As the calendar strikes half-past-February, there’s a noticeable change in the atmosphere. The air is still cold enough that I risk frostbite by gripping my steering wheel in the morning, but the sun is bright enough throughout the day that I can pretend I might go to Greenlake after work. Tonight, the sun will set over the Olympic Mountains at 5:31 PM, the latest since daylight savings time began on November 5th. The Pacific Northwest is beginning to emerge from its ice chrysalis. It’s Valentine’s Day, a day of celebrating love and relationships. There are dozens of reasons to start to take heart as a long and difficult winter comes to an end, but one stands above the rest.
Pitchers and catchers report today.
Being cooped up all the time sucks for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you have far too much time to think. Too much time to think about the state of the world, about holiday familial disputes, and if you’re a baseball fan, about the specter of possibly impending labor negotiations. And if you’re a Mariner fan, too much time to wistfully grieve over [REDACTED], or to squint so hard that you make the rotation look-above average. This has been the least fun off-season in recent memory for all baseball fans, and maybe doubly so for Mariners fans.
We made it. We really, actually made it. Right now, James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Edwin Diaz, Mike Zunino, and many others are in Arizona, beginning their official preparations for the upcoming seasons. In just five days, the rest of the team will be joining them. By the end of next week — just nine days from now — the Mariners will play the Padres in a real, live baseball game. It won’t count. Someone like Erasmo Ramirez will probably start, and will probably be pulled after two innings. Tuffy Gosewisch will get a few at-bats, which feels like a few too many, even for Spring Training. But who cares? There will be baseball.
That labor specter and the associated Scott-Boras-flavored bad taste in our mouths aren’t going to go away. It will be in the back of our minds through Spring Training, and even when we forget about it in April, it’ll still exist. There’ll be a game this season when Felix gets shelled. The Mariners might somehow lose a couple games 1-0. [REDACTED] might blow the Mariners away in a game or two. Much of what we’ve been fretting over will likely come to pass.
It’s also likely that much of it won’t. And to be honest, I don’t really care right now. Soon, we’ll be fretting over the perpetual mystery that is Spring Training PITCHf/x. In six (six!) short weeks, the regular season will begin. You’ll be able to turn on 710 ESPN or Root Sports or MLB.tv six nights out of seven and find a Mariner game.
On March 29th, for the first time of many this year, I will head down to Pioneer Square with some friends around 5 PM. The sun will still be relatively high in the sky. I’ll grab a beer and enjoy the company of the sea of blue, teal, and white jerseys packing every bar in the area, everyone counting down the last few hours until baseball.
Around 6:30 PM, I’ll walk down Occidental Avenue, the sun still bright in the sky, taking my time as the scents of kettle corn and grilled onions transport me into a deep nostalgia as only smells can. I might stop and grab some peanuts, hot inside a foil bag. I’ll eat a few as I pass Ken Griffey Jr.’s statue, and think about the times I’d go and see Griffey play and get peanuts just like these from the Peanut Man. I’ll wonder if I’ll have notalgia for this moment in 2028.
I’ll settle into my seat around 7:05, together with what might be Safeco’s only sellout crowd of 2018. The sun will be only just threatening to dip below the horizon. As the Mariners are announced, the roar of the crowd will reach a fever pitch.
James Paxton will take the ball, and after a long pause, fire the first pitch of the season. Baseball will officially be back.
Today is the first harbinger of that experience and many more to come. Pitchers and catchers have reported.