There are few tropes more tired than that of the depressed Mariners fan. It’s easy to see why it started. It was low hanging fruit back in the days that things looked bleakest. In 2010 and 2011, when the lone bright spots of the team were an aging Ichiro and an unsupported Félix Hernández, the team was sad to follow. In 2013, Dustin Ackley was starting to look bad, and the bright future the fans had been sold was starting to look sour, and the team was sad to follow. Last year, when everything was supposed to fall into place, and then everyone got hurt, and everything fell apart, the team was sad to follow. It’s been sometimes enraging, sometimes astonishingly unlucky, but always really, really sad.
Pair all of that with the classic Seattle aesthetic of rain, grunge, and depression, and you have a chance to be renowned as the MLB’s token depressed franchise, which is a patronizing label that would be infuriating if it weren’t so true.
The thing about depression is that it makes you think that this is how things are going to be forever. That you’ll be sad forever, or that life really is as homogeneous as a bowl of mashed potatoes, or that Kendrys Morales is as good as it’s going to get at designated hitter. None of that is real, of course, but it sure feels real in the moment.
But after fifteen straight years of José López, Ronny Cedeño, Blake Beaven, and Kendrys Morales, who could blame any Mariner fan for wondering if this really might be forever. 2015 was supposed to be the year, and then it wasn’t. And then 2016, and then 2017. Every year since Jerry Dipoto came aboard, the playoffs have seemed so feasible, and every year the Mariners have fallen short. For many of us, the team was supposed to be an escape from the monotony of daily life. Instead, it’s become a foil.
Last year, the team reached a cross-roads in August. Three games above .500 and in sole control of a playoff spot, the Mariners hosted the Angels for a four game series. They, of course, lost every game. That team was defined by injury. It was broken, battered, and ultimately just not good enough.
The Mariners reached a similar cross-roads two days ago. They were 17 games over .500, but just 4.5 games ahead of the Angels for the second Wild Card. They were about to begin a series against that Angels team at home. It would have been the obvious time for things to fall apart.
Let it suffice to say, things have not fallen apart.
Oh, they still might. We may never be immune to nightmares of James Paxton tweaking a muscle or the team somehow trading for Kendrys Morales again. Nobody is ever immune to depression. It’s something that you just get good at dealing with.
But this series has marked the first time that I’ve truly been able to let myself believe. It’s seen two weekday night 20,000 person crowds absolutely light up Safeco Field and make our dreams of a sellout October night feel that much more real. It’s heard a frenzied Rick Rizzs screaming into our ears, helping us imagine Dave Niehaus see just one more game of playoff baseball. It’s caused even the more casual fans to tune in just to see if something special might happen.
Most of all, these two games have shown us what baseball can be. What life can be. It’s not all evenings spent watching Yovani Gallardo labor through the fourth inning, or nights spent lying awake wondering what the hell the point is. The good might not always outweigh the bad, but it does balance it out.
For now, the good is real.