It was the months preceding the 2008 season when I first started reading the Seattle Mariners' blogs. Back then, it was by recommendation of a teacher that I jump on over and check out what was happening at USSM. So I did, and the talk then was all about the removal of Bill Bavasi. In all honesty, I had no knowledge of who he really was or why he mattered. I just remember talking the Adam Jones trade with one of my coaches during some early morning batting cage work. That was the first moment I remember really thinking about who pulled the strings that composed the M's teams I would blindly follow as a kid.
Jack Zduriencik came in like the hero we all needed. We all remember that. We got Franklin Gutierrez through some sort of wizard magic and put him on a team with Adrian Beltre, Ken Griffey Junior, Russel Branyan, Jose Lopez, Doug Fister, Felix, Ichiro, and more. Yes, 2009 was a shot in the arm. It produced one of the greatest Mariner moments of a decade desolate with them. The Kid and Ichiro being carried off the field in the final game of the season to a standing ovation. Carlos Silva had a smile as wide as the Puget Sound. Baseball was back in Seattle.
And we have to acknowledge how much that mattered. That first, introductory season with Jack was like a beautiful summer zephyr had swept in to the stagnant air that had surrounded Safeco Field for so many seasons. We were alive again.
And then 2010 happened. Chone Figgins and Cliff Lee. The ESPN Magazine cover. I was living in Minnesota, going to school, and I will never forget the moment that ESPN Baseball preview came to my inbox. It was the first time I was excited for a season to start. I was away from home, and Jack Z had connected me back to the first team I loved across the country. The excitement in the article was palpable. Ichiro was eating popcorn on the cover of a nationally circulated cover. That was one of the worst offenses in the history of the game. That season was, by all accounts and numbers, a disaster.
But in 2011, home for the summer from college, I scalped tickets for a weekend series game against the Phillies. The Seattle Mariners had just called up Dustin Ackley, who had torn apart the minor leagues to earn ascension. Our number one prospect was debuting at second base for a team that was in the thick of a competing season. I watched that game from high up in the 300s down the right field line. The sun set over the Sound, there were 30,000 plus people at the game, and damn, it was fun to be at Safeco Field.
And then we hit the doldrums. Prospects came, highly touted, some drafted, some homegrown, all essentially failing to meet the expectations. Those seasons between now and then saw a growing commitment to what felt like one (marginal) tool players, that never panned out. If Russel Branyan was a flash in the pan, then Raul Ibanez's half-season of dingers was indistinguishable to the human eye. Yet, Jack still held on to that talent. Raul and Endy served as totems for a growing disdain for defense after the offensive failure that the "defense-first" team of 2010 proved to be. The major league talent was thin, but there was always hope in the minors.
And then they signed Cano after a truly bizarre end to the Eric Wedge saga. And then they competed in 2014 from wire to wire. And they came three innings short of playing for the playoffs. There was the Night Court, a game that until it's final moment, was proof to me that baseball was alive and back. The trade for Austin Jackson had filled an obvious hole and felt like a return to the Trader Jack we had come to love. Logan Morrison found a late season hot-streak and saved us multiple nights. There was so much energy around baseball in Seattle. In a town hot off a Superbowl win, everyone was talking Mariners.
Fast forward through almost eight years of Jack to now. Here we are in 2015. A roster that has by all estimations somehow found its floor and maybe even dug down to build a basement below it. It has to be said that Jack set us up for a good ride this year. And that isn't to say it hasn't been fun. This season has also been a struggle. Highs and lows. Think of the moments from this year. The Kuma no-no, Guti being Guti, Nelson Cruz being a stroke of genius, the Marte Partay, an ace-like Tai, and the singular plays from relevant games.
This is all to say that I do not know how you will remember Jack Zduriencik's time at the helm of the Mariner ship, but I know how I will remember it. I won't remember him for the lack of competitive teams. Two winning seasons in seven is not what we were promised. I won't remember him for the failure to develop Ackley, Smoak, Montero, Hultzen, Zunino, and more. I won't remember him for all the horrible that was Lueke. I won't remember him for how Griffey left or how Wak was fired or how Wedge blew us all off. I won't remember him for the bad. For Buck being sent off on his birthday. I choose not to.
Baseball is relevant in this town again. Gone are those Thursday night games where 12,000 cold and sad fans showed up just to have some garlic fries and leave in the 7th. This town has craved baseball, has craved entertainment, and it has been gradually given back to us. We were given the Kings Court, the High Court, the Supreme Court, the Night Court. We were given the Boomstick, the Robbie CanoShow, and reason to hope that from this point forward, this is a relevant baseball franchise.
Sometimes I walk through the club level of Safeco and along the right field side, there is a sort of mural depicting the Big Moments from Mariners' history. Walk by that mural sometime and look for anything between 2001 and Jack's arrival. There is nothing. They are forgotten years of this franchise and we all made it to now, despite the madness. There are new Big Moments now on that mural. Jack Z moments.
The GM is dead. Long live his memory. Long live the GM.