Somewhere hidden in the bowels of my childhood home lie 10 or 15 homemade video cassette tapes. Some of them are taped over with 90’s cartoons, and some of them are taped over with old Seattle sports games that my dad didn’t want to miss when he was working until 11 PM on a Tuesday. The rest are mostly film of family members long since gone. I could look at them and try to squint and place a name to each face, but I’d probably fail. If these people are family but I don’t know who they are, am I still supposed to feel something?
There’s one tape that I can clearly remember. It’s of me and my dad in 1997. We go to my first Mariners game together. I’m three years old. Randy Johnson starts the game. Ken Griffey Jr. bats third and hits a home run in the first inning. I’m three, and I don’t know who these people are. Suddenly, it’s the third inning, and I want to leave. The Mariners aren’t losing, I just want to go because I don’t have an attention span, because I’m three.
That was over 20 years ago, and the Mariners are further away from winning a championship now than they were then. I didn’t really have much time to fall in love with Randy and Griffey, but they’re long gone. Everyone I had a chance to fall in love with will be soon be gone too.
From Opening Day, to mid-May, to the All Star break, the antithesis of of the last 17 years felt possible. Every win fed the irrational optimism, and every loss was soothed by the million dollar smiles of Robinson Cano, Dee Gordon, and Jean Segura. The Fangraphs playoff odds hovered around 30% for the entire first half, and it was so easy to believe. I just wanted it to be true so badly.
Wanting something doesn’t make it true. How many times do we have to learn this lesson? A million dollar smile doesn’t replace a $20 million bat. Dee Gordon was fine. As good as we could have hoped, even. But the Astros were always going to be the Astros. I love Jean Segura to the moon and back, but Carlos Correa is just... better. I still can’t believe that Robinson Cano chose the Mariners, but Jose Altuve is an MVP, and Cano is a declining former All Star.
It turns out that Lance Lynn and Fernando Rodney are good pitchers, and Rodney is again going to be shooting arrows in the playoffs. If the Mariners had signed Lynn, maybe I wouldn’t be writing this. If my dad hadn’t taken me to that stupid game, maybe I wouldn’t have ever become a fan of this team.
There wasn’t a catastrophic injury. There wasn’t a huge collapse. The odds just went down, one percent at a time, until it was late August and suddenly the team that had seemed so promising was looking at a five percent chance of making the playoffs. The smiles just shrank a little bit at a time, and the boisterous antics became a little less frequent.
Isn’t escapism supposed to be fun?
Now, instead of going to baseball games, evenings out will be spent at a bar. Maybe talking about the latest injustice that’s happened at work, or maybe talking about the dead-end someone from high school is stuck in. Maybe every couple of weeks, we’ll have a few shots, trying to reclaim the reckless fun that drinking held when we were ten years younger. Except now I’m incapable of justifying the hangover, let alone glorifying it.
Eventually, those winter evenings will turn back into spring evenings, and we’ll talk about baseball again. But it’ll be baseball without Nelson Cruz. It’ll be baseball with the aching knowledge that prime Félix really is gone, and that the Mariners really are screwed for another five years at least.
In 10 years, I’d like to take my three year old child to a baseball game, but who am I doing that for? Am I doing it for them, wanting to pass along my love of a game that I really do love? Or am I doing it for me, to convince myself that it’s normal to emotionally invest in something that’s so volatile, into something that has lows as gaping as the highs are ephemeral?
Will they look back wistfully at their own tapes in 30 years, at players they were too young to fall in love with? Will they do so having watched as players they did have the chance to love tried again, and failed again? Will they finally get a chance to see a team that manages to put it together? And if they do, will my dad still be alive to see it?