New beginnings tend to have a high variance. The arrival in a new situation is often contextual, and can be ultra-difficult if trying to break into something that others have been doing for years.
Moving to a new school? Terrifying.
Starting a job with a bunch of people who already have inside jokes and office friend groups? Devastating.
Deciding to give AC/DC a try, because you figure if people have been enjoying their music for over 40 years, surely they can’t all be wrong?... Not for everyone.
Joining an MLB clubhouse for the last sip of a season has to be equally daunting. Kyle Lewis, Donnie Walton, Justin Dunn, and Art Warren have all done that this week for the Seattle Mariners. While Lewis and Walton are the only two to appear in a game yet, all four have been flung into the deep end of a pool where others were already treading water comfortably. First impressions are critical in these fight-or-flight scenarios, and Walton scarcely had time to devise a plan before being tested.
While a sick move like this will impress your peers ten out of ten times, there’s still always the crushing weight of reality looming ahead. The initial stage of a brand new endeavor, again, is tricky. Sometimes you start smoothly and get all the good teachers or show everyone all the cool things you learned in Arkansas this summer. But no matter where the first step goes, its ensuing path can take you to a much harder place. Like tonight, when Walton and Lewis—in their first and second tastes of MLB pitching, respectively—had to face a pitcher with no-hit stuff.
Sonny Gray cashed in on that stuff for the first 6.1 innings of tonight’s rapidly paced game. In the early goings, Gray pitched like he wanted to get to Everett in time for the end of the Storm’s playoff game. He cruised through the first 17 hitters of the Mariners’ experimental lineup, allowing just two of them to reach base, both on walks. One of those walks did go to a freshly-minted Walton on an eight pitch bout in the bottom of the third inning.
This was a nice introduction for the switch-hitting rookie, but not a surprise to those who watched his patient approach in the minors, or to Dave Sims apparently, who spoke highly of the infielder after meeting him pregame. Did Sims share an anecdote about Walton’s minor league career, or tell a story about him receiving the call up? He sure didn’t. But he did endorse some of Walton’s skills, likening his handshake to that of a gregarious rush chairman.
Despite his fraternal energy, Walton was still no match for Sonny Gray. Shortly after his third inning walk, Walton was cut down as the back half of a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play. The Mariners didn’t reach base again until Gray hit Mallex Smith in the sixth, and they continued getting no-hit into the seventh. In the meantime, Joey Votto hit his 400th career double (still 201 behind Pete Rose for the franchise record!) and the Reds scratched two runs on the board.
Why is it that every new environment is somehow petrifying and liberating? Why it makes your heart stop and body recoil, but also frees you of any reservations about acting a certain way? It’s two disparate ideas coming together to form one, like how Sonny Gray’s first name means the opposite as his last name.
That blinding newness can be hard to adjust to but fun to try. When your head is swirling from moving, or a new job, or telling your family about it, or all of the above, it can be hard to hone in the day-to-die minutiae. It’s probably also hard to fret about the other team’s possible no-hitter.
This home run prevented a third no-no against the M’s this year, put the team ahead, and shot arrows through the concept of rookie jitters. With his second homer in as many MLB games, Kyle Lewis did something that the Mariners have struggled to do all season but promised would bloom with patience. T-Mobile Park showed us a vision, fleeting as it may be, of what we’ve always been looking for. Except for hopefully, like, at some point, with a better bullpen.
Nevertheless, the Mariners overcame a lst minute scare to create a much-needed positive memory. Tomorrow brings yet another set of young lives meeting brand new circumstances. Justin Dunn is diving into his MLB career, with J.P. Crawford reportedly ready to rock, shifting Walton to a different spot on the diamond. It’s entirely possible that Dunn, Crawford, Walton, Lewis, Shed Long, and Braden Bishop all share space in the Mariners’ lineup on Thursday. While the truest form of the vision has a few more pieces down the road, this is right about where it starts. For at least two nights, the flakes of Jerry Dipoto’s snow globe are starting to settle, and we see that a beautiful chaos of events has a way of producing a satisfying stillness. When the noise fades and things slow down, and you realize all you have to do is everything you’ve already been doing to get there.
You can sit on a fastball and look to drive it oppo, then trot coolly around the bases as if to say, “There’s a lot more where that came from.”