Mayday Parade’s acoustic version of Three Cheers For Five Years is playing in a dark room, the light from a television splashing and diving across its features, casting long shadows. On the television is a baseball game, displaying a different kind of splashing and diving from a Detroit team and a Seattle team.
Anyone who has suffered through grief or depression knows that the battle is never one that is black and white, it is never just one battle. The battles contain multitudes of shades of grey, and the battles make up a war of various stages. It’s a crisp, early October evening in Southeastern Idaho and I could not feel more disconnected from the teams playing. The physical distance, though great, falls short of accurate representation of the distance in my heart.
One team surpassed expectations, and even took advantage of the first year of expanded playoffs and grabbed the third AL Wild Card spot. The other team is the Seattle Mariners, playing their last game of the season, if you could call that playing. The battle I am waging at the moment, the stage of grief of which I firmly reside, is depression. A battle I am familiar with, especially on the battlefield that is Seattle sports fandom. I am currently in Idaho, but my heart rests firmly in my hometown of Seattle, firmly with its baseball team. A heart that, because of that allegiance, is broken.
“I swear that you don’t have to go,
I thought we could wait for the fireworks”
Two decades of missing the playoffs will wear on the most loyal of fans, but the temptation for hope is one hard to let go. Many had misgivings about the off-season, wishing the club had spent more on free agents, or landed a big trade to bring a superstar that would be the difference maker that the previous season so desperately needed. There were reasons to extend our patience though. The M’s did spend big on one guy in free agency, the reigning Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray. September of last year ended on a somewhat high note as well, with young guys like Kelenic and Gilbert showing resilience. The season began with the team collectively putting up a slash of .245/.319/.421 during spring training. A decent showing for games that are not really supposed to matter, and a marked improvement over the 2021 season’s .226/.303/.385. Denial.
“Confess all the faith that I had in you (I had in you)”
The fandom had hope, but it was a survival mechanism, and we were not fools. We knew, I knew, that in order for the Mariners to succeed to the level of ending the drought it would take an exorbitant amount of Everything Going Right. Truthfully, for my own satisfaction, I would not even have needed them to make the playoffs, expansion or no. If the young core made steps forward, if we were at least close, I could smile about it and get ready for watching a promising 2023 campaign. Championship baseball is the goal, but competitive baseball is still very fun.
A rough start after a shortened spring training was to be expected, and big question marks like Kyle Lewis and Evan White were never going to be answered in the first few months of the season. The answer we eventually did get was crushing. Not only did neither of them make the big league club again this year, reinjuries called their entire careers into question. The season was over before it began if it relied on the success of those two, however. The questions that needed a promising answer more were the performances of the rotation, and a hitting lineup whose prowess would need to be reflected in run differential as opposed to fun differential and Chaos Ball.
The pitching was.. fine. The bullpen never reached its ceiling, but was close enough to it to look down on the rest of the team that kept handing them atrocious run deficits. Robbie Ray and Marco Gonzales both put up 180+ innings, anchoring the rotation as the workhorses. Robbie Ray was not nearly as elite, with his Cy Young year seeming to be the exception and not the rule, but he stayed healthy and didn’t implode. Marco struggled a little bit more, particularly in the back half of the season. The pitching was fine, except when it was not. Marco and Robbie’s solidity was a poor remedy for Flexen’s mid-season collapse, or how painfully clear it was that neither Brash or Kirby were ready. More and more hitters seemed to have figured out Logan Gilbert’s fastball entirely, but I would not have begrudged him the sophomore season of learning. I don’t think anyone would have, as it would have been a preferable outcome to the Tommy John recovery he was pinned with after hitting the IL in late August. It’s hard not to wonder if these dominoes would still have fallen if Jerry had signed another one of the many talented free agent starting pitchers. Oh, like NL Cy Young candidate Marcus Stroman. Anger.
“Too late, I’m sure and lonely
Another night, another dream wasted on you”
Despite some misgivings, the feelings at the beginning of the year in regards to the offense were positive on the whole. September of 2021 made us Believe, but Julio Rodríguez making the big league roster for Opening Day made us BELIEVE. Maybe that was our first mistake. Maybe our hubris preceded our downfall, and we should have listened to the cynics inside of us, even if their worst fears never came true. The J-Rod Show is indeed here, even if he never reached the lofty 4 fWAR, Rookie of the Year campaign many claimed was all but certain. I made that claim, so if blame is due for those lofty desires then I am resigned to accept my share of it. In my defense, he was clearly the best hitter on the team in Spring Training and, for that matter, continued being so for the entire season. When a rookie puts up 2.2 fWAR and overcomes some struggles and adjusts, it is a good thing. When that rookie was your best hitter and it wasn’t even close, it is not a good thing.
Regression went beyond the mean, and was downright cruel. Kelenic never had a stretch where he came close to his 0-42 hitless streak from last year, but he never performed consistent enough to erase lingering doubts. Winker, Crawford, France, and Haniger were ghosts of their ‘21 selves. Again, I must accept blame for putting foolish thoughts out into the universe, tempting fate. I really thought Suárez could bounce back, and that Winker’s bat would make up for his defense. Now their acquisition is being called Jerry’s worst trade, and I cannot disagree. What a year Brandon Williamson had. In the most technical of terms, it was not a Murphy’s Law of a season at the plate. July 22nd they returned from the All Star Break and earned that Fireworks Night with a ninth inning grand slam to put us up 7-5, with Kelenic the hero responsible for the blast. It was the only game they beat the division-winning Astros, and the only grand slam on the team all season. But technically, it could have been worse. Worse, like the bottom two-thirds of the order that put up a collective .187/.220/.244 slash line. Depression.
“Inside I hope you know I’m dying
With my heart beside me
In shattered pieces that may never be replaced”
The Seattle Mariners are ending the season with far more questions than answers. Some of the answers they did get were acceptable, some were not, and none exceeded expectations. Julio is a legitimate major leaguer, of which there is little doubt. The questions there are whether he will reach his ceiling, and even if he does, if he’ll be resigned to a Félix Hernández or Mike Trout type fate of being stuck on a team of perennial losers. Bigger questions loom larger. What does finishing fourth in the division in the year they were supposed to have it all figured out mean for Dipoto and Servais? For their rebuild, and multi-year contracts? Certainly they had some cushion for forgiveness. Things could have worked out. They did not, not by any metric, and now last off-season feels like cold apathy. Possibly the biggest concern is that the Mariners have not developed a single hitting prospect to be consistently successful at the Major League level (Julio excepted, because let’s be honest, he was always going to thrive).
The television shuts off, darkness enveloping the room. The game wasn’t over, but it was over.
It’s with these questions in my heart, with this grief, that I go into the off-season. That many of us do. This fandom is defined often by its cynicism, but also hope. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and Try To Love These Guys and Believe again. By the time Spring Training rolls around, I’m sure I will have reached the acceptance stage of grief. I may even be reinvigorated by another plea like the one Haniger made last off-season. We are creatures of habit, after all. I would be lying though if I said that this time doesn’t feel a little different. A little more hollow, a little more like this city might finally be out of hope left to give. I hope I’m wrong. There is always tomorrow, there is always next- well, you know.
“I can’t forget you
I know you want me to want you, I want to”