At the root of all fear is the specter of change: the loss of control, the overwhelming sense that what’s to come will be worse than what came before.
The use of death and rebirth as an analogue for change is in no sense melodramatic. Every change is the death of a past, the death of a future, simultaneously rife with stifling limitation and boundless opportunity.
Change demands you to develop a new vocabulary, requires you to relinquish your fears.
What the Mariners have done tonight, aside from keeping pace in the playoff race, aside from enacting the sweetest of revenge on their Bay Bridge rivals, is nothing short of a paradigm shift.
The Mariners have spent the season telling us a story that dwarfs any fictional account of a sports team. Night in, night out, they beg us to change. They ask us to stare the unthinkable in the face and embrace it.
Tonight, though just the latest installment, we witnessed one of the team’s grittiest battles yet, having to fight back for the lead not once but twice. The team operated, as it has managed several times at its best, as a cohesive whole. From Logan Gilbert’s gutsy, gripping fastball show to Ty France making a martyr of himself with a go-ahead-run-scoring sac fly, they laid their egos to rest and became a whole inseparable from its parts.
Sports offer us pure catharsis, the purging of feelings left to rot, the departing of which lead us to the renewal of self. The Mariners put together one of their most cathartic victories of the season tonight, perhaps once and for all rebirthing themselves in the eyes of a city.
Some will insist that catharsis won’t come until they “make it.” Make it where? The Wild Card game? The ALDS? The AL Pennant? The Commissioner’s Trophy?
Forget that there are games yet to be played. Put yourself in the frames of mind you experienced tonight. Were you left at no point with the inexplicable sense that you could be something better, something greater than what you’ve been?
We expect this of art, of films that leave us in our seats prepared to take on the world. The Mariners, more so than they have in all but a handful of years, are gifting us this feeling nearly every night. Not just in the winning, but in the way they win.
It’s in the improbable rise of Paul Sewald from AAA opening day starter to shutdown closer whose name echoes through the Major League stadium of a playoff contender in late September.
It’s in the story of Chris Flexen, who traveled to the other side of the world to rework his craft and rebuild his confidence, who returned home successful.
It’s in the countless hours Jarred Kelenic has put in behind the scenes as thousands wrote him off, culminating (so far) in this:
It’s in every single player who has exceeded the most optimistic projection systems.
It’s in a team that has exceeded its 99th-percentile expected win total.
There is no better story in sports right now.
I am reluctant to assume the role of baseball coroner, but I feel confident in assessing tonight as the one the Old Mariners met their timely end. I’m certain their pulse has been deemed missing before. Nevertheless, this is the night it came to pass for a majority of the team’s fans. You can hear it in the crowd, you can read it on the internet.
The team that hurt you is dead. They don’t exist anymore. Attempts to invoke their name don’t work out here. This water is uncharted for those without the vocabulary to describe it.
If you refuse to believe, to have any semblance of hope, it’s on you. I won’t tell you how to be a fan, but these players are begging you to reflect on what’s holding you back. Is it a nagging rationalist in your head calling this all a mirage? Are you clinging to the comforts of shore, afraid of the possibility of getting hurt? What unhealed wound prevents you from wanting nothing more than for this absurd story to devastate or save you?
This team has changed. This team asks us to change, too.
We’re all running behind them, just trying to catch up.