As Mariners fans, we’re frequently called on to celebrate things other than offensive outcomes. We’ve had to, to keep loving baseball. A quality start, a diving catch, a loyal player who stays on a losing team. If practice makes perfect, we’re better at this than many. And so, as Mariners fans, we are perfectly situated to appreciate a Major League debut.
Celebrating a player’s first trip up to the plate or the mound isn’t about applauding an outcome, but rather the work put in to get to a place where an outcome is available. It’s a championing of possibility, and Mariners fans are great at focusing on possibility. I’ve been to some big-name debut games (Dustin Ackley and Jarred Kelenic come to mind), and a bunch of games where a guy comes in who I’ve never heard of before and everybody claps before pulling out their phones to Google “who is _________”. My favorites might be the games where a player on the other team debuts, and the video folks put it up on the big screen and everybody claps and cheers anyways because hey, this guy’s doing a great job and I bet his Mom is so happy right now.
That’s a big part of the satisfaction of celebrating a debut, imagining all the people who must be proud of this guy today. You start with the player himself, thinking oh man, I wonder if he’s remembering his Little League days and I wonder if he’s nervous. And then you start to think of his parents, they’ve given a lot to get here, too and they’ve got to be crying and I wonder if they’re at the ballpark right now. And then you start to fill in a whole crowd of witnesses: imagine his Little League coach watching this on tv and what would it be like to play alongside a guy in high school and then see him make the big leagues and who else did he call, right after he got the news?
At this point, if the mood is right, the moment opens a doorway to thinking about your own mentors, the people who are or would be proud of you, who gave you gifts along the way to get you to where you are today. You think about who you would call, if your own life had a moment of “making it” as clear and specific as this one. Your parents, of course. The coach who gave you your first opportunities to lead and teach, who let you make the mistakes that helped you improve. Some folks you can’t call, anymore, but you’d want to find some kind of gesture like you see ballplayers give, to show that you’re thinking of them in their absence. Friends you’re out of touch with who would have loved this moment. Your grandparents, who loved you so well. The professor who pulled you aside after class and said “you know you’re a deviant, right?” and you understood that he meant your ideas were a gift (miss you, Jim).
Marcus Wilson’s debut yesterday was all those things a debut always is, and it unfolded in just the most heartwarming fashion. Called up for a host of reasons (Taylor Trammell’s re-injured hamstring and an upcoming need for outfielder coverage when Jesse Winker starts serving his suspension, to name the top two), Wilson was immediately a contender for a heartstring-tugging debut given his long eight and a half years in the minor leagues. Drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2014, traded to the Red Sox in 2019, and picked up on waivers by the M’s last summer, he was understandably emotional upon getting the news that he got called up:
Marcus Wilson said he was hanging out with Joe Odom when he got the call from Rainiers manager Tim Federowicz at 10:30 last night. He said he blacked out and then started crying.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) June 29, 2022
Wilson was called upon to pinch hit for Sam Haggerty in the 8th. He walked up to cheers from the crowd and drew a very professional eight pitch walk off Orioles’ closer Jorge Lopez:
Everybody got into the celebration, from Wilson’s teammates (pictured above at the end of the clip) to fans throughout the stadium:
A standing ovation for Marcus Wilson, who draws a walk in his first MLB plate appearance. It’s all going right for the Mariners today.— Mike Lefko (@MikeLefko) June 29, 2022
The "Marcus" chants for Marcus Wilson in his fist PA was a really cool touch. Great work, Mariners fans— Chris DeBoli (@AvacadoRoller) June 29, 2022
One thing I love about this is that the fans were clapping and cheering for the guy, who I guarantee 99% of them had never heard of before that very moment, at the start of the at bat. Nothing “good” had happened yet, no outcome had been secured. But everybody agreed that a dream come true was itself a good worth celebrating.
Another great thing about a baseball debut is that it turns the preceding New Guys into mentors. It was particularly fun to see Julio out there supporting Marcus today, greeting him in the outfield and working with Winker to teach him the Ways of the Outfield (TM).
okay this is absolutely adorable and entirely relatable welcome to the show Marcus Wilson pic.twitter.com/4lJX61DLo1— Lydia Cruz (@TheLydiaCruz) June 29, 2022
It’s like seeing Julio grow up before our very eyes this year, from his own debut to walking someone else through theirs. And it all meant a lot; Wilson choked up in his post-game interview, saying “long time coming...I’ve put a lot of hours into this sport and [...] it’s honestly everything. I couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere for my debut.”
The kind of pride (other than queer pride, happy Pride Night today y’all!) most encouraged and elevated in the media these days seems to be a selfish, identity- or achievement-focused, nationalist sort. Pride that celebrates elevation above others who are different, or accomplishment at another’s expense. We’re surrounded by opportunities to learn this harsh pride, which grants a precarious belonging and a temporary cachet, conferring worth by comparison.
The pride that wells up in the stadium for a major league debut like Marcus Wilson’s, on the other hand, is a generous pride that serves as an antidote. The cheering last night was unselfish joy and vicarious elation, no expectations attached, no possibility of disappointment. As Kate put it to me, “no one’s Marcus Wilson rookie card was going up in value.” We’re not proud of Wilson because we’re hoping he’s going to pay us back by being an All-Star; we’re proud of him because we can imagine what it took to get here. We’re proud because we’re thinking that there are probably a lot of folks who helped him along the way who couldn’t be here, and we’ll take up their voices in this moment.
Our mentors, too, didn’t cheer us on because they thought we’d get famous and pay them back. They recognized that we have inherent value and they saw that they were positioned to help us see and trust that value. I think again of Jim, whose reputation preceded him: a reputation for goofy humor, brilliant ideas, and above all for overflowing wisdom. And yet, every day at the start of class he’d hoist himself up on the table facing his students, pull out the reading we’d done for homework, and simply say “Well, what do you think?” And then he listened for an hour and a half, and through his listening we came to understand that the readings and the teacher are only there to support the having of wonderful ideas. It’s ten years now since the last time I saw him, when he told me that my instincts were good, and following them was a good enough program for a life. He would have loved that I’m writing for this website, and delighted in dropping into the comments to point out the ways the game reveals “the moral ecology of everyday life,” but instead I try to do so to honor him.
Winning is great (or so I’m told), and I’m sure the pride when your team is the best feels good. I hope to feel that someday, too. But it is only the generous sort of pride, that delights in seeing someone else’s dream come true, that creates a lasting social fabric. It is only that sort of pride that allows us to grow into people whom someone else might someday want to call to say “Hey, guess what? I made it!”