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About Last Night: Wait, that’s today

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On naming and nicknaming

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle Mariners
The caption for this picture is: Seattle Mariners shortstop Jean Segura (2, second from left) celebrates with teammates after his game-winning RBI-single against the Boston Red Sox during the thirteenth inning at Safeco Field. Seattle defeated Boston, 6-5. Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) kneels at right.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday was a long but good day. First, this happened:

Paxton had told the club he wanted to meet the people behind the Maple Grove, and so the Mariners arranged something. James even brought a present:

Paxton was lovely—gracious, kind, and appreciative. So many times the fan relationship can feel one-sided, a bucket you drop endless time and monies into while seeing little in the way of payoff, especially for Mariners fans, who have been rewarded for years of faithful rooting with a large slice of freshly-baked bupkis. This was a nice reminder that what we do as fans matters to these guys, too, that it’s not just empty platitudes they’re reciting when they talk about how nice it is to hear the fans cheer. And for Paxton, who has gone from not even making the team last year to being the centerpiece of the rotation this year, it was also a way to signal to him that he’s fully arrived in Seattle. The act of giving a name to something is a powerful one; did we love Seth Smith fully before he was Dad? Dustin Ackley played in Seattle for four years and never got anything better than “Ack Attack,” which sounds like an 80s video game designed to teach you about fractions. Nicknaming something is saying: I recognize and celebrate this thing about you, and care enough to give you this sobriquet (from the Middle French, meaning “to chuck someone under the chin”). There’s an intimacy in nicknaming that has to be earned. It felt ritually satisfying to have Paxton show up with those boxes of donuts, a token of appreciation for the people who made his nickname come alive in the form of the Maple Grove.

Last night was also about another name that will eventually hang in the nickname pantheon alongside names like “The Kid” and “Edddddd-garrrrrrr.” The “Grovers,” as we were called (and lo, the nicknamers had become the nickname-ees!), made our way over to the King’s Court, to take up the K cards and yellow shirts, which some of us did maybe with more of a sense of duty than excitement. That quickly changed, however, as the crowd rose on Felix’s first two-strike count, the cards rippling in the salt-tinged evening breeze. We yelled to drown out the Red Sox fans, yelled to let the King know he’s still our King, that he’s earned that name, and the relentless march of time may take everything else from us, but it can’t take the name you give something you love.

So we cheered. For 5.2 innings we cheered, as Felix gave up maybe one more run than is acceptable, and the Mariners failed to capitalize on Drew “Parmesan” Pomeranz (sometimes you give nicknames to things you don’t love, things that ruin your fantasy teams). We chanted Guillermo’s name. The game wore on. We shouted various Italian words at Mike Zunino. We kept cheering. We shouted Zep! Zep! Zep! at Marc Rzepczynski, which it turns out buzzes your lips a little when you yell it too many times in a row and maybe walk just a little faster out of the pen, Marc? David Phelps pitched, and we did not chant anything at him, because he is new and not ours yet. The game wore on, and on, and on. Our chants got weirder. We ran thin on Zych ones after “Zychuation” and “Down with the Zychness” and “An-thon-y,” although in our defense he is still new, and it was a lot of innings he had to pitch. Joe decided Danny Espinosa is now Wheels Espinosa. That punchiness set in around the twelfth inning. At some point I knew I was making noise just to make noise to keep myself awake, and so the Red Sox fans would know we were still there, still naming our territory.

When the Sox went ahead in the top of the 13th, I will admit to feeling like our hopes to win the game had dimmed considerably. The bottom of the Mariners’ order was coming up and the team hadn’t showed much success against student art show piece “Man Standing on Two Telephone Poles” Doug Fister. It had been a good day, we agreed, casting around for misplaced King’s Court shirts, looking at timetables on our phones. But they kept grinding, and we kept cheering. Nonsensically, but cheering!

Hani-mal, Hani-mal.

Gamelot. On your camel, Gamel! Benny Ballgame(l)! <— okay this one is just me trying to make this happen.

Gui-ller-mo. Gui-ller-mo. It’s really hard to rhyme “Guillermo.”

And then:

Jean, Jean the hit machine!

The players the Mariners have acquired don’t come pre-loaded with nicknames like Nelson Cruz did with Boomstick. Even Segura, who spent significant time with a couple different major league teams, didn’t carry one up to Seattle with him. It took a while to get to Dad for Seth Smith, which was part of what made trading him sad—it wasn’t just Smith that was traded, but a series of quips and photoshops and, well, dad jokes. Now the Mariners have a whole new crop of players who will need nicknames. Big Maple was just the beginning. I’m excited to see what we’ll be shouting next.