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The most aesthetically perfect moments of the 2020 Mariners

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“They’ll hang us in the Louvre/Down the back, but who cares—still the Louvre”

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners
this smile. end of list.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Architecture Twitter does not always get its chance to shine; the last time architecture had a viral moment was probably in 2017, when Max Krieger unleashed a delightfully unhinged tweet thread on the delightfully unhinged architecture of the Cheesecake Factory. But Architecture Twitter is once again a-boil this week with the news of Trump’s executive order specifying new federal buildings may only be constructed in one of six styles (Neoclassicism, Beaux-Arts, Federalism, Georgian, Greek Revival, or Art Deco), specifically calling out the style of Brutalism—popular in the 60s-70s and easily recognizable to anyone who has walked around the University of Washington or downtown Seattle—as unacceptable. This edict has sparked a passionate response from defenders of Brutalism and other forms of modern architecture, but it has also opened a larger conversation about aesthetics and what society values in art. What do we, as a society, want our art to say about us? Is that even a decision that is ours to make?

This is a conversation Mariners fans are uniquely positioned to participate in, as we have been training to find beauty in unexpected places for years: in the Brutalist architecture of Jack Z’s army of right-handed concrete-limbed sluggers (not to mention the Kingdome itself, a monument of Brutalism inside and out!); the postmodern juxtapositions of some of Jerry Dipoto’s bullpens, constructed to interrogate the very notion of what a bullpen is supposed to do; and the general appreciation of whimsy and robust sense of humor required of a fanbase that has endured a playoff drought that’s old enough to be experiencing its first of many quarter-life crises. Couldn’t Mariners fans have designed The Dancing House? Do we have any proof they did not? (Fun fact, Frank Gehry is not a person, but a collective consciousness of Mariners fans that coalesced into human form sometime after Tino Martinez hit the three-run home run off José Paniagua in Yankee Stadium in 2001.)

Mariners fans in 2020 again had to find beauty in non-box-score places, and those that looked were rewarded with the unusual beauty that is our birthright as fans. Here, then, is a by-no-means exhaustive list of the most aesthetically pleasing Mariners moments of 2020.

JP mid-flight:

There are a great many shots of J.P. making this type of throw, but none that are this perfect, a perfectly frozen moment of a perfect throw. It’s perfect from a baseball standpoint—the straight line you could draw up from the dirt right through the middle of J.P.’s hips showing his perfect balance; the position of his right arm, perfectly counterbalanced by his glove hand, indicating he has snapped off the ball at exactly the right angle; the way his eyes are focused on his target, wholly possessed by the spirit of Perry Hill and his Six F’s of fielding. (Also, if I am Perry Hill, I am printing out this picture, dropping it on Jerry Dipoto’s desk, and demanding a raise.) But this is also a perfect picture, aesthetically. Everything in the composition, from the point of J.P.’s left foot to each carefully defined twist of hair coming out from underneath his hat, is perfectly balanced, all the way down to the repeating navy/teal contrasts with the pure, bright white of the home alternates. Even J.P.’s neck gaiter is integral to the compositional balance! As much as I will be happy for fans to get back into the ballparks, I will miss 2020’s baseball gaiters, making every player look like a particularly athletic NPC in Red Dead Redemption. The only part of this picture that is not perfect is Kyle Seager standing there in the shot looking over J.P.’s shoulder like your neighbor who comes over when you’re working on some project in the driveway and suggests you try the next size socket up. Move aside, Kyle, we have poster prints to make here! I could look at this picture forever. And I have.

Kyle Seager Hits #200:

Historically, it has been difficult for household objects—quilts, rugs, woven baskets—to gain the same artistic recognition as the “high art” of paintings and sculptures. Crafts made for the home were often crafted by women or indigenous people, with everyday materials, and were therefore excluded from the consideration of the Academy. Beginning with the Arts and Crafts movement in the 19th century, however, value started to shift away from mass-produced wares made in factories towards the beautiful and functional objects made by artisans. Today, items such as story quilts made by Black Americans post-Juneteenth, Shaker furniture, and intricately woven Coast Salish baskets are displayed in museums alongside paintings and sculptures, and valued even more highly for being objects of beauty that were also useful on an everyday basis. Steady Kyle Seager, our sturdy but beautiful third-base basket, could be in this round-up every year, but it’s especially nice to do it in a year when he hit his 200th home run.

Death, taxes, Kyle Seager sending souvenir baseballs to sections 100-107 in Seattle’s park, a reassuring sight in a year where seemingly everything was upended. Seager was on a three-win pace had 2020 been a full season, almost tying exactly his fWAR from last season, and that kind of everyday consistency, to me, is beautiful.

Runner-up: the two Kyles taking apart Texas’s new ballpark, ugly piece of sheet metal by ugly piece of sheet metal

Justus Sheffield’s slider in his first MLB win:

Like Picasso following up Les Demoiselles d’Avignon with Guernica thirty years later, the capacity of an artist to take an idea, master it, and then transform it into something mind-blowing is what celebrates the greats from the true masters. Justus Sheffield entered his name into the conversation of modern masters of the slider with his performance on August 9 that earned him his first MLB win. Justus’s slider is almost always good-to-great; on this night, it was transcendent, as he gave the Rockies batters fits with his slider. Justus changed the shape of the slider at times, moving it around the zone, occasionally putting a little more on or taking a little more off, and burying it at the back foot of righties, leaving batters to flail at his trompe l’oeil paintings.

Justus’s slider is a thing of beauty, but one of the best things about watching him in 2020 was seeing him gain confidence in his approach and turn in consecutive, consistent performances. Still, there’s a reason whenever other members of the pitching staff are asked what one pitch they’d like to nab from a fellow Mariner, the answer is almost always “Justus’s slider.” It’s a special pitch, and we’re lucky enough to watch its master paint with it every fifth day.

Evan White’s first base defense:

Admittedly, watching Evan White at the plate was not always aesthetically pleasing. Watching Evan White in the field, however, as he hoovered up errant throws and chased down balls in the right field stands and refused to let grounders find grass, was a delight.

The highlight-reel plays were great, but what I appreciated most were the smaller moments, throws that went just a bit wide that White used his superior length and excellent body control to haul in. Okay sure, it helps when you carry a glove the size of a burlesque fan dancer’s, but no one said you couldn’t gild the White lily.

Kyle Lewis Can Fly:

The great thing about art is it’s open to interpretation and allows a wide berth for personal taste. Some people like representational art; some people respond more to abstract. Some people love landscapes, and others prefer portraits. There’s a lid for every pot in the art world. The great thing about Kyle Lewis is there are so many aspects to his game, it’s hard to pick just one thing that stands out. It’s all aesthetically pleasing, down to the megawatt smile he beams at the camera after crossing home plate or hauling in a tricky catch.

Yet there is a definitive Kyle Lewis Moment of 2020, whether it was your favorite Kyle Lewis Moment of 2020 or not, and it is this:

Why this catch? The Mariners were in the second game of a doubleheader, playing a game they probably shouldn’t have been playing against a haze-choked backdrop, in a game they would eventually lose, as they lost so many of their games in 2020. And yet this catch stepped out from the haze and became one of the defining moments of the season. It was an incredible catch, both from what our eyes tell us and what the metrics tell us; it was a catch that robbed a grand slam, the very best possible kind of home run robbery. It was a catch made by a team’s young star that contained an impossible-to-ignore echo of another young star for that team, made with the same fluid grace that seemingly shrinks the outfield wall by half. Art is subjective; this catch is not. It is, objectively, one of the very best things that happened in baseball all year, and it happened for us. Through the haze, through the losing, through it all, the catch endures. That’s why.

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Flannery O’Connor, who probably would have been a Mariners fan if she’d had the opportunity, wrote that, “Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.” Being a Mariners fan isn’t for everybody, but for those of us who stuck it through, we saw some great art this year. Here’s to more art appreciation in 2021.