The Mariners were never going to do well in 2020. Projections of their record have ranged from pretty bad to downright miserable, and everyone from Jerry Dipoto to Jon Heyman has been on the same page: this is supposed to be a rebuilding year.
With that in mind, the most apocalyptic scenarios for the 2020 season don’t involve the Mariners losing a lot of games. They involve Kyle Lewis getting hurt, Shed Long and J.P. Crawford failing to take a step forward, and Mallex Smith looking like he has no business on an MLB roster. They involve Justus Sheffield evoking memories of Héctor Noesí, Evan White of Casey Kotchman. These are the scenarios that would push the rebuild — which has its purported end date of 2021 already in doubt — back another two or three years at least.
The best scenarios, meanwhile, don’t see the Mariners touch 90 wins. They see Justin Dunn fulfilling his potential as a third or fourth starter, and Yusei Kikuchi prove the Mariners right for spending $15 million on him this season. Mitch Haniger comes back healthy and bats .300. Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez tear up the minors, forcing the team to consider them for September call-ups. The best scenarios let us believe that maybe, just maybe, 2021 is the year.
Those were the thoughts that some of us might have been thinking on Wednesday. Then, around 6:30 PM, NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the NBA was suspending their season in light of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19. The announcement seemed like the first domino that everyone was waiting for. Yesterday saw the cancellation of the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the suspensions of the NHL season, the MLS season, and of course, the MLB season.
Over the course of less than twenty four hours, everything seemed to get cancelled at once. The pandemic, which for the past couple of months social media has treated like a joke, suddenly took on an air of deadly seriousness. While many had already been working from home, stocking up on non-perishables, and avoiding restaurants, Thursday’s events forced even the brazen to look at the pandemic with uncomfortable lucidity.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been anxious, but it’s the first time I’ve been anxious at the same time as nearly everyone else in the world. It’s also the first time that one of my most reliable sources of escapism hasn’t been available. When all else has failed in my life, I’ve been able to turn to the Mariners and imagine everything going right. And when the Mariners have left no doubt that another season has gone astray, they’ve still been there. I’ve still been able to settle down at 7:10 PM, let go of the day, and lose myself in the meaninglessness of a Mariner game. A meaninglessness that, until now, I had not recognized was so meaningful.
Much of that meaning comes from the community in which we live, and with which we experience baseball. Seattle institutions have rallied to help where they can, painting a flattering portrait of humanity in a time when humanity has so often seemed ugly. It doesn’t matter why you’re a fan. Whether you draw meaning from baseball through analytics, community, nostalgia, or a conglomeration of the above, you’re a fan. Making the best of the macabre is what we’ve trained for over the better part of two decades. Whether this crisis lasts two weeks, two months, or even longer, I am comforted by the safely accessible presence of this pocket of the internet.
I’m also scared. For my family, my friends, and for those at the margins of society. It seems impossible for my perpetually anxious body to accept what I know intellectually to be true: that things will settle down. When they do, and when we come slowly crawling and squinting back into daily life, my hope is that we do it with a sense of perspective. The prescription of social distancing has forced me to realize how important my communities are to me. The loss of baseball and basketball have shown me the criticality of escapism through sports, trivial as it may sometimes seem.
What wouldn’t I give to watch the Mariners lose 108 miserable games? Once the Mariners resume play, Evan White might look like John Olerud. He might look like Casey Kotchman. Right now, it doesn’t matter. Either way, I’ll fiercely treasure the opportunity to watch him show us.