, so it's hard to take issue or be too upset.
This idea of not being upset, being satisfied with how the season has gone despite what may yet unfold has floated around a bit as of late, especially after the brutal losses especially—not so much in practice, but in theory. I myself wrote at the beginning of this season that the one thing I wanted the very most was to have a full season, to play meaningful ball in the second half instead of look to next year before we even reached the all star break. And they've accomplished that.
When we look back on this season after its conclusion, few—if any— of us will be able to call 2014 anything but a success. For almost the entirety of Jack Zduriencik's tenure, we've been looking for that bridge year, the year that would be the step from depressing terribleness to respectability, and then on to the year-over-year contention we were promised. The very first year, 2009, felt like that year, so it does serve as something of a warning to the assumption that this year is just the start.
Though, the truth still remains: the Seattle Mariners are good now, with a roster that was built to be good later—in a division where two of their three biggest rivals have put a priority on immediate gratification over longterm success.
So does that make all this easier? Does it make the stinging losses a little less stinging knowing that the Mariners are positioned to get another, maybe better, crack at this next year? Nope.
Now this is the part where this post goes a little sideways. I tend to share a decent amount with thousands of people I don't know, and I do it because it's easier to just be honest than sidestep around what I want to say. You know what scares the ever-living hell out of me? Mortality. Now I imagine I'm not alone, but the idea—well, no, the absolute certainty—that I will die and be meaningless cosmic dust is positively horrifying and causes anxiety on a regular basis.
In Walter Isaac's biography of Steve Jobs, he wrote that Jobs at a young age had a premonition that he would die young, and used this gripping fear of his demise as motivation to work as hard as he could to "put a dent in the world" before his passing. For me, it isn't the same—it's just scary as hell.
I am aware that sounds weird as can be, but that we know with (near) certainty that the 2014 Mariners will inevitably meet their demise produces a similarly terrifying anxiety—if to a much lesser degree—as knowing that I will inevitably cease to exist.
All of this fun we've had the last few months—Robinson Cano flicking one into Edgar's, the Boston comeback, two of three in Detroit—that's all going to end. The 2014 M's will go from something that is great, to something that no longer exists—and it's going to happen soon. It could happen in game six of the ALCS, or it could happen by losing three of four to Texas.
But it's this absolute certainty that it will all end—and end in a moment that will produce immense disappointment despite what the future holds—is what makes this all so enjoyable.
What happened on Tuesday, with James Paxton dominating and the offense exploding, wouldn't have been what it was without Monday's demolition pushing a sizable chunk of this fan base to the brink. Corey Hart and Kyle Seager's home runs yesterday wouldn't have produced near the level of elation they did if it didn't take the Mariners from 5.5 games behind Oakland to a "Hey. We're coming." 3.5 behind a team that once was barely visible on the horizon.
So should you be content with what the Mariners have accomplished so far, be happy with what they've done to date and call the rest of it gravy? No, of course not. This is why you hope your team will end up here, in this position—to be afraid that they'll suddenly fall out of it.
I want to see the Seattle Mariners win 90 and make the playoffs. I want to see them take control of this wild card race and blow past Oakland. I want them to win the wild card game and make more than a little noise in the postseason with a pitching front three that's as good, or better, than anyone's. Will all of that happen? Almost certainly not.
For years, the Mariners have assured their fans that painful heartbreak and dashed hopes loom just around the corner. But now, with more at stake than we've seen years, it just might be a good thing.