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Intangibles and the Power of Belief

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Today, I'm going to break one of the biggest rules of baseball blogging -- I'm going to talk about intangibles. If you've spent any time reading baseball analysis (and if you're reading this post now, that's probably you), the divide between concrete data and intangible elements is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

And with good reason too. If we're not baseball insiders, like a select few journalists are, we're on the outside looking in. As outsiders, the only data that is reliable is the actual events that occur on the field. Everything else is passed on to us by the insiders -- it's second-hand data. If you were doing any type of historical research, it's the difference between primary and secondary sources. You don't ignore your secondary sources but they shouldn't inform the crux of your argument, only supplement your own evidence. Things like clubhouse atmosphere, grit, and hustle are simply incalculable and exist only in stories passed on through beat writers and the media circus. So, as an outsider looking in, I've taught myself to diminish or ignore the effect intangibles have on a baseball club.

Until there comes a point where the intangibles become so hard to ignore that we have to account for them somehow. Last weekend, the Seahawks overcame what seemed like insurmountable odds to defeat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. There were two competing narratives that were created in the aftermath: 1) The Packers, through conservative play and poor execution, imploded and gave the game away, or 2) The Seahawks, through their collective determination, never gave up and finished stronger than the Packers. The reality is a combination of these two narratives plus a hundred other factors. But one man's intangibles outshined the rest.

As a Seahawks fan, it's hard not to be enamored with the passion and desire of Russell Wilson. Just listening to him on the sideline and in the huddle during the fourth quarter gives me chills. "I want it. I want it. I hate losing." Those are the words of a man whose single focus is on winning.

How does all of this relate to the Mariners?

By most accounts, the Mariners clubhouse had a very different atmosphere last year. Felix noticed it on the first day of Spring Training last year.

"All we need is a little patience -- and passion," Hernandez said. "Cano's one of the best players in the game. He's going to help a lot. And for the ninth inning we got a guy who's closed for a long time. Fernando has experience -- and no fear.

"These guys, Cano and Rodney, have a lot of personality. That's what we need here -- to have fun. You can't get too serious. It's a game; you have to have fun. The last thing you want is a quiet clubhouse."

By the middle of the season, most of us could tell the boys in blue were actually having fun on the field. The double jerk. The bullpen antics. These were things we had seen glimpses of in years prior but now they were out in full force.

Maybe it all started with the signing of Robinson Cano. Shelling out $240 million for one of the best players in the game was a sure sign that the Mariners were ready to win. But before he signed, Cano spoke with Felix about the organization.

Robinson Cano's decision whether to leave New York and join the Seattle Mariners became a lot easier after he talked to the M's other superstar ballplayer, Felix Hernandez.

"He called me and I asked him" about the Mariners, Cano said Thursday. "He told me they'll make you feel like family. They're always going to take good care of you. Anytime you want to talk to them, the door is open for you. That played a big role in my situation, because what you want is to be with people who treat you like family."

We've all admired Felix for his steadfast loyalty to the Mariners but in that quote above, he laid it all out in concrete terms. It's about family. It's about believing that one team can make a difference to an entire city.

When Nelson Cruz signed with the Mariners in November, he mentioned Cano as one reason why he decided to come to Seattle.

"We're pretty close," Cruz said of Cano as the newest Mariner met with the media Thursday after signing his new deal. "He's one of the reasons I'm here. He was pulling for me the whole time. And I was pulling to be part of this. I'm very happy for the chance."

That shouldn't be discounted for nothing. Some reports had Cano pulling hard for Melky Cabrera to sign with Seattle as well, citing their close friendship from their days in the Yankees farm system. Even though Cabrera didn't end up coming to Seattle, Cano was working to bring those closest to him into the Mariners' family.

When Cano first put on the Mariner uniform, it was a tacit promise that the Mariners were no longer the punching bag they had been for the past decade. It was a belief that spread throughout the organization and played out right before our eyes in 2014. Yes, the games had to be played and the plays had to be made -- and the Mariners came up one game short -- but 2014 had different feeling as a Mariner fan.

Maybe it was that subtle shift in attitude, from constant rebuilding to the cusp of contention. Maybe I'm just creating a narrative out of hindsight. That's the thing about intangibles. You can never tell when they're rearing their ugly head in the moment. If the Seahawks had lost the NFC Championship Game, we could be talking about how Russell Wilson's passion and desire just weren't enough to overcome the cold precision of Aaron Rodgers' throwing arm.

We build these narratives to try and make sense of all of this data we're bombarded with, both concrete and intangible. Narratives provide meaning and emotional attachment to these data points.  They could mean nothing but they probably mean something. The Mariners are going to be a fun team to watch in 2015, in part because they're being led by players who are committed to winning and believe that, together, they are more than they could be individually. That's something I can believe in, even if it is all a bunch of mumbo jumbo.