Every year around this time we are treated to a new set of promotional commercials for the Seattle Mariners. This is a great thing, and is, perhaps, the most favorable connotation for the phrase "Every year around this time" when "Seattle Mariners" is what follows next in the syntax. But the reality is that despite how much we want them to, these commercials, on their surface, do not signify any deeper level of meaning beyond Hey, Baseball! They are thirty second ads designed to promote interest in our local regional baseball franchise because 1. we live in a audio-visual-saturated environment where our attention is constantly up for grabs, and 2. how else are they going to get you to watch 350 Justin Smoak at-bats over the course of a lifetime rather than, I don't know, anything else?
Alright, that is a bit unfair. I mean, the Mariners have been putting these things out long before you even knew about Justin Smoak, or hell, even Richie Sexon (I checked)! But there is something, I think, that has been running through the core of all these commercials ever since Jay Buhner first stood in front of that open microphone back in 1994, and it is something that speaks volumes to the core identity of this franchise, and perhaps, the region in which it is housed. And that is that this team is weird. Really weird.
I mean, how awkward is this? What if this wasn't an ad? What if this was real? What if Jay Buhner went to a comedy club after a day game and tried to do a stand up set, and he just bombed it, and that's what you're actually watching here? This, the first Mariners commercial, getting ready to sell you on a baseball team which featured two Hall of Famers and a guy who would one day pitch you large vehicles you have no use for...and what you get is this. Weird.
Now don't get me wrong. I mean, there are lots of weirdos in baseball. Hunter Pence is weird, sure, and that whole Adam LaRoche thing is pretty bonkers when you get right down to it. But leaving behind the toll on one's psyche that living in cramped quarters with 24 other smelly people will take over the course of a season, I want to take a closer look at what these brand new 2016 commercials are actually doing--what they are telling us about how utterly bizarre this baseball team is, and how they prove that despite the ups and downs, that this team has really never strayed too far from its eternal and unwavering core of weirdness. In doing so, I hope to illustrate both something about these commercials themselves as well as to give a little insight into the team that for some godforsaken reason we've all decided to devote non-negligible amounts of our lives to following. So here, in no particular order, are the spots:
K-Swag starring Kyle Seager, Charlie Furbush, Taijuan Walker, and Hisashi Iwakuma
K-Swag is by far the bleakest of the bunch, lampooning the cult of celebrity which inculcates both the game and its surrounding media environment with a contradictory quest for unproductive attention. On one hand, you're supposed to respect the game, play it the "right way," to stand up with a dirty uniform and accept that 89 MPH fastball with a please sir, may I have another. On the other, well, we've got season tickets to sell! Shoe deals, ESPN bumper spots, and holy crap did you see A-Rod's car?
Kyle Seager is none of these things, and everyone knows it. A lifer who is actually a good baseball player rather than an hollow uniform speckled with dirt. An All-Star with a blank stare and a single on-field outburst to his name. Last year they filmed him shagging a few grounders at third base, and then sent Tom Wilhelmsen and Charlie Furbush out with absurd wigs to gyrate suggestively in his face as the joke, because well, the joke is that Kyle Seager would never do any of those things.
This year we open in the office of an unnamed marketing firm, featuring three executives staring Seags directly in the eye with a prepared pitch to TAKE HIM TO THE NEXT LEVEL. I'm mostly just shocked they didn't use words like "disrupt" or "pivot" or "sweat equity" or whatever, because my god these people are unequivocally the worst.
But the thing is that Kyle knows it. Kyle Seager was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the third round of the 2009 draft. He was at one time ranked 30th in the club's system, but before that Bryce Harper was already on the cover of ESPN Magazine. Tim Lincecum still had that greasy surfer hair, and Justin Verlander was boring, but they made sure to tell you all about how he was dating a supermodel because hey, how else to get cheeto-breathing consumers interested in a boring swim coach with tight pants?
But through the years, Kyle Seager slowly but surely climbed up through the ranks of the Mariners' system. He put up a few hits here and there, stole a base or two, and turned plays in a way so as not to make it look hard, but also not make it look too easy, either. Over the next few seasons, dreamy-eyed Dustin Ackley had yet to find a fit, and their counterpart in Justin Smoak made it look as if the Rangers knew that his peak was only punching a tree in a commercial which would only play for three months. Two quasi-marketable young talents short on the latter, making the former all but useless.
But then, to everyone's surprise, Kyle Seager is suddenly in an All Star Game, quietly wearing a bald head in the shadows of an unfamiliar dugout underneath choruses of wait, Kyle Seager? Perhaps, perhaps exactly what he needs is just that: the next level.
But you can see how weird this looks. It's....it's just wrong. And that's the joke. It's the same joke as last year, and the punching bag is unfortunately the same one hanging in the corner, only now swinging back around from the force of that first swing. I mean, it's not as brutal as that subtext-less commercial from 2013 which featured Ackley bemoaning that he "can't let his fans down," but here we are. Kyle Seager could never be K-Swag, he could never be on the cover of ESPN's the body issue, and not even for lack of ability. He's just...he's Kyle Seager, and he's kind of weird.
Now, the reality is that I don't think anybody here really wants K-Swag. Kyle Seager is the Kyle Seager we want to have, and that we do have and will hopefully have for quite a while, thank you very much. But realize that the joke of this commercial is that it would be funny if Kyle Seager started acting like the superstar third baseman he is capable of being. On one hand, I am grateful. On the other, well...not even his hair will let him try to live out that fantasy.
Nellie's Auto Glass starring Nelson Cruz
Isn't it weird that the Mariners are always starting up businesses on the side? I mean Felix once opened a hot sauce company, and Lou thought it would be a good idea to send Aaron Sele and the bullpen out to mow lawns in his neighborhood in the middle of the Mariners' last playoff-bound era. Gil Meche even tried to become an HSN personality once! If there is ever a question as to why this team has been so bad for so long...well, let it just be said that I'm frankly surprised that Jerry let this practice continue into a new era, that's all. Nevertheless, Nellie's got a point here, and I suppose if baseball isn't going to stop building parking lots behind outfield fences, then you might as well start turning it into a scheme to make some big ones.
I have to really give Nelson some credit here. After crushing some poor awkward weirdo's windshield with a mammoth home run, as is his wont, Cruz immediately rushes over to offer his own service as a windshield repairman. I'm pretty sure this breaks about one hundred labor laws, but eh...what are you going to do, punish a team who hasn't been to the playoffs in fifteen years? Yeah, I didn't think so.
Now, Nelson Cruz isn't necessarily that weird. I suppose it's weird he didn't really turn into an elite player until his thirties, but by all accounts he's a pretty normal and all-around marketable baseball player. The fans, though? You? Me? What it's like to have someone with bad knees and one tool actually net a positive outcome on our stupid baseball team which has given us no reason to think anything like that would be possible?
It's almost as if this is precisely the moment this fan realized it was all too good to be true. The program has shuttered, the Matrix has glitched. He's the only one moving while reality has come to a dead-end standstill: the Mariners might pull this off, but the whole scheme they are offering might be nothing more than a borderline illegal business operation. Keep watching that GIF there, and pray that it actually ends on a different frame one of these times. I'm not saying the season is on the line, but it just might be.
Clubhouse Questions starring Felix Hernandez, Nori Aoki, Wade Miley, Steve Cishek, and Pete Fortune
We start here right where we left off: another absurd situation in which a group of millionaire baseball players pretend that a famous pitcher colloquially known as "The King" is actually somehow a sovereign Norman despot from the middle ages. Perhaps they are kidding, perhaps they are just teasing their teammate after a tough win which saw him give up six hits without earning a single run. But either way, Felix is having none of it. Nori Aoki asks, Hey, Felix, do you live in a castle?
Wade Miley, who attended higher education at Southeastern Louisiana University, responds to Felix's incredulous denial with Yeah but it has a moat around it with Alligators, right? Felix, growing exasperated, retorts with No, it has a white fence.
Felix, who can't believe he actually has to answer these questions, is now faced with new Mariners closer Steve Cishek, who I am sure is a very nice person but wants to know if Felix goes jousting in the offseason. Then, do you own a dragon? What size Crown do you wear? Game of Thrones! Knights haha hoo hoo hee hee.
Felix, however, realizes that the true test of sovereignty lies not in aesthetics or even the display of material iconography. It rests on decision, as Carl Schmitt once said, a decision not to even answer such foolish questions any further. But he doesn't expect these lowly subjects to understand that. So instead, a chuckle:
We've come a long way, folks. One year they made a crown appear on his head through hundred-year-old trick photography. He was Elvis, and then when he sold hot sauce, the King aestheticized his power right on that bottle like the most powerful and dangerous of political authorities the world has ever seen. But Felix gets it now. His kingdom is not one of knights beckoning his every word, ready to die by the touch of the tongue to the back of the teeth. No, he's been in a really weird city with a really weird baseball team for ten years. They got something right with this one, which I think speaks more to power than any of the spots from this year or last: that is, that Felix isn't the weird one. We are. And damned if we aren't lucky he hasn't jumped ship yet.
Mirror Images starring Nelson Cruz, Edgar Martinez, Jerry Dipoto, and Scott Servais
So here we have quite the cute commercial that features Robinson Cano seeing his mirror reflection as if he were Edgar Martinez, where he WAIT WAIT STOP WHAT IS THAT
IS THAT A
WAIT FAST FORWARD
It is. It's a real light bat.
Now, I want you to think about something. The Mariners had the greatest designated hitter of all time on their team for eighteen years. They immediately followed up his tenure by posting some of, if not the, worst accumulated DH WAR in the years since he left. That's weird.
So is the light bat. It's a joke, yes, but it's a weird one--made ostensibly for local chain Eagle Hardware & Garden but one which overshadowed in-jokes following this franchise for more than two decades. And yet, it wasn't until summer of last year that the man finally made his return, bringing with him quite literal light to ward off the darkness of ineptitude, low OPS, and that heralded warning track power which has come to define an era. I don't know if it means anything, but damn, it feels good to have on my television screen once more, even if the metaphor is heavy-handed. Oh yeah, and Robinson Cano is gonna be good again, too.
And that, hopefully, won't be weird in the least.