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Settling into a season of unfamiliar expectations

Figuring out how to write about the Mariners with a different pen has been a greater challenge than expected.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason was a struggle for me. After being out of the country for much of the September push for glory, I enjoyed a final stretch of games that fell just short. It felt strangely hollow, and not feeling the pulse of Safeco while I was gone attributed to that. Quickly, we moved into an offseason that was far more critical than year's past -- and suddenly, I felt like I didn't know how to analyze moves anymore. The Mariners were operating from a state of the franchise that I simply wasn't familiar with. Several years ago, I would have trashed the Nelson Cruz signing. Even a year ago, I was vehemently against the idea of inking Cruz to the kind of deal he ended up signing 40 home runs later. Moves like that were supposed to be saved for when the team could win now. When was the last time? It hasn't happened in my M's writing career, if you can call it that.

So Nelson Cruz was signed. And it didn't feel like a terribly bad idea. The Mariners are indeed firmly in that win-now window, and as a guy who has spent the vast majority of his time on this site always looking forward with one foot firmly planted in the snark bucket, making moves that made sense now without mortgaging the future shaped this winter's storyline. It was a narrative I was uncomfortable telling.

I can't be alone in simultaneously loving the current situation of the Mariners franchise while feeling wildly unprepared for it. We all settle into habits, and mine for years was the same -- the Mariners were mediocre, often made questionable moves, and cycled through a bunch of young talent that didn't pan out. I sat from my home office, falling in love with longshot prospects like Vinnie Catricala and Ty Kelly, hoping that they would become our Matt Carpenter. That something good would happen to one player, not to the entire team. Just something, that first step to turning this franchise around. Clinging. I knew how to dig deep into the depths of this franchise because I knew the top level was going to disappoint. There's a strange comfort in delusion.

Even though hope always ran strong every spring, games were spent rooting for players who might once be a part of something that mattered, and that their growth in lost seasons would prepare them for stardom in found ones.

This is that found season, and I'm just now starting to settle.

Six months ago, I moved from my comfortable position doing freelance work from home to a more corporate setting. As the season built up, I was dealing with two new situations -- a desk job and a legitimately good baseball team. I lost my routine somewhere along the way. The Mariners got good. I had to put pants on every day.

The very best thing about baseball is that there's always another game right away, and it's usually within 24 hours. Even on days when the Mariners don't play, there are other teams that do. We won't go a day without baseball until the middle of July, and that's incredible. I can't wait until tonight. Then until tomorrow. I'll be crazy on Thursday, waiting for Taijuan Walker and Drew Pomeranz on Friday. How did we go an entire winter waiting a week between football games, or sifting through rumors on a roster that was mostly set? Spring training is bullshit. Breathe. The real stuff is here.

I'm ready to settle in. This winter was one of transition for me in my personal life, and one for the Mariners franchise. Are we really ready for a good baseball team? To be a team in favor instead of playing the underdog? I'm taking this new feeling one day at a time. A game tonight. A game tomorrow. A familiar pattern with unfamiliar feelings. We'll figure this out together.