Pitchers are the focal point of baseball. They stand elevated in the middle of the diamond and the middle of the tv screen. They control the pace and the energy of a game. A pitching change doesn’t just bring in new arm angles and a different velocity, it also brings a fundamental change in the feel of the game.
So it is, in particular, with closers. It’s Mariano Rivera walking to the mound at Yankee Stadium as Enter Sandman plays. It’s the nervous tension of a game nearly won, but also a game that could easily be lost. The methodical plodding of eight innings and the tiny bursts of action all build to this. There have been some rough closing years in Mariners history, so it was with delight we watched Edwin Diaz make the walk from the Seattle bullpen to the pitching mound more exciting than nauseating.
There was a marked sizzle in the air when he stood on the mound. It was electric. There was a calm harnessing of his energy. It was straight fire, contained and under command.
Edwin Diaz, 99mph Fastball and 90mph Slider, Overlay.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 26, 2018
Edwin Díaz’s birthday is the day after mine and likewise in the Pisces-Aries Cusp. He’s an Aries with Pisces tendencies, the combination of a water sign and a fire sign, the end and the beginning of the Zodiac. It’s known as the Cusp of Rebirth.
Díaz began as a starting pitcher in the Mariners organization. General Manager Jerry Dipoto made the decision to try him as a closer in 2016 while Díaz was still in AA. His fastball jumped in velocity and he made the jump up to Seattle in June. Fire. Díaz is lanky and uses it to his advantage, whipping his body through his delivery, whipping his pitches toward home plate. When he’s good, it’s smooth like water. In 2017, he struggled, something attributed to the mental side of the game and controlling his emotions, his fire.
Last season we saw him save 57 games, brilliantly harnessing his pitches and his emotions and setting down the rest of baseball like they were silly to even try in the ninth inning. He found the balance of water and fire; he was reborn. He felt like a beginning. He had that primal yell following that little leg kick at the end of his delivery. He was nasty. He was Sugar.
Edwin Díaz was the 2018 Seattle Mariners to me.
My 2018 baseball season passed in a haze of sleeplessness. The details are blurry, and now, reading back on the season I realize just how much I missed. My baby was born in January and I thought I had timed it perfectly for baseball. Survive the first six weeks, here is Spring Training. Survive those difficult first 3 months, now it is baseball season. Babies are not interested in the plans of us mortals, however. He did not follow in his sister’s footsteps and start sleeping through the night at six months. He continued to wake up every night, sometimes once, sometimes five times. Sometimes it seemed like he never got to sleep at all.
The months of 2018 have been a blur where I have been only vaguely aware of the changing seasons, the passing of time, and the Mariners. I know they had a great first half. I know they were less good the second half. The season was watched in soft-focus at best.
I missed large chunks of games for late dinners, the process of getting a toddler and baby to bed, and the litany of adult things I’m suddenly responsible for finishing. Many nights I was simply too tired to watch the Mariners, collapsing into sleep as soon as I had the chance, knowing sleep would be short in duration and interrupted.
Many nights, there was a magical window of time from when the kids were blessedly asleep until the baby’s first wakeup, 4-6 hours later. A short period of time when I was free from adulting and parenting. I could sink into the end of the Mariners game. I could live the fire of a Díaz ninth inning.
He was an anchor for me and the team. He was always there in the ninth inning, always ready with a save. As I became unmoored and searched for some evidence that I still existed beyond the monotony of diaper changes and nap times, he struck out hitters with a glee that helped me remember who I was. As I questioned my life decisions and drifted through days that felt interminably long, he was a bit of sugar.
My days were long and often felt hard, yet I drew so much joy from them. Watching my toddler become a person, watching my baby grow his personality. My days were two things at once, water and fire. Díaz was my connection to baseball, the Mariners, and to a part of myself that sometimes felt lost. He was electric, he was fire. He was controlled, reliable, easy. He was water.
Now, Edwin Díaz is no longer a Mariner. My baby is nearly a toddler. Seasons in baseball and seasons in life are just that, seasons. We change as they change. We are reborn.
As we move into the next season, the joys of the previous seasons soften into nostalgia. The joy of the first baby laughs and claps. The relief of an hour to watch baseball in that tiny window where the kids demand no work. The steadiness of finding Díaz on the mound, flinging fastballs and sliders. The joy reminds you of your privilege to spend this time immersed in a world that disappears as quickly as it arrives. The relief reminds you that you are still a person beneath the costume of a mother. The steadiness tells you to take a deep breath and remember what this feels like, because soon, it will be gone.
Edwin Díaz is no longer a Mariner. The Mariners are retooling or rebuilding, or whatever re- word you want to use. They are on fire. They will be reborn. When I learned Díaz would be traded I felt my heart break, the familiar pain that comes with baseball fandom. Now he is gone. The team is becoming something else. I have become something else.
We’ll always have those 191 innings and 109 saves from Díaz. In the fire is the water, and in the rebirth there is still a piece of what was lost.
I will miss those ninth innings of fire.