When I was a kid, I always played as the Mariners in video games. While I wish this was some meant-to-be thing, that eventually a kid from a small town in Wisconsin would eventually move to Seattle and closely follow the team he always loved, it is not.
"Video games" was one game—Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball on Super Nintendo. Not the sequel, but the 1994 original. So why play as the Mariners? Because that was the only team with a real player, whose swing was as sweet then—in a lineup sandwiched between J. Hutt and H. Lincoln (no coincidence)—as it was in real life. That was video game baseball then, when licensing wasn't standard fare and only the baseball's most iconic appeared in the virtual world.
Honestly, I didn't know a lot about baseball then. I lived in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a city on the state's western border, the Mississippi River, and would make it to a Cubs game once or twice a year. But because of that game, I knew Ken Griffey, Jr. was cool. And, by proxy, I knew the Mariners were cool.
For whatever reason, I thought of that when I saw this come across the wire a couple weeks ago:
I should get this out of the way now: Jameis Winston, though he is the potential #1 pick in the NFL draft, is not necessarily type of character you want strongly associated with your team. And he isn't. He probably thought the hat looked cool, might've even realized the Mariners are trendy right now, and wore it out because it matched his shoes.
This isolated appearance of a Mariners hat is meaningless—I mean, Winston himself was born in 1994, only a kindergartner when Griffey left—but you can imagine these types of things only picking up if the hype doesn't slow down. We live in a culture nowadays that celebrates the 1990s; or, at least, a sizable chunk of young people do.
That's, generally, just how the world works. Everything is cyclical. Remember the late 90s when, among other things, flare jeans were inexplicably in for women? We had 70s trends then, and this now:
And I swear I'm not just pulling this out of nowhere. There's actual science and/or psychology behind it. The most applicable phenomenon is something called cohort effect. Here's how it's defined by the 10th edition of McGraw Hill's Methods of Behavioral Research textbook, via a wiki (sorry):
The effects of being born at about the same time, exposed to the same events in society, and influenced by the same demographic trends and thus, having similar experiences that make the group unique from other groups.
It can be applied in small groups (people who joined the company between 18 and 24 months ago did very well because we had Tim running the training) and large ones (everyone born between 1980 and 1993 thinks Dumb & Dumber is still hilarious). Or, again, it could contribute to a large subset of Americans buying into 90s-esque trends.
Here, another explanation on why Americans are constantly looking back with their choices, this time from Canadian academic Linda Hutcheon in a paper titled Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern (that Matt found, because he's great like that):
The explanations offered for this kind of commercialized luxuriating in the culture of the past have ranged from economic cynicism to moral superiority. They usually point to a dissatisfaction with the culture of the present--something that is then either applauded or condemned. Leading the applause, an apocalyptic George Steiner claims that the decline in formal value systems in the West has left us with a "deep, unsettling nostalgia for the absolute."13 And, I suspect more than one reader longs for a time (in the idealized past) when knowledge--and its purveyors--had some purchase and influence on what constituted value in society. But even on the less contentious level of retro fashions or various other commercial nostalgias, it does appear that the "derogatory word 'dated' seems to have vanished from our language."14 It has been taken over by "nostalgic," a word that has been used to signal both praise and blame.
This throwback culture, as she explains, isn't about irony—but instead looking back to a time when individuals feel times were better. And why not look back to the 90s when doing so? We were all younger and more naive then, the American economy was humming and the world seemed to be devoid of many of the evils we read about in the papers everyday now. It's easy to see why modern trends carry an undertone of sentimentality towards that decade, whether intentional or not.
And was there a team more representative of that decade than the Seattle Mariners? Now, to be clear, I'm not calling them the "team of the 90s," because that banner would more accurately be waved by the Yankees or Braves, but the Mariners may have been the team that most embodied the culture of the era. Not only did they have the decade's most iconic player, but they got by on dinger-swatting middle of the order, played in a dome, had a flame-throwing ace with a mullet and wore teal—they still wear teal.
That's a big part of this too, that there aspects parts of these trends that still hold. In the technology and startup world, there's a great deal of talk about whether or not the modern tech economy is a bubble that will soon pop in the same way it did after the late-90s/early-2000s, when Seattle was the heart of the dot-com boom.
While Seattle has slipped behind San Francisco and Silicon Valley as the epicenter for this economy, it isn't far back, with companies moving to the 206 left and right—the only difference on a national level being that this notion of Seattle as a forward-thinking tech hub where the cool kids live has now had almost 20 years to marinate.
Also, as they did then, the Mariners might have the coolest player in the game—with two stars capable of laying claim to the title in Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, both men who embody ideals we valued in the 90s and do again now.
In Felix, we have the elite talent who bought into the idea of working hard and building new something from the ground up. In Robbie, there was the East Coast icon who forged out westward, where he was valued appropriately and had the opportunity to let his personality show—all while made to feel like family.
It's the personality of this duo, and the team as a whole, that stands to benefit them the most if this all clicks as planned. I think it's widely agreed upon that a good Mariners team will bring out the fans locally and throughout the Northwest if it does, but it could be bigger than that.
We've already seen a good Seattle team will generate attention on a national level, though with the Seahawks there was as much bad as good. There will be those who dislike the Mariners—whether it be Yankees fans bitter about Cano or people who just don't like Nelson Cruz because of his recent past—but this is an endearing team with lovable stars, even beyond Felix and Robbie. Hell, given enough attention, what's to prevent Lloyd McClendon from showing the country why we're falling in love with him here?
Am I getting ahead of myself here? Oh, absolutely. Hype isn't worth anything in the standings, and as Lloyd has said, this team starts from zero wins—not 87. Things could go wrong, we're all aware, but it's impossible to deny the fact that this is the best team Seattle has seen since the early 2000s—when the echoes of the 90s reverberated throughout the city.
And the thing is, they might again. Whether or not that's a good thing, we'll have to see. But if this team becomes what we all believe it is capable of becoming, it's going to big. Bigger than Seattle.
Now, all we can do is watch and wait.