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Opening Day debuts

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There’s just something magical about Opening Day

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Cobb County, Georgia; Phoenix, Arizona; Newark, California; Houston, Texas; Frederick, Maryland.

Those five areas mark the birthplaces of the five Mariners who will make their Opening Day roster debuts: Taylor Trammell, Sam Haggerty, Chris Flexen, Will Vest and Jake Fraley.

It seems a little gratuitous, I suppose, to add this additional point of celebration, but fans aren’t the only ones who treat Opening Day with a particular reverence.

“You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through,” Joe DiMaggio once recalled. “You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”

Dave Winfield, in his 19th MLB season and with a knee almost entirely encased in tape, rapped out three hits in his first appearance for the Blue Jays in 1992 but could scarcely walk in the clubhouse afterward. Reporters asked him why he’d pushed to play that day.

“Because,” the future Hall of Famer said, “it’s Opening Day, stupid.”

To play baseball at the professional level is not, contrary to popular internet belief, easy. Playing in the majors is the culmination of decades of work and sacrifice, not just for the player but for their families too.

“Baseball has been our whole lives,” Flexen said in a 2017 interview. “My parents did everything in their power to get me to where I am today.”

“I was introduced to baseball at a very young age, I had family members on both sides that played professionally or in college and it is a huge part of our family history,” recalled Haggerty. “I always wanted to play baseball, from the time I was young I envisioned myself playing at the highest level.”

Trammell, Flexen, Haggerty, Vest and Fraley will all run out on the red carpet at T-Mobile Park for the first time tonight, but each had their own journey to reach this point.

Fraley was drafted by the Rays out of LSU in the second round of the 2016 draft, and made his major league debut three years later, following a 2018 trade to the M’s. Flexen signed out of Newark Memorial High School in 2014, and the Mets rocketed him past AAA to make his MLB debut just three years later, resulting in a crushing New York Times article titled “A Mets Pitcher Makes Big Leap to Majors, and Then Stumbles.” The former quarterback took his talents to the KBO after being DFAed in 2019, and then parlayed a solid season with the Doosan Bears into a two-year free agent deal with the Mariners this off-season.

Vest walked on at Stephen F. Austin State University as a shortstop, filling in for Lumberjacks alum-turned-MLB-prospect Hunter Dozier. The six foot right-hander transitioned to the pitching mound in his junior year, and his arm was intriguing enough to warrant a 12th round selection by the Tigers in 2017. If he makes an appearance out of the pen tonight, it will be his major league debut.

We love a university athletics photoshop.
Stephen F. Austin State University Athletics

Despite an excellent high school career in Colorado, Haggerty was minimally recruited before landing at the University of New Mexico. He powered through three seasons for the Lobos and was eventually drafted by Cleveland in the 24th round of the 2015 draft. After the better part of five seasons in the minors - and a trade to the Mets - Haggerty debuted in the majors in 2019.

“Words can’t describe the emotions and feelings of that moment,” Haggerty said back in 2019. “All I can say is it was the fulfillment of a life journey and goal, only to open up new goals and continue to learn and push to be better.” A true moment of excitement for the player, and joy.”

He was unceremoniously DFAed that Christmas Eve, but caught on with the Mariners a month later.

Hello, sir or madam. Can I interest you in a dinger today?
University of New Mexico Athletics

Trammell has been a top prospect since the Reds drafted him in 2016. A dual-sport athlete out of Mt. Paran Christian, the star running back embraced the challenges of baseball early on.

“Until this year I would say they were always neck-and-neck. But now I’d have to say baseball,” he said in a 2015 interview, when asked which sport he preferred. “I know that’s weird to say, but I think it relates more to real life. In life, you’re going to have some failures, but it’s all about how you bounce back. You can go 0-3 one game but then bounce back and be 3-3 the next game.”

Widely regarded as one of the most exciting players in Cincinnati’s pipeline, Trammell persevered through three seasons in the minors, and was taken by surprise when it was announced that he was part of the 2019 three-team blockbuster trade that sent him to the Padres. Exactly one year and one month later, San Diego traded him to the Mariners.

The 23-year-old teared up earlier this week when Scott Servais shared the news that he had made the Opening Day roster, culminating in a lifetime of work.

“If I put my mind to something, I’m going to give it my all,” Trammell declared back in 2018.

Taylor Trammell, center, was Athlete of the Week back in 2015.

I’m low on this team, lower than I can remember being in quite some time, but even I’m not immune to the magic of Opening Day. Especially not this year. On the heels of so much loss, so many lives halted, so many dreams deferred, the start of this season carries a particular halcyon sheen.

Maybe this is as good as it will get for us this season, suspended in the comforting amber of possibility. That’s okay. For today, for 2021, this is enough.