For the first two-thirds or so of my life, I defined myself by what I wasn’t: Not popular. Not good at math. Not pretty. Not funny. Not athletic. Not cool. Not straight. In counting up my attributes, the balance sheet always seemed hopelessly skewed to the negative. I didn’t understand how for some other people, being themselves seemed as easy as breathing, like being in a room flooded with natural light and a cool breeze, whereas I always felt closed up and dark inside, weighed down by the effort of trying to be what I thought other people valued, the marionette I ran out in public, tugging the strings in a rough approximation of what I thought “normal” people were like. It wasn’t really until I got to college and met heaps of other people like me—people who read the magazines I read and liked the weird bands I liked and were willing to spend an afternoon in a thrift store looking for the perfect vintage headscarf to look like Dusty Springfield—that I settled into my own skin more, and started the long work of becoming who I was always meant to be.
In many ways, these 2018 Mariners are finally becoming the team they were meant to be when Jerry Dipoto assumed the helm of the club back in 2015. They’ve gotten younger, more athletic, and just generally better at baseball, all of which help. But they’ve also gotten nicer, and the Seattle ballclub has turned into a place where being yourself has value, both on and off the field. Chemistry is infamously hard to quantify, but it’s impossible to look at this club and not see the love they have for each other as people leaking out everywhere. “There are no bad guys on this club,” declared Mike Zunino in a radio interview a month or so ago, and while I think eternal optimist Mike Zunino would be able to find something nice to say about literally anything, Jar Jar Binks or getting dirt in your eye or polio, it does seem to be something that’s borne out. Just look at Instagram after each game: you’ll see players posting pictures and other players commenting on them; Ryon Healy stumping hard for Haniger to make it to the All-Star Game; or Dee Gordon complaining to the official MLB account that they overlooked Jean Segura for Team of the Month. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that one needs to feel esteemed by friends and colleagues before moving on to the upper echelons of the pyramid of self-actualization. And these Mariners? They’re self-actualized as heck.
Wade get on Twitter so I can tell you how good you are at sports. I’ll send you an email.— Marco Gonzales (@MarcoGonzales_) June 17, 2018
Wade LeBlanc is a guy who’s taken some time to be himself. He wanted to pitch for LSU, but his hometown college wasn’t interested in the soft-tossing lefty, so he went to Alabama and made a name for himself there before being taken by the Padres in the second round in 2006. His Wikipedia page has a section called “2008-2011: Call-up and struggles,” which tells you a lot about the start to Wade’s professional career. In an interview with Corey Brock of the Athletic, LeBlanc attributed his early struggles to: “not knowing who I was as a pitcher…and who I needed to be [in order] to be the best pitcher for the Padres.”
Now, after a career on the fringes of MLB, a stint in Japan, time out of the bullpen, and now his second tour of duty with Seattle, it’s fair to say LeBlanc knows himself as a pitcher. “Stuff? I haven’t got any stuff,” he told a reporter incredulously a few weeks ago who asked him how his stuff was that night. Tonight, Wade LeBlanc showed a national TV audience who he is when he went toe-to-toe with one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball and surrendered just two hits, with no walks and a season-high nine strikeouts (that is one shy of his career-high strikeout record of 10, recorded against the Dodgers back in 2011...in a loss). Wade was masterful tonight, peppering the edges of the zone, wrong-footing batters with his pitch mix, and using his changeup, which had a nice bite tonight, to goad the powerful Boston lineup into some ridiculous swinging strikes.
LeBlanc also got help from his defense, with some exceptional plays from Dee Gordon, specifically.
And if that wasn’t enough:
The offense would only be able to scrape one run off Boston’s pitching staff, in the third inning when Dee, Mitch, and Nelson all collectively decided that knuckleballs, while a great novelty, shouldn’t be that hard to hit. From there, Wade just kept settin’ ‘em up and mowin’ ‘em down, slicing through all that #DirtyWater like a pontoon boat. Álex Colomé took over in the eighth to get the final out as Wade’s pitch count crept towards the triple digits, and the Red Sox were turned away again.
And what happens when we hand Edwin Díaz a one-run lead, precious?
when your pitches are so unhittable they bend the fabric of spacetime itself pic.twitter.com/iuROQOIDr1— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 17, 2018
The Mariners have taken a lot of heat about their record in one-run games. Luck, they say, Fluke, they say. Unsustainable, they say. But these Mariners know who they are. They know you only have to win by one. They know that if they give Edwin Díaz that run, he’ll make it hold up nine times out of ten. They know that if they’re behind, they can battle back. They trust each other, they believe in each other, they play for each other. They know the power of being yourself, and of raising people who understand the importance of that.
There’s space for everyone on this team to be themselves: Ryon the collegiate who runs around and pumps everyone up and needs to hold someone’s hand during big moments; Dee the ball of energy who conducts the hype (and the high-five) train; elder statesman Nelson who will take a nap literally anywhere; Marco being the team’s self-appointed social media manager...there are more lovely moments than I can even list. It’s a team full of love—a family, Wade said in his postgame interview tonight—for themselves and for each other, and it’s a team we are so lucky to get to love. After a long time of doubt and darkness and trying to make ourselves like the Chone Figginses and Milton Bradleys who have come through this organization, we have a team of No Bad Guys. It’s so wonderful to be out here in the light, having fun and spreading the love.
The 2018 Mariners are done being defined what they aren’t. They demand to be appreciated for what they are.