There's something about a home run.
That split second of silence in the crowd; a gasp of a collective breath, as we wait for the reverberations of bat meeting ball to reach our ears.
The ball soars, and carries our voices with it. We're simple creatures, really, and a raw display of power will always cause us to drop our clubs, pause our berry gathering, and stop our hand mid-scratch on our belly. Whether friend or foe, we unite in this moment of awe.
Man hit ball hard; make loud sound; make ball go very far.
There's always a catalyst for fandom. Sometimes it's a family member, or a tee ball league we join when we're young; often times, it's a single player, whose persona and style of play spark something within us. Many of us who consider ourselves Mariners fans point to Ken Griffey Jr. as the player who inspired our passion for this team. Ichiro arrived a few years later, and ushered in a new wave of fans, then King Félix a few years beyond that. Most recently it's been Robinson Canó and Kyle Seager who have encouraged new fans to love this team, but then came Cruz.
His signing was contentious, and many believed it to be doomed to failure (love any excuse to share this Grant Brisbee gem). Now, that original assessment is so comically wrong it's become a unifier:
Person A: Avocados are delicious
Person B: Avocados are trash
* rabble rabble rabble *
Person A: Hey, remember how everyone thought the Cruz signing would be terrible?
Persons A and B: Hahahaha
Person B: That reminds me, want to watch this supercut of all 39 homers he hit last season?
Person A: Um, did Nelson Cruz win the 2017 Silver Slugger Award?
In 2015 he was a balm for an abominable season; the greatest consolation prize we could have ever imagined. In 2016 he helped power the team to late-season contention, including an away series in Minnesota at the end of September when he hit four home runs in a three game series, despite fighting through visible pain. Oh, and he was responsible for this moment, which will figure prominently in the stories we tell our children and grandchildren about #23.
He's been a leader in the rankings and in the clubhouse. He's inspired laughter, and yes, okay, maybe some tears too. Most importantly, he's inspired another generation of Seattle baseball fans; on any given home game at Safeco Field dozens, if not hundreds, flood the stands in some sort of Cruz-related attire.
See, Mariners baseball can be fun, he reminds us, circling the bases after depositing a baseball 493 feet away from home plate.
Gracias, Nelson, for the moonshots, and the clutch hits; for that contagious smile, and the unshakeable belief in your own speed, especially when wearing tall socks. Thank you for inspiring new baseball fans to love this team, reminding old fans why we love this game, and for being a player Mariners fans are proud to call their own.