We have been united in nostalgia and misery. Both emotions invite wallowing, and goodness knows we've had our share. Here and at Safeco, tucked away in living rooms, and garages with radios playing games lost, we've wallowed. Our identities as fans have been marked by our endurance. We have shown a weird ability to survive sports suffering. We have perhaps enjoyed that fortitude a bit too much, taking the justifiable frustration with failed trades (surely they won't make this mistake again?) and bad teams (surely they won't be this bad again?) and mistaking our odd preference for baseball regardless of victory for some sort of moral superiority. And all in all, that's been fine. It isn't ideal, but we need something to grasp at in the lean times, and the effervescent style of Griffey, or the predictable let down of another playoffs missed, serve just as well as anything else. In much the same way that there isn't anything intrinsically noble about fandom, I suppose there isn't anything inherently odious about many of its forms, although some may be nastier or sillier or spikier than others.
In years past, our unifying theme muted many of the team's stories. We weren't eager to dwell on the Mariners, because all we saw was failure, and all we expected was more. When we did pause, we retreated to our wallowing. They were terrible, and they weren't the 1995 of 2001 team, and each accusation was damning in turn.
This year feels different. What I've enjoyed most the last few weeks is how this year's unifying theme, namely winning, is opening space for us to get to know so many stories. Fandom is a bit more fractured around these parts, our most compelling plot points more varied. Not because we aren't all pulling for the same team. Rather, it's that the ways in which the Mariners are winning, the men doing that winning, their individual bits and pieces of baseball, are allowing us to find ourselves in their success.
Baseball is democratic in a way. It is flawed the way democracy often is. In the past, it has excluded capable players out of hatred or bias, or simple jealousy. But many different bodies can play and succeed. Men (and hopefully some day women) of different backgrounds and colors and places can be proxies for us on the field. The team winning allows us to linger on the stories of players, and the stories of those players being diverse allows us to find ourselves in the team. Because we are diverse.
So you get slappy, speedy Norichika Aoki, and on-base machine Seth Smith. You get the other worldly arm of Leonys Martin, and the charismatic, talent-infused cool of Robinson Cano. Kyle Seager warmly embracing Nelson Cruz after a home run. Hisashi Iwakuma's burgeoning friendship with Taijuan Walker. Dae-Ho Lee enjoying a round of golf with Steve Cishek. Heck, you get the slight, wiry frame of Ketel Marte on the same infield as Lee. We're awash in different sorts of bodies and backgrounds, all of whom are making this Mariners season a part of their story. When the Mariners outfield comes together in a warm embrace at the end of a win, the joy is obvious, the common purpose apparent. These guys are having a lot of fun, and they're stitching something together that might, with more good play and luck, become something wonderfully special. And we get to see our brand of baseball, whatever that might mean to us, expressed on the field, detailed by the press, and recounted in different languages.
In years past, our unifying theme muted all that beautiful difference. Now, unfurled with each win is a new tale of our beautiful baseball family. These our guys were brought together to compete, and their different strengths have let them do that, at least so far. There's room for their stories. We're eager for them. There's space for us to revel in them, and find our joy. There's space to find ourselves. We don't have to wallow. Right now, we get to explore and unpack, and launch forward pelmel. The wins have been great fun. But these stories, our stories, I think that is the real gift of this baseball team. Let's see if we can't tell a few more.