I spent this morning reading two things. The first, was Jonah Keri’s excellent piece on the state of the Mariners franchise. Everyone knows Jonah, at this point. He is the rare talent who has never stopped investing in others, stayed humble, and let his work speak for itself. He is phenomenal, and the piece is well worth your time.
One of the major sections of Keri’s column is devoted to the discussion of the fall of Felix Hernandez, something we’ve feared, observed, acknowledged, and sort of denied, over the past season and a half.
"It’s a waste". That’s the common assessment of Felix’s time with the Mariners. He’s never reached the postseason. All those moments of brilliance, all those years of excellence, are blunted, rendered irrelevant by the franchise’s inability to win enough games to allow him to play in the postseason. Felix Hernandez is 30, and his career is being framed as a sort of tragedy.
The other piece I read was Chris Ballard’s in depth look at the journey of former Seattle Sonic Robert Swift. It is an arduous, painful, breathtakingly sad story. A lottery pick in 2004, Swift was eighteen years old, and completely unprepared for the financial and professional burdens of being a professional athlete.
With little to no support system, Swift’s story peaks at twenty years old, before devolving into a horrific series of injuries, personal failings, weight struggles, and, eventually a crippling heroin addiction. His spiral is so utter, so complete, that he is found in a drug den in Seattle in 2014, completely given to addiction:
Part of him thought he’d die here, in this filthy house, and maybe that was O.K. He was sick of trying.
Robert Swift is 30, a teenage millionaire who sleeps under a roof solely due to the generosity of others.
The stories of Felix Hernandez and Robert Swift are parallel only in their shared locality, and tenor of the tales. For all the sadness and mourning over the seeming end of Felix’s dominance he remains a borderline hall-of-famer, the greatest Mariner pitcher ever, a millionaire hundreds of times over, an unbelievable success.
Robert Swift is a convicted felon, with no home, no job, and the great, howling beast of drug addiction perpetually breathing it’s hot, hungry breath down the back of his neck.
Both men are thirty, and face immense challenges in the coming years. But one’s plight exists in a fantasyland, a stage play where tragedies are intermingled with private jets, mansions, and the adoration of millions. The other could be dead by this time next year.
The Mariners are going to play the Blue Jays in about two hours or so. It has been an awful series for the team, but more so for the fanbase. We’ve been clowned on, as tens of thousands of Blue Jays fans have invaded our stadium, and turned it into their own. I’ve heard from numerous fans that this is their lowest point as a Mariner fan. It hurts, hurts in a way beyond a simple defeat. It’s a time of identity crisis.
We’ve had it rough, we Mariner fans. Sometimes, it's important to acknowledge that things are hard. Sometimes, it's good to be sad. The past week, the past decade, hell the majority of the franchise’s existence, have been an exercise in painful defeat.
In this difficult time I will tell you know lies: Mariner fans are most likely going to take it on the chin again today, even if the team manages to win. Toronto’s fans are going to overwhelm the stadium, and we’ll be subjected to that horrifying spectacle. It’s not fun. But, and this is important, the darkest times do not define us. We cannot avoid them, but can move out of them. That's a gift, and one not shared by everyone.
So be sad, be frustrated, be annoyed; go ahead and bottom out. I get it. But it's going to get better, even outside of wins and losses, and all the horrible, painful stuff, we can't control. It's not like this often, and it won't be much longer. Better is coming, the future is ahead.