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On last night, and Mariner fans

Do we suck?

Last night the Mariners lost, in their home stadium, in front of a listed crowd of 34,809. Conservatively, I will estimate between twenty to twenty-five thousand of that number were clad in the colors of the opposing Blue Jays. The resulting atmosphere was one very close to a home game for Toronto. The opposing pitcher was given a standing ovation, the crowd stood with two strikes on Mariner hitters in the eighth, and ninth, and so on.

This would be something worth a few B-grade jokes on Twitter if it happened under normal Mariner circumstances, with the team bumbling around well below .500. But this was the biggest series in, at minimum, two years, and possibly a decade. The Mariners, easily at this point the most success starved franchise in all of baseball, were a two games out of a Wild Card spot, and hosting the team directly in front of them.

I heard about it, I assure you. I heard it on Twitter, email, and phone. When your city talks so quickly, so proudly about its ability to use its fandom to impact a game, when you retire a jersey in your own honor, when you have huge cheering groups with names that translate to "You will hear us", you will be told when you allow your stadium to be invaded like that.

A good, good friend, someone who knows a lot about the game and this region texted me the simple words: "Maybe Seattle really just doesn’t care."

Before we make any proclamations about the fans in this area, a quick recap of the circumstances that led to last night. And probably tonight, and Wednesday afternoon as well:

  • Canada is a country (I double checked), and has one baseball team. For a gigantic swath of that country, it is faster and easier to see their one baseball team by traveling to Seattle than going to Toronto. Droves of Blue Jays fans snap up tickets, and plan vacations to Seattle a year in advance, as soon as the schedule is released. It is an event, in the way one of eighty-one home baseball games in your backyard simply is not.
  • The past two years the Toronto series featured huge crowds, yes with many, many Blue Jays fans, but definitely not more than Mariner fans. These two series were played on a weekend, whereas this series is at the beginning of the week, right after school has started.
  • Going to a baseball game on a weeknight isn’t a common investment for a family, and requires a lot of planning. This is true for anyone, anywhere, but goes double for Seattle. Have you tried to make spontaneous plans in Seattle? You will have an idea, make hasty arrangements, rush out your door, and go hundreds and hundreds of yards in 30-60 minutes. Traveling through this city is a disaster, unless you’re staying in a hotel downtown.
  • We’re transitioning out of the small stuff now, and into the real meaty issues. I think you will notice a theme.

    May 13-15: The 21-14 Mariners, in first place, averaged 38k in a weekend series with the Angels, arguably the least talented team in baseball. The Mariners were swept, and lost hold of first place. On Sunday's game, the day after Steve Cishek negated a stirring eighth inning rally by allowing a three-run home run to Albert Pujols, the team was two-hit over eight innings by Hector Santiago

    2) May 27-29: The 28-18 Mariners, in first place, averaged 34k in a weekend series with the Minnesota Twins, arguably the worst team in the American League. The Mariners were swept, lost first place, and have never recovered it.

    3) June 9-11: The 34-27 Mariners, in second place by three games, averaged 38k in a weekend series with the Texas Rangers, the team they were chasing in the division. The Mariners lost two of three, including 2-1 on Saturday when, one strike from victory, Steve Cishek allowed a home run to Prince Fielder, who is now retired from the sport.
  • Let's keep hammering away at those big points: With the Mariners on the cusp of the Wild Card in September of 2014, the Mariners lost five consecutive games from Sept. 20-25 by an average score of 8-2. They missed the playoffs by one game.
  • August 27-29, 2007. The Mariners trailed the Angels by three games, and hosted them. The team's marketing department nicknamed the series "LolleBlueza" (I know), and the fans responded. Forty-five thousand (!) fans per game came out for the series, which incidentally was on a Monday-Wednesday. 

    The Mariners were swept, and outscored 24-8.
  • The Mariners have not made the playoffs in fifteen years, the longest streak in baseball. In that time, an entire generation has been born, and been raised to something approximating adulthood. The Pacific Northwest region has exploded, seeing its cultural and technological influence expand, resulting in a massive influx of transplants from across the country, and the world. They have experienced Kevin Durant, a Supporters' Shield, four US Open Cups, three Super Bowls, Beast Quake, The Tip, and on and on. 

    They have never once experienced a winning baseball team.
Here's my closing point, and maybe it's a bit controversial, but I don't really care: The number of fans who truly, deeply, love any sport or team are relatively small. No team's fanbase exists in a vacuum. Massive crowds and global followings are about, primarily, two things: Winning, and history. The Cardinals and Cubs, to use two examples, don't enjoy huge attendance because they are "better" fans. Those franchises trace history back over hundred years. Their fandom is generational, an heirloom passed down from parent to child, a civic identity. Only winning in a fashion similar to the Seahawks' recent success can skip over that, and, well, the Mariners have four postseason appearances in forty years.

Fans learn to love or ignore their teams over time. For Mariner fans, those of us who truly care no matter the record or opponent, we have to accept the fact that the team's play over the course of its history has left the majority of this region's baseball love dormant. But dormant is different than dead. I am old enough to know that the love exists, and that we are simply waiting for enough time and/or winning to awaken it. Until that time, we'll have to deal with scenes like yesterday, and like so many before it it's a bitter tonic.

All that cures it is winning. There is no deeper truth than that. Until the winning happens, and we collectively wrap our arms around this franchise again, we'll be the source of mis-attributed frustration and scorn. That's the way it is, and that's ok. We'll remember, and our time will come.

Maybe today.