Some people say that the hot stove season is their favorite time of year for following baseball. There’s obviously no actual baseball, but there’s no denying that there’s always been a rush associated with each new transaction. Each trade or free agency signing carries with it the shifting of a team’s complexion, and it’s fun to dig into how each one might shift a team’s window for contention, or their place in the playoff picture.
The hot stove season hasn’t always been kind to the Mariners. It’s seen the departures of players like Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. It’s seen the arrivals of players like Richie Sexson and Carlos Silva. There was also, for a long time, a caveat associated with the Mariners’ pursuit of free agents.
Sure, the Mariners would occasionally get a player like Adrián Beltré. Most prospective free agents, though, were regarded with the caution that Seattle is an undesirable destination. It was never going to be anyone’s first choice. The Mariners haven’t been a team that wins. They always have by far the most travel time of any MLB team. It’s cold and rainy in Seattle. If the Mariners offered an identical contract to that offered by any other team, why would anybody in their right mind choose Seattle?
A little more than five years ago, we heard murmurs that the Mariners were taking a long, hard look at Robinson Canó. Canó, 31 at the time, was coming off of four straight All-Star and Silver Slugger seasons. He was a consistent 5-7 fWAR player. He was one of the best players in baseball, and the consensus best free agent of the class. It was a seemingly foregone conclusion that he would re-sign with the Yankees. The rumors were just that: rumors.
A few days later, the rumors became reality.
For the first time of many, we saw Robinson Canó flash that smile as a Seattle Mariner. It’s hard to explain just how much Robinson putting pen to paper in Seattle meant. Gone were the days of unrequited pining for free agents. For once, a free agent wanted us. The Seattle Mariners. Us. Realistically, Robinson wanted the money, but he wasn’t repulsed by the Mariners!
It was reality, and I don’t know if it ever really sank in. The Mariners hadn’t made the playoffs, no. Maybe they were still the laughingstock of the regular season. But weren’t the laughingstock of the off season any longer.
The whole summer, we got to go to Safeco Field and see Robinson Canó play second base. We got to see a Mariners team that competed until the end of the season, even if they didn’t end up making it. It was a real team.
If the early 2010’s, spent watching Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin pretend to be second basemen, were a trek through a desolate desert, watching Robinson Canó in 2014 was dunking our heads in a cool oasis. At bats were no longer spent desperately hoping for a miracle. Instead, every pitch to Robinson brought legitimate possibility of something amazing. On defense, it was mesmerizing watching him field difficult grounders with more nonchalance than I could hope to do laundry with. In the dugout, all he did was flash his trademark smile.
He was just so cool. He was everything that the Mariners weren’t, except that now they were. With him, the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz. The clubhouse became vibrant. Maybe Seattle wasn’t a destination, but it wasn’t a place to avoid. The Mariners became more than just Félix Hernández, Kyle Seager, and a bunch of styrofoam.
A big question of fandom is whether we’re cheering for anything more than laundry. Are we cheering for memories, or nostalgia, or for the pride of a city? Or are we cheering for a business with a logo and color scheme with which we happen to have an emotional attachment?
With the Robinson Canó Mariners, it wasn’t a question for me any longer. I cheered for the Seattle Mariners that I grew up with, but I also cheered for the players. I cheered for Félix, and Nelson, and Kyle, and Mitch, and Jean. Most of all, though, I cheered for Robbie. I wanted the Mariners to win for me, but I mostly wanted the Mariners to win for the players. I wanted the whole world to see that Robbie made the right decision when he chose Seattle. I wanted to see him smile as he held up the World Series trophy as a Mariner.
Five years later, as suddenly as he showed up, he’s gone. Nelson is gone. Jean is gone. Félix might as well be gone. As the trade rumors swirled, and the shape of the Mets trade began to form, I maintained an irrational hope that Robbie might block it. That he liked being here enough to block it.
Obviously, he didn’t block it. A day later, he was giving a press conference in New York and talked about how happy he was to be back. Flashing that smile, but as a Met. I know it’s just him saying the right things, but it hurt. Will he look back at Seattle fondly? Will the Mariners ever have another chance at a Robinson Canó?
As much as it’ll hurt, I hope he does well with the Mets. As long as the Mariners aren’t competing, I can think of worse ways for the season to end than with Robinson Canó holding up the World Series trophy, grinning from ear to ear. Even as a Met.
Thanks, Robinson, for all of the joys and the moments that you brought to Seattle. It truly meant the world to have you here.