The grass is always greener on the other side.
I must confess, I’ve barely watched the Mariners over the past month-plus. Once it became clear that the A’s weren’t going to slow down, and that the Mariners weren’t going to go on a miraculous run, I tuned out. With the combination of poor play and the off-field issues that precluded even poor play from being an escape from reality, following this team had become anything but enjoyable.
Think about what made this team fun for the first few months. The winning, of course. But it was more than the winning. It was the way in which they won. It was the thrilling, by-the-skin-of-their teeth wins. It was the ineffable joy with which they seemed to win. Every run was emphasized by a Dee Gordon high five. It seemed like every home win was punctuated with Edwin Díaz’s near-immaculate innings, each one with more style than the last.
Little by little, it was all deconstructed by the entropy of 2018. The bats cooled off, and the pitching came back down to Earth, and the slim margin for error that the Mariners had been working with proved time and time again to be insufficient. As the wins went out the door, so did the chemistry. Some may disagree, but that hurt almost as much as the losing.
Part of what makes baseball so enjoyable is the personalities. The players. A common criticism of sports is that we’re all just rooting for laundry — that it’s about the jerseys, the concept of the team — not the players. That isn’t true.
It’s about rooting for the team, yes, but it’s also about rooting for the players. It’s about every Jean Segura home run meaning that much more, because we know what he had to go through to get there. It’s about loving Edwin Díaz for his impeccable record, but it’s also about loving Edwin Díaz for his amazing closing music and his personality. It’s about watching Adrián Beltré and wondering how the hell he made the barehanded play, but also wondering how he can still play with so much joy in his 21st season in the MLB.
The last two months have sucked because of the losing, but they’ve also sucked because we’ve had to watch these players slowly become less enthusiastic and more lackadaisical. They’ve made the grind of the MLB season look strikingly similar to the grind of the modern workplace. Some escape.
Today, though, was the last day of the season, and it felt like an homage to the human aspect of the game.
We said what is probably good bye to Beltré, as he finished what is likely to be his final season. Thank you, Adrián, for helping to make so many otherwise-unbearable seasons bearable.
We saw him say his own goodbye to Félix Hernández, whose future is also in doubt.
Before he left, Beltré had one more gift for us all.
Never change, Beltré. Never change. pic.twitter.com/DGZv5g4woC— Eric Sanford (@sanford_and_son) September 30, 2018
We also said what is a hopefully temporary goodbye to Nelson Cruz. I cannot think of a more impactful figure for the Mariners over the past few years. Cruz has been at the center of every unscheduled off-season workout. He’s kept trying in so many seasons where it must have been tempting to quit. He’s been a bright spot in the dark, time and time again. I hope he comes back. He has to come back.
For now, though, goodbye Nelson.
Goodbye, Adrián. Goodbye, Félix, and Edwin, and Jean, and Dee. Goodbye James Paxton, and goodbye Kyle Seager. Goodbye everyone that has helped to make this season special, even if it did end in disappointment.
Thank you to the players, and thank you to the community. Life can be dull, and the joy fleeting. In 2018, it has been horrifying at times. Thank you for helping create a pocket of the universe that has provided some respite for all who are a part of it. The value of a place like this cannot be justifiably described.
Though the season undoubtedly felt like a slog over the past month or two, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be pining for an evening at Safeco Field in just a few weeks. Only six months to go.