I’ve been looking forward all day to coming home to watch the Mariners. What a stupid thought.
All Friday, my thoughts have been with a baseball team that’s 15-42 on the year. I’ve been daydreaming about watching Justus Sheffield’s fastball top out at 92 MPH before getting annihilated by soon-to-be AL MVP Matt Chapman. I know the exact average J.P. Crawford will have to post in 12 at-bats over the next three days so that the Mariners’ de facto batting leader will finish the season above .270.
We often joke about how nobody is better equipped to handle malaise than Mariner fans, but never has it felt more apt than this season. Even before a trip to the grocery store felt like walking through the set of a Resident Evil movie, we all knew this season would be brutal. So when Tom Murphy broke his foot, Yusei Kikuchi gave up 7 runs in his first start, and the team started the season by getting swept by the Astros and Angels, all we did was laugh.
I knew it was going to be bad, we thought. I just didn’t know the universe was going to be so cliché about it.
I think those feelings peaked around August 1st, when a cardboard cutout of a baby someone sent in to the Seat Fleet got obliterated by a foul ball. I’ll forever treasure the image of a masked ball boy holding up the massive cutout of an infant with a five-inch dent in the forehead. Watching the absurdity of it all, I couldn’t keep from smiling.
A week later, the grin faded. We all knew what was up when an NL player was mysteriously held out of a game, and nobody was surprised when his team quietly announced in a Friday news dump that he was on the COVID-19 injured list. It was even less surprising when several other players around the league followed suit.
All my life, when real life has forced me to hold my breath, I’ve been able to close my eyes, reach up, and kick. Before I know it, I’ve crested above the roil and gulped down the relief that baseball provides. It’s the one thing that’s been disconnected from the tumult of real life, the one thing I’ve shared worrilessly with so many friends and family. The one thing that, tacitly, I thought would always be there.
This season, though, we’ve been forced to reckon with the grim realization that the world has a ceiling. The water has continued to rise, and we cannot rise above it in perpetuity. Eventually our heads will hit the ceiling, and we’ll be left alone with whatever awaits beneath the surface.
The escape of baseball and the murkiness of reality have been forced together into a foamy mess. There’s a good chance that this merge is temporary. That in April, we’ll be laughing with one another over $12 beers in T-Mobile Park. Our cloth masks will lie forgotten in a shoe box in the closet. Airplane tickets will return to being grossly overpriced. We won’t have to beg grandma to let us buy groceries for her.
Even if that happy April comes to pass, this season will never leave us. Armed (or burdened) with evidence of its mortality, we will experience baseball knowing that it, like literally everything else in the universe, is temporary. There will be a last season, a last game, and a last pitch. If we’re lucky, we won’t be there to see it.
I run out of the office at 5:20 PM on a Friday, jump into my car, and try to press the gas gently enough to avoid making a rubbery scene in the parking lot. I stop at the grocery store and habitually yank my mask loops around my red-raw ears. Am so quick to complete the transaction for my food and drink that I don’t notice the small box painted on the floor in front of the check stand, positioned so that the customer is behind the plexiglass. I jump into the box as the transaction completes, too late for it to matter. There are so many more opportunities to fuck up nowadays.
I speed home, jump out of the car, and turn on the game just in time to watch Shed Long slap a ground ball past a diving Marcus Semien. At this point, the silence of the games doesn’t feel as weird. The fan-produced virtual cheering, however, is another story. As J.P. Crawford knocks the dirt off his cleats before stepping into the batters box, an eight-year-old shrieks “Let’s go A’s!” down from the jumbotron.
There are three more Mariners games this season, and I’m going to watch every single pitch. They might finish the season 15-45, but I don’t care. This rebuilding year hasn’t gone as planned, and the future looks bad. Marco Gonzales’ 4.12 ERA leads the starting pitchers. Julio Rodriguez missed the whole year. Evan White and Kyle Lewis struggled. Everyone struggled.
J.P. Crawford yanks a line drive into right field and pulls into first, unstrapping and restrapping his batting gloves. I make a mental note. Just gotta go at least 3-for-11 the rest of the series to hit .270 on the year. I smile at how stupid it is that I’m keeping track of that.
Everything has gone wrong in the world, and everything has gone wrong with the Mariners. For a little bit longer, at least, there’s baseball.