I’ve been a Mariners fan long enough to remember many of the first 19 long years of frustration, and the dismal lineups and sparse crowds that were de rigueur at the Kingdome. It all changed in the mid-90s. My baseball fandom became irreversible in 1995 when that magical team coincided with me becoming obsessed in the way only a 13-year-old can be.
These 15 seasons since 2001 have been familiar, harkening back to my early childhood with their lack of Octobers. They’ve been equally as frustrating because I know what October feels like.
An entire generation of Mariner fans has grown up never having a Mariners Spirit Day at school. You’ve never watched with nauseating anticipation as the Magic Number slowly, achingly descended. You have seen Felix, and perhaps Edgar and Ichiro. You have fallen in love with the role players like Franklin Gutierrez, Munenori Kawasaki, and Jesús Sucre. You get an essential part of baseball’s appeal: the warm summer nights spent lounging in the bleachers and the story lines running through each season and serving as subtext for every at bat. I once heard baseball described as the long slow ride to end of the trolley line. You understand that ride. You know it’s not all about winning.
Seattle sports in general have had a dismal history, so we’re used to it. Watching the success of the Seahawks and Sounders, my heart aches even as I wholeheartedly cheer them on. I so badly want that for the Mariners. The streets full of team gear. The talk around the water cooler. The buzz of strangers you instantly call friend. When you look back at video of the 1995 season, you see fans who are living and dying with every single pitch, on their feet in the stands at every pivotal moment. I remember the halls of my middle school packed with Griffey jerseys and Mariners Starter jackets. I remember the talk from excited fans, anticipating every game.
We have watched some bad years since then. We have endured promise after broken promise. We have dutifully said, “Okay” to five-year plans. We sat patiently when it morphed into a seven-year plan. There were flashes where we thought, “Yes, yes. It’s happening,” and then, it didn’t. We have been waiting and desperately wanting.
Last September, the mood shifted in Seattle. It felt like we could slowly, cautiously let go and stand unwaveringly behind this team. I felt my own wall, guarding against unwarranted hope and optimism, slowly crumble throughout the season until it resolutely collapsed in a pile of rubble during that magnificent Game 161.
The other part of baseball’s appeal to a young generation of fans is the potential to win it all. It’s the feeling when your stomach twists and spasms. It’s when you can’t sit still and start elaborate pacing rituals. It’s hearing the echoes of Octobers past and truly, madly, deeply believing. It’s the feeling that your entire life is riding on every single pitch.
This is what I think about when I think about the 2017 season. I try to tell myself to rein it in, slow down, and take a deep breath. We’ve had high expectations before. We’ve watched them fall apart at the seams. The season can be a success and the team can still move in the right direction without a playoff appearance.
I hear in my head a kid who remembers Magic Numbers exuberantly telling me that it all has to work out sometime. This has to be the time because it has been so long.
I believe her.
I see a street full of people on an off-day in the middle of the season all wearing Mariner shirts and hats and jerseys.
It will happen again. It is happening again.
I’ve felt like this before.