Good morning, Mariners fans! Your Seattle Mariners play baseball today. It might not be baseball that means all that much, but it is baseball. We'll begin to get a sense of what all the new faces might bring to the table. We'll get Nori Aoki in left, and Leonys Martin in center. Adam Lind will field grounders at first. Chris Iannetta will do some catching. James Paxton will get his first start. Nelson Cruz won't play, and we'll pretend not to be nervous about that.
Spring Training is a time for wild optimism. That isn't a new observation; we've experienced this before. We say we'll do things differently, that we'll exercise caution and care, reason and rationality in equal measure. Spring Training creeps up on us, like slightly longer days and the realization we don't need a heavy jacket. We open the door to its optimism slowly, letting in a well struck batting practice home run, or the sight of a favorite pitcher's first bullpen, until the fun of all that meaningless baseball adds up to something too fun, and too alike to real baseball to be denied. We wake up renewed, and optimistic, full of uncertainty, but keen to ask: What if he did, though?
Spring Training was made for, "What if he did, though?" The classic refrain of optimists and fantasy baseball enthusiasts alike, it's the question we ask when we wish to acknowledge the unlikelihood of a player's highest trajectory while clinging to our wish that he achieve it. This guy probably won't hit for average and power; he never has before. But what if he did, though? He probably won't deserve a Gold Glove; he's never been a good fielder. But what if he did, though? What if he hit his 90th percentile projection? What if we got to watch a career year? What if?
To that end, Kyle Seager probably won't hit 35 home runs; he probably won't be a .280 hitter. He probably won't hit lefties the same way. He probably won't have another All-Star season in a crowded third base field. But what if he did, though?
James Paxton probably won't get 25 starts. He probably won't avoid injury, or an extended DL stint. His high fastball won't work as well as he thinks, and probably won't get as much mileage from his newly refined change up as he's hoping. He probably won't, but what if he did though?
What if Leonys Martin hits for average, and a little more power? What if Ketel Marte bucks the regression trend, and instead builds on his successes of 2016? What if Robinson Cano, so maligned and broken in 2015 returns to form? What if he's an All-Star? What if he's an MVP?
What if Felix Hernandez stares down his age 30 season, winds up, and devastates the American League with guile and his changeup? What if Joaquin Benoit proves to be an ageless wonder, and anchors a resurgent bullpen? What if Steve Cishek and his funky-ass gumby shit make us forget all about Carson Smith?
What if Franklin Gutierrez stays healthy the whole season? What if Nori Aoki turns in another .280ish/.350ish/.370ish performance? What if Adam Lind and Jesus Montero prove to be the one-two punch first base has been missing all this time? What if Safeco proves to be a loving home to Wade Miley?
What if Taijuan Walker breaks out? What if Mike Zunino returns a new hitter in late June, and we never doubt him again?
What if, with limited amounts of talent or treasure to spend, Jerry Dipoto's new look Mariners get on base like he expects, field like he expects, win like he expects? What if Scott Servais shows he's belonged in the dugout this whole time? What if we never bunt again? What if our guys keep having this much fun?
What if they did, though?
We'll ask a lot of hard questions of this team in the coming months. We don't have the expectations we did last year. We haven't been told we're winning the division, or the World Series. We're all a part of a new baseball experiment. The analysis and pain and jokes and hand wringing will come. But on this first day of almost real baseball, it's ok to hope and strive and wonder what might happen if we finally take off.
Because what if we did, though?