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Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain: Farewell, Sweet Dee

It wasn’t the career he wanted to have here, but that doesn’t make us any less proud to have called Dee Strange-Gordon a Seattle Mariner

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Covering the Mariners here at LL over the Dipoto years, we’ve said a lot of goodbyes to players. Some goodbyes have been tepid, to prospects we never really got the chance to know (what could have been between us, Ryan Yarbrough?). A few have been full of relief (the sweet freedom of realizing that Casey Fein can’t hurt you anymore). Some have been gone in the blink of an eye, a blip on the radar (RIP to the Jimmy Yacabonis era, memorialized only as The Pitcher Who Gave Up That Grand Slam Kyle Lewis Stole).

Others have hurt, on a personal level if not on a baseball one, the sad folding away of no-longer relevant shirseys and boxing-up of bobbleheads that were a poor likeness but you kept anyway, a memory of leaving work early on a sunny summer afternoon for the privilege of tethering yourself for the next four hours to a piece of painted resin. Some goodbyes speak most loudly through their absence: a clearcut Maple Grove, a King’s Court with no loyal subjects. Sometimes, if we were lucky and the stones were already cast, we got a wave. Sometimes we didn’t know the wave meant not just thank you, but also goodbye.

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Mariners declined to pick up Dee’s 2021 option the other day, instead paying him a million-dollar buyout and sending him to free agency. It’s hard to anticipate where Strange-Gordon, relegated to a bench role in his last year with Seattle, might end up, but it’s highly likely he won’t be donning a Mariners uniform again in his career.

Devaris Strange-Gordon’s tenure in Seattle was not as successful on the field as some others who have passed through these pages, but still, Dee belongs to the same one-name club—Ichiro, Félix, Robi, Nelson, Pax, Kuma, Tai (?)—as other Mariner fan favorites. Dee. It’s a sweet and joyful sound, reminiscent of cooing babies, tinkling pianos and singing birds. In linguistics, “D” is a voiced plosive, which is also a good description of Dee himself, a vocal plosive.

Since he came to Seattle, Dee’s backstory has triggered emotion among the LL staffers, inspiring us over his entire tenure with the team. It all started with Isabelle, who, when Dee first got here, felt called back to her grandmother’s side watching Dodger games in California, and penned this beautiful article about how the memory of a loved one can be a blessing; a story about how joy can, eventually, block out grief.

Dee came to Seattle with some trepidation and a not-insignificant amount of baggage. He was always—is always—upfront about his feelings. His openness as a person allowed us as fans to connect to him quickly: the quick and easy smile, the swagger, the good-times Dee, yes, but balanced by the version of Dee who has seen struggle and pain, both in his life and in the community in which he was raised. Dee, who lost his mother DeVona to domestic violence, has transformed his pain into action, creating the Flash of Hope Foundation and being an outspoken advocate for victims of domestic violence. Dee’s presence on the team kept those issues at the forefront of our minds when the team was facing Aroldis Chapman or Roberto Osuna, his existence insisting that we not forget about those who aren’t here to tell their stories just because someone clocks a triple-digit fastball. Devaris Strange-Gordon might have been a Mariner, but DeVona Strange is forever part of the Mariners family, as well.

There might not be any LL staffer who loves Dee more than Eric, who also knows the pain of losing a mother, and has felt a powerful connection to Dee throughout his tenure as a Mariner. There is certainly no one on staff who cheers louder for Dee’s success, both as a player and as a person, a love achingly encapsulated in this piece about the particular kind of aloneness a motherless child can feel, and the way Dee has transformed that ache into joy. Joy and pain, sunshine and rain.

As for the sunshine: there was a lot of it, imported to cloudy Seattle from the Sunshine State via Dee. Like when he stole the show on Turn Ahead the Clock Night with his sleeveless jersey, backwards cap, and admonition that if you didn’t like it, to “beat it, nerds.”

(You can still buy the “beat it, nerds” t-shirt we made with BreakingT to commemorate this event here.)

Even when he didn’t play, Dee still brought the sunshine, like when he put the D in Dee Gordon:

There was also the time he did...whatever this is.

Of course there are more wholesome Dee moments as well, like when Dee was taking extra batting practice at Spring Training in 2019 and invited all the fans watching on the field to shag balls and promised to sign for everyone who did, horrifying the security guards at the Peoria Sports Complex and giving the handful of fans who had stuck around a special treat, the kind of memory that makes a Spring Training trip. Or when, during that same Spring Training, Dee passed the time during a rain delay by line dancing in the clubhouse while wearing cowboy boots and new teammate Hunter Strickland’s jersey, the lone highlight of Hunter Strickland as a Mariner.

Dee seemingly got along with everyone in the clubhouse (minus one notable example, but we’re willing to ride Team Dee on that one), no matter how long or short their stay as a Mariner. Witness, please, his relationship with Large Doofus Ryon Healy and their tender hugs.

But Dee spreads the love around, always perched on the top step, ready to pound the padding around the dugout when someone does something good, from the superstar making $15M a year to the utility bench player: Dee is there, and he’s brought the celebration.

Maybe the best best-friendship to come from Dee’s time in Seattle is Dee and Ichiro, or Deechiro, although technically that was just a continuation of their time together as Marlins. But there’s something about the friendship between these two men, a decade between them, with entirely different lexicons and life experiences but similarly open hearts and shared desire to learn, that feels like it makes the world a little better, if only because it prompted one of the first instances of Ichiro Looking Proud caught on camera that I can remember.

It is an unassailable fact that Ichiro is Good, and therefore, by the transitive property, Dee Gordon is also Good.

But we knew that already. There’s something I call the “Dee Gordon Iceberg Principle,” that for every good thing we see or hear about Dee doing, for every Hutch Award he wins or fresh-water well he builds in Africa or the Dominican Republic, there are ten things we don’t know, will never know. Like when a minor leaguer at Spring Training casually told me that Dee walked into their clubhouse on the first day of camp with two bags stuffed full of extra gear for the kids.

There’s also the way Dee raised his voice in support of his Black teammates and also Black players across the game, at one point suggesting MLB send an all-Black delegation to the World Baseball Cup tournament to grow the game’s profile among a demographic that has been steadily electing out of baseball for the past four decades. If Dee decides to go work for MLB’s Diversity and Inclusion office, baseball will be so much the better for it.

Was Dee Strange-Gordon a great player in Seattle while he was on the field? The numbers will say no. But here’s the thing about numbers: they’re jerks. And they also don’t recognize that, because the Mariners traded for him despite not really needing a second baseman because, you know, Robinson Cano, Dee spent the first few innings of his already-lengthy MLB career out in center field, trying to learn a new position while still carrying around a 2B Gold Glove in his back pocket, which understandably weighed him down. Sure, it led to moments of cover-your-eyes awkwardness, but it also led to moments of transcendence, like when Dee was so proud of himself as a center fielder for robbing a hit from the Angels’ center fielder:

Yes you did do it, Dee, yes you did.

Dee Strange-Gordon came to Seattle in his age-30 season, and we watched him grow into his early 30s, and the life changes that often come in that time frame. We saw him buy a house, get married, become a daddy (a dee-dy?), and make the shift from just a player to a player-mentor. “Flash” slowed a bit, off the field if not on it. But he never lost that animating spark, that particular joy that springs from pain, a noisy insistence that there must be something better, and will be. Dee will, sadly, likely not be around for that “better” incarnation of the Mariners, whenever that may come, but we will remember him no less fondly around these parts for it, and maybe even more so: the one who brought smiles in the midst of losing seasons and late-season collapses and rebuilding years. The sunshine breaking through the rain.

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images