It is the 28th of June, 2013 and I am going to watch the Mariners play the Cubs on a Friday Night. I get off work early, grab up a couple friends, and the excitement has already built in the car on the ride in to Safeco. Tonight, Brad Miller, this nebulous, mythical, hero-we-all need is debuting at short. It is the first "Fireworks Night" announced, a promotion that draws a large crowd, and will become a mainstay of summers at Safeco since. The weather is idyllic. I do not know it yet, but this will be one of the top five games I attend in my life.
The first batter of the game, Luis Valbuena, grounds out to short. For the first time, we see this improbable mass of bone and flesh move about. His legs fly, his arms are never still, there is seemingly no balance point. Yet, his first play, his first attempt, he nails it. Welcome to the Bigs, Bradley "Sergio" Miller. He won't bat until the third, a lineout to right field. Eventually, Brad will go 0-4 on the night, with a walk and an RBI, but his debut will cement itself in the mind for reasons beyond his own impact. Maybe you will remember this game, with a little help:
The fireworks that night were one of the most impressive displays I had ever seen. The fading image, as the Grand Finale faded and the sounds of bomb shells died down throughout SoDo, was Dave Niehaus, talking, no, yelling, as Edgar Martinez lined a double down the left field line in a stadium no longer standing on the Safeco big screen. I get chills, as always. Brad Miller's debut produced a magical night, and I would never forget him doing so.
The Cubs series was a personal one, my girlfriend at the time was a diehard fan, and I had tickets to all three games, in anticipation she would visit over that series from Wisconsin. She couldn't make it that weekend, but instead came out later in July of that same summer, when Brad had become our starting shortstop. By then, Brad was our every-day lead-off hitter and had already made his way in to my heart. Not wearing batting gloves is one of the simplest ways to earn respect from me. Swinging a bat without as much added tack as possible takes guts. Brad always seemed to show his guts.
In the second inning of a game against the Twins, Brad doubles to center and scores Zunino, advancing Ackley to third. Katie turns to me, already enjoying the way this game is going, giddy with the excitement a summer's night in Safeco can produce and says, "Miller is sort the 'It Boy', huh?!" It was the perfectly appropriate moniker for a player who was never really fitting of one singular adjective. "It Boy" could mean so much. Sometimes the "It" was a bomb to right field, some times it was an improbable play in the five hole and a rocket throw. Other times it was another confused strike out, another overthrow. She would call him that for the two seasons we dated. It's still what I call him.
Brad Miller is so well loved first and foremost because he seems an incredibly lovely person. He is a charismatic, old-school, goofball who emoted in ways that seemed long-lost on a team that has been so forlorn for so long. He brought color and character to a roster that lacked most everything but the grey scale. But what I believe we loved and will love Brad Miller for here was what he represents to us all. He has no ceiling because he is almost impossible to project. He is an anomaly of the modern game. We cannot fit Brad Miller in to a box like some feel so comfortable and capable of doing with other players of less random and variable skillsets.
In Brad Miller we see what we hope we have in ourselves: an unfettered future. I cannot tell you in any good faith that Brad Miller will be a 5-win player at shortstop in 2016, but I sure as hell can't tell you with more assurance he won't be. The uncertainty of the future can be in the same moment both scary and beautiful. Brad Miller is 26, and has the whole world ahead of him in Tampa Bay. However, maybe we will be blessed by his early leaving. What if he tanks? What if he becomes another Bearded Ackley in our collective thought? Year after year being promised the harvest but stuck still seeding fallow land. Maybe this is best for us all, to throw our lot in with a new character who isn't bumping their head on what could conceivably be a ceiling.
Brad means a lot to my recent past with this squad. He was a connection to one of the most unforgettable games I ever attended, a favorite player of many close friends, and a goofball like me. I played ball with plenty of guys like Sergio. It was always about the fun. I will miss him so much, but I also wish him the best. This current roster didn't have a place for his ball of whatever (feathers and hot glue?) anymore, unless 10,000 hours of CF route running was possible between now and April or Robbie moved to first. Either way, he is no longer a Mariner. But while he was, boy, was he ever something. He was the "It Boy".
Others on staff will dive deeper in to the various twists and turns of this first Big Move of the Dipoto Era, but breifly, let's consider where we are right now:
- Mark Trumbo is your first basemen.
- While Boog is an amazing name and a potential 25-man candidate, this move does not block the Mariners from acquiring more outfield talent.
- The team gained almost a decade's worth of club control in this deal.
- Pitching depth always needs to be deeper than you could ever imagine.
- A toast, to Ketel Marte (and Chris Taylor) and the World's Ending.