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About Last Night: learning how to adapt

It’s never easy being the new kid

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

“You do what you’ve got to do. You just learn how to adapt. You learn to do what you have to do, given certain circumstances and situations.” - Wanda Wilson

Denard Span was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, but it wasn’t until last season, when the Giants traded him, and a trio of others, to the Tampa Bay Rays for Evan Longoria, that he returned to play baseball in the Sunshine State. Span, who, at the time of the trade had a 6-month-old son, was understandably happy to be closer to home, but his enthusiasm scarcely matched that of his mother, Wanda Wilson, who rejoiced at the prospect of being able to regularly give her son “a hug and kiss” after his games.

The two are incredibly close. Wilson raised Span and his brother on her own, working long hours as an insurance claims adjuster while also making sure both boys made it to all their football, baseball, and basketball commitments. In recognition of her hard work and sacrifices, in 2014 Span launched the Denard Span Foundation, which is dedicated to serving and empowering single parent homes, particularly those in and around Tampa.

It should come as no surprise that he wasn’t exactly thrilled when the trade to Seattle was initially announced. “‘It’s a bittersweet day, more bitter than sweet though,’’ Span said. ‘I never thought that I would enjoy being home and playing for my hometown team as much as I did.’” Professional baseball is a dream for many, but the dark side of this dream involves a significant sacrifice of autonomy - barring no-trade clauses, if a GM sends you somewhere there’s nothing to do but, well, pack. So off Span went, as far from home as he could possibly go, Wilson’s words ringing especially true.

Just as she adapted to life as a single mother, with two busy young boys, Span has adapted to life with the Mariners. Not much has been written about the 34-year-old veteran, which is fair given that he’s appeared in just 15 games thus far, but he’s had a strong impact, slashing .298/.353/.468 with a 131 wRC+ (as of last night).

At some time in our lives we’ve all been the new kid - sometimes with hundreds or thousands of others, other times the lone stranger in a sea of familiarity. It can be difficult to find acceptance, to sort out your place in a new world. Baseball is a team sport, yes, but it’s also built around individual opportunities uniquely suited to create moments of group triumph or despair. As a well-respected veteran Span likely didn’t face the same challenges a younger player might have had, entering the Mariners’ clubhouse at this unusual point in the season, but everyone benefits from having a moment and last night was Span’s first as a Mariner. It likely won’t be his last.

*Note: Right now, in celebration of Span’s ten years in MLB, the Denard Span Foundation is looking for 1,000 supporters to donate $10 each to donate a car to a single family in need. Lookout Landing is gloriously free to access and we rarely ask for any financial contributions, but if you have the means I’d strongly encourage a donation to Span’s foundation as a small token of our gratitude for last night and the games ahead.