Some things are exactly the same. Rizzs and Goldsmith, and sad trumpet guy. A theme song which once sang through tinny Zenith speakers, now riding a 250 mbps connection into little plastic buds smushed into your ears. A crack off a bat, a cheer. Some drunk buffoon who makes his way down to home plate after the eighth inning and decides he wants to audibly coach professional baseball players with fifteen-plus years of experience.
Other things, of course, are quite different. Names like Leonys, and Norichika. Northwest Green uniforms that make you think they are playing a real game rather than this futile exercise which you'll be tired of by next Thursday. A DadGut-less James Paxton, who--wait, what?
It's true! James Paxton is apparently down twenty pounds and still pouting, but he's throwing well and by all accounts, healthy. He threw his two scheduled innings this afternoon, giving up only a single hit and walk, while earning a nice little climb-the-ladder strikeout to open the game. He threw mainly fastballs, mixing in a few offspeed pitches here and there--Shannon Drayer noted this would be his focus today, as well as eliminating time between pitches--and frankly looked great in his first outing of the season
The M's got on the board pretty quick in the second with a little routine that would have just sounded like absolute bliss back when Eric Wedge was benching Brendan Ryan in Houston a few years ago while the storm clouds were on a drawstring like they were your kitchen blinds: after Seth Smith watched a few pitches out of the zone, he quickly deposited a 94mph corner-nibbler into centerfield, making it all the way home when Chris Iannetta hit a ding dong whammo blappo homer run in his first at-bat as a Seattle Mariner:
Now, we've had Smith in town for a while now, and although Mike Zunino has been known to hit a few baseballs in his day (only a few), I mean...this is kind of wild when you think about it. Two players with career OBP in the mid-300 range stringing together bases in the bottom half of the order, for a collective team-friendly $10-ish million dollars between the two of them. I don't know if the Mariners are going to do a single damn thing this year but...do you remember Miguel Olivo? Or when the Mariners chased Kendrys Morales....twice? How about Carlos Peguero playing catch in his car between exits on I5? I mean, you guys! This is something else!
After Paxton's clean two innings, NRI Donn Roach came out and threw baseballs at or around the strike zone in the mid-to-high 80's for a while, and apparently there was the first of what might be many fun little catch-the-moving-sphere adventures at first base from Adam Lind. Joel Peralta and a few others had fine outings, and last-in-the-book-last-name-haver Tony Zych came right out of the gate throwing 97. His command was pretty wild, but it's March 2nd, and if you're anything like me you'd have trouble naming four people still in this bullpen of the top of your head, so who gives a shit. Fernando Rodney is on the San Diego Padres. It's time for joy, people.
In addition to Iannetta's dinger, the rest of the M's had themselves a productive day at the plate. Cano, Chris Taylor, Jesus, and Leonys Martin all had productive at-bats, and Boog Powell even got in on the fun. Oh yeah, Stefen Romero hit a dinger too (if you're reading this please unblock me on twitter, I'm sorry). But I have to say, though, the real magic came in the bottom of the fourth. The Mariners were ahead by a couple of runs, and Franklin Gutierrez walked up to the plate to dig in his heels for his second at-bat of the year.
At this point, Rizzs and Goldsmith were performing their usual banter, talking about how great it was to see ol' Guti back in action after traversing such a long road which at one point seemed to have no end in sight. Then suddenly, a story: the M's beat writers and broadcasters were out and about during the team's 2014 trip to Miami when they ran into Gutierrez, who owns a home in the city. Gutierrez had not yet retired from baseball, but based on all the myriad shit which had been flung in his face over the years--ankylosing spondylitis, digestive trouble, a head with a baseball magnet inside--it looked unlikely that Death to Flying Things would ever grace a baseball field again, let alone one in the big leagues.
After informing the team that he would be sitting out the 2014 season to try and get his life back on track, Franklin Gutierrez was suddenly there facing those same faces which used to shove mini tape recorders and iPhones into his face every day, only this time there was only pity in that space between, sadness, and a sense of communal loss. You grow close to someone you cover for that long, even while touting journalistic distance--and from the sounds of the anecdote, Guti felt it too. He looked them straight in the eye, and I guess, nakedly, told them I don't want to go out like this.
Well, we all know what happened and where he is now, and what he has done to overcome such seemingly daunting odds. He hit that pinch hit grand slam, he hit that walkoff dinger that made you and me and everyone else cry, and he came back, back like a Phoenix to be beheld in its glory for all time. That story is over, and the longer we try and draw it out the more we lessen the impact of what it felt like for both him and us on that warm July evening last year.
So as Rizzs and Goldsmith were sharing this little anecdote with one another, Franklin Gutierrez seemed to hear them, somehow, as if to declare that the comeback is over. It's over, anyway, when this is just the norm now:
And it's true, I think. At this point the narrative is over. What we are left with is just this simple truth: Franklin Gutierrez isn't going to play baseball everyday. He'll have good days and bad, but frankly you can say the same thing about a lot of people. What Franklin Gutierrez can do is hit baseballs really far, and really hard. And at this point, that's just going to happen sometimes, whether there is a Tolkienesque legend attached to him or not.
So for the first time in 2016,