It’s July of 2001, and a 17-year-old baseball fan from Seattle is walking into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. His beloved Mariners, scarcely represented inside that hallowed building, are nonetheless having a season that defies belief, and though the purpose of this East Coast trip is so that he can visit some of the colleges he’s interested in attending in just over a year, he and his mom have agreed that if they’re going to be in upstate New York anyhow, a visit to the Hall is a must. He poses in front of the entrance to the museum where the current standings are displayed in front of a record that seems like it must be a mistake. Fresh off a four-game sweep in Minnesota, the Mariners are 72-27, and fresh off his first visit to New York City since he was a young child, the teen has decided that he wants to go to college at NYU if at all possible. Months later, that magical season will end just a few miles to the north, and the longest active postseason drought in major American sports will begin. The teen has no idea of this, of course - his world is broadening in an almost inconceivable way, and any notions of what he or the world will look like in five years, to say nothing of more than 20, are impossible. His understanding of sports is largely that of teams that are good but not good enough: would-be champions buckling in the face of forces almost too powerful to comprehend.
It’s September of 2022, and a 38-year-old baseball fan from Seattle is bound up in a swirl of emotions that confuse and confound him. His world is smaller now - a wife, children, a house. The possibilities that once abounded have been sorted out, selected or discarded or forgotten about. Sports occupy a different place in his life: where once he cried and cursed and threw the remote, now he mostly sighs, texts his mom, or just moves on to the many demands of fatherhood. Two decades later he’s experienced both the highs of winning a championship and the lows of losing his favorite team. His lived experience has expanded in proportion to his possibilities shrinking, and with that comes a form of contentment, even if the failings of the Mariners continue to gnaw at him. They were the team that helped him connect to his peers when he moved to Seattle in kindergarten, the team that got him through years of painful allergy therapy, the team that delivered the miraculous joy of 1995 and the astonishing brilliance of 2001. Yet they were also the team that turned a Hall of Fame core into a couple of underwhelming ALCS appearances, the team that lost or wasted all-time greats, the team that wandered without aim or direction for a solid decade. The math and models all agree that the drought is nearing an end, and with it comes a realization that the life and emotions contained within that span are big and messy and coming closer to the surface.
I don’t know what I’ll do when the Mariners make the playoffs. I suspect I’ll cry - a mix of joy and sadness and relief and more. Should they do more than that - well, I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself. I can’t help but think about the person I was in 2001, and the person I am now, and try to reconcile the two. I don’t envy much about that version of me: he has plenty of sadness and pain and confusion and struggle in front of him, even setting sports aside. Yet I do envy his ability to believe - he was just old enough and experienced enough to know that the world (and sports) can wound you, but just young enough to believe that this team, this year, was different. Sometimes I can conjure some of that same belief - the 2022 Mariners will do that to you. Just yesterday, after listening to that agonizing and thrilling ninth inning in the car with me, my four-year-old son walked into the house and proudly announced to his mother that "the Mariners won and made Daddy yell," and, well, yeah.