In some ways, we define things by their potential.
A child who can read and write at a level beyond that of their peers could be “the next Stephen King”. One who can do math could be “the next Ada Lovelace”.
Nobody is shoveling pure saffron down their gullets. Saffron is expensive because of how delicious it is when combined with other ingredients to make a meal.
We wake up on the weekend excited by the potential that lies within a day free of commitment. Alternatively, we wake up on the weekday with enthusiasm dampened by the lack of free space, the canvas of the day already filled in with obligations.
A healthy person with years ahead of them thinks not of the potential that the years hold until those years are threatened, and their potential with them.
Even in a literal sense, a battery that can hold more chemical potential energy is a more valuable better. A skier at the top of a tall mountain has more potential energy, more capacity for thrills, than the skier halfway up.
If you look at the big picture, the post-2018 Mariners organization has had plenty of potential, and that’s what’s kept most of us going. There was always the promise of a payoff. But, man, for all of the potential coiled up within the organization, the MLB team has been utterly devoid of it.
It’s been hard to watch a team that gives consistent playing time to Nick Margevicius, Rafael Montero, JT Chargois, Tom Murphy, Luis Torrens, Sam Haggerty, José Marmolejos, and Donovan Walton. I don’t have anything against those players. They never should have been put into a position to appreciably determine the success of a Major League Baseball team. But night after night, it’s been tough to turn on the television, see that Marmolejos or Haggerty is batting sixth, and give a shit.
The past few games have been different, and it’s no secret why. The mere presence of Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert does not change the trajectory of the 2021 Mariners. It does, however, change the potential that each night holds. Just as importantly, the overall potential within the organization has become that much more visible. The hopes of the past two years have become a tangible reality.
The team, for its part, has been galvanized by the presence of its two newest stars. They played punch-for-punch with the Dodgers, and just beat Shane Bieber in a game pitched entirely by the bullpen. It isn’t just the fans that seem to think the team is fun to watch again. Jarred Kelenic actively screaming with glee every time the Mariners score a run has had an effect that has carried over to the rest of the team.
So as the Mariners took the field tonight for a damp tilt against the 14-26 Detroit Tigers, it was with a sense of potential and possiblity. Yusei Kikuchi had just struck out 11 Dodgers! Surely he could strike out at least that many Tigers. If Jarred Kelenic could spend an evening terrorizing Cleveland, why not Detroit?
Well, baseball is hard, and narratives are messy, and just because the team feels like they’re better doesn’t mean that they are better. Former first round pick Casey Mize kept the Mariners off-balance for almost the entirety of the evening. On the flip side, Yusei Kikuchi was repeatedly teed up by the Tigers.
Kikuchi did end up settling down and recording a quality start despite giving up two dingers and four walks. It was all for naught, as he was thoroughly outpitched by Mize from the start.
A late-inning dinger from Mitch Haniger (Editor’s note: It was Tom Murphy, sorry Mitch) ended up being far too little, far too late, and the Mariners exited T-Mobile Park uneventfully and unceremoniously.
But it still felt better.
It felt better because, even though it didn’t work out, it might have worked out. We watch the Mariners because punctuating the homogeneity of ineptitude are real sparks. When those sparks become more frequent and more meaningful, their potential becomes more than that of just sparks. Within each spark is the potential for a fire down the line.
The Mariners may not finish the season at .500, or even near .500. This iteration of the Mariners may not even be the strongest of the past 2.5 years. But this iteration holds the most potential, and that’s what defines them. Ultimately, that’s what makes them worth watching.