One of the illusions of early-season baseball is believing that your preferred team has a chance. For Mariner fans over the last decade, this has meant many things. One year it’s believing the team has a chance to make the playoffs, the next it’s believing they have a chance to go .500, and some years it’s believing they have a chance to keep you entertained until Seahawk season.
No matter what your preferred flavor of optimism is, it’s hard to deny that the 2018 Mariners have a chance to do some exciting things. Again, results may vary. Exciting for one person could be winning the World Series, while exciting for another person could be simply watching Marco Gonzales develop. I’m not here to decide what makes you happy.
What I am here to do is sell you on the virtues of scoreboard watching, i.e. the act of keeping an eye on the teams Seattle is jostling with for postseason position. At the time of this publishing, the Mariners are 20-15, and their best pitcher’s last two outings were a 16-strikeout eruption and a 99-pitch no-hitter. The newly acquired center fielder is hitting .340 and the closer leads the American League in saves. They sit just two games out of first place in a division with the defending World Series champion and a team employing the best player in the world.
If you believe in jinxes it’s probably best to close your eyes now, or just log off for the rest of the season, because there will be lots of playoff talk.
Scoreboard watching in May is probably a silly idea. It is a hedonistic venture with a strong chance of coming back to hurt you, like smoking cigarettes, or falling in love. But in that moment, it feels like the right thing to do. The cigarettes are right there on the table. The object of your affection keeps reciprocating your feelings. The Angels have a losing record at home. Go ahead, indulge. You’ll only have this moment once.
In today’s hyper-digital world, inundated with screens, scoreboard watching takes on a different life than it did a generation ago. Checking the score of a rival team and then firing up the television/MLB.tv/Reddit stream/At-Bat app can feel a little like flying too close to the sun. Is it healthy? Nah. Is it safe? Not even a little bit. But is it a perverse thrill that can only come from the feeling of possible destruction? Hell yeah.
This early in the season, scoreboard watching can also be classified as just keeping tabs on the rest of the league. You’re free to call it whatever you want, but it certainly adds a level of intrigue when the Mariners directly benefit from the good teams losing. Placing happiness in the hands of baseball teams you have no personal investment in is a bit of a fatalistic exercise. If they beat the team you’re rooting against, you’re usually more relieved than happy. If they lose to the team you’re rooting against, you’ve just made yourself sad for no reason. While baseball can be very good, it can also produce unshakable dread. There’s nothing quite like a four-hour game ending in a late-inning rally against your preferred team to remind you that there are thousands of people who don’t even know what the Mariners are.
Having no control over the outcome is what makes watching baseball exhilarating and excruciating. After that first hit, anything can happen. The key is just to relax, man. One of the semi-nice things about watching other teams is the relatively low stakes. A night of negative scoreboard watching is still infinitely better than watching your own team get clobbered. That said, this season is taking a trajectory that suggests we will have a lot of scoreboard watching in our future.
Outside of the obvious – teams like Houston and Anaheim with giant ROOT AGAINST ME tattoos on their foreheads – we have the usual suspects in Boston and New York, as well as some plucky underdogs in Toronto, Oakland, and Minnesota. While the Wild Card game probably represents the most likely path to the playoffs given the juggernaut in Houston, I shudder to think about this fanbase’s 17 years of agony being distilled into one night. Breaking the drought would produce one of the greatest natural feelings of euphoria in my young life, but having that quickly parlayed into a do-or-die crapshoot would require a bottle of the heavy stuff.
It feels like we’re in the honeymoon phase of the 2018 Mariners’ success. Anything seems possible. Why not challenge for the division and keep this hopeful newness going for as long as we can? Do what makes you happy. Embrace this love, and talk shit about other people who may be in better situations but are clearly growing stale. It’s what anyone on their honeymoon would do. In the past two days, I’ve yelled, “Ian Kinsler is washed” at my screen, laying supine alone in a room, with a knee still aching from a pickup basketball game 10 months ago. I’ve made fun of Brian McCann for being slow, while myself being unable to remember the last time I ran 90 feet uninterrupted. It’s all part of the experience.
The danger of writing something like this is the possibility of re-visiting it in August and laughing at the foolishness of ever scoreboard watching. Nobody on their honeymoon is ever thinking about divorce. This all circles back to the beauty of scoreboard watching in the first place. None of us really know what we’re doing, and it’s nice to sometimes check in on others as a reference. When someone else is going through a rough patch – or a three-game losing streak – it makes you feel better about yourself. There’s no shame in that.
Do whatever it takes to keep those serotonin levels up. Scoreboard watch. Throw yourself into a Twins game in early May. Health can take a back seat to happiness when there’s a team this fun playing at Safeco.