[Ed. note: For today’s column we are joined by special guest Joe Veyera, overall swell dude and one of the biggest Leonys-lovers I know. You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeVeyera, or for pete’s sakes, give his Facebook page a like, won’t you?]
It is hard to see someone or something you love struggle, especially when you know there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s the risk you take by committing yourself heart and soul to anything, but you take the plunge anyway, an emotional calculation that the good can/will/must outweigh the bad. Fandom is complicated that way, a relationship that’s one-sided out of necessity. When a favorite starts to scuffle, hope is basically all you have. Hope they’ll turn it around. Hope they’ll fix whatever is wrong. Hope they’ll get enough time to do either.
Leonys Martin didn’t get that chance in April. A spring that started with the cheery tones of birthday mariachi music quickly crumbled into a .111/.172/.130 line over the season’s first two-plus weeks, and a trip through waivers after being designated for assignment. Any team could have had him for the prorated portion of his $4.85 million contract, but none were willing to take it. Months removed from a 2.2 fWAR season, Martin had failed in the eyes of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately profession. Big walk-offs and bigger smiles can leave an endearing joy but provide little in the way of job security on a Major League Baseball roster. Therein lies the “bad” in that fan calculation. Just as quickly as you fall for a player as your favorite, they’re out of favor, out of sight, and out of mind.
But Tuesday brought us the good, the kind of moment that makes it all worth it. See, it was a little over three months ago in Oakland when Martin got the word that he had lost his spot on the roster. That left Martin mired in a situation that resembled his final year in Texas. In an organization filled with young outfielders both on the big league roster and in the upper minors, retaking a spot on the depth chart would be a tall order. But rather than fold, he became one of the most feared hitters in the Rainiers order, hitting over .300 with 24 doubles and 11 home runs in 84 games.
Tuesday was Seattle’s first game back in Oakland since that mid-April series that ended with the outfield shakeup that sent him there. With two outs in the 10th inning, Martin showed us all why he got the call to replace the injured Mitch Haniger, turning on an 89 mph fastball down the middle, lifting it over the right field wall and directly into the incessant drummer that just Would. Not. Stop. I’d like to think he drew it up that way, and I’ll accept no other explanation. Deep down, he was just as annoyed as the rest of us, and knew a well-placed dinger could silence the loudest portion of the crowd with both a lead, and the fear of a flying projectile (exit velocity of 107 mph, mind you). Three effective if terrifying Edwin Diaz outs later, and that go-ahead home run meant that in a snake-bitten season full of ups and downs, Seattle was in a three-way tie for the second Wild Card spot with less than eight weeks to go. While Leonys wasn’t there at the end of the team’s last trip to Oakland, he’ll leave the Bay Area on Wednesday evening a member of the Mariners, and expected to play a key role down the stretch. What a difference 100 days can make.
As hard as it may be to watch the struggle, there’s something innately rewarding when the players we love do bounce back. Even if we’re only able to hope, we feed off of the success. Athlete or not, powering through the hard times is a universal experience, and at least a small part of us says, “if they can do it, so can I,” in those moments. After his first game back, Leonys said with a smile, “I’m so happy,” in a post-game interview.
So are we, buddy. So are we.