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For the people who aren’t here

On a day of (hopeful) celebration, remembering who got us here

MLB: Washington Nationals at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

As I write this today, with our beloved Seattle Mariners closer to the playoffs than they have been in twenty-one years, my mind is racing in all directions.

I think about the players who never got to see this playoff run. We’re talking Adrián Beltré, Kyle Seager, José López, Hisashi Iwakuma, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Canó...the list goes on and on, but it’s capped by, of course, Félix Hernández.

I think about how my fandom has evolved. I first became a Mariners fan during that 2001 season, claiming the playoffs as my birthright and a record-tying number of wins as standard fare. I grew up playing Little League and beyond because of that first 2001 season, and as I got into high school I kept at it, even knowing that my bat would never translate beyond a fourth outfielder role. I had years where I went to 30 games, and I had years where I went to a small handful. But that passion never waned, not really.

I think about the joyous moments we celebrated together. Remember Kuma’s no-no? That one Guti walkoff homer? The existence of Dae-Ho Lee, or when the team carried Ichiro and Junior around the field on their shoulders?

Sure, there was futility in those years. A lot of futility. We learned to laugh in spite of 90-loss seasons, to develop a defense mechanism for the inevitable heartbreak we’d experience or for that late-summer swoon that came like clockwork. The lineups we ran out there were monuments to Some Guys. I mean, Jeremy Reed! Rob Johnson! Ronny Cedeño! Rickie Weeks!

But there was joy, too. Somehow, I keep coming back to that joy that has persisted for decades. It’s simply joy for existing, for having a way to mark the nights of every summer, for being a formative bonding opportunity for parents and kids and friends alike.

And that’s why my mind ultimately comes back to the people who aren’t here to see this. It feels like every walkoff win this season has been punctuated by a heart wrenching story in the LL comments, about a grandparent or a spouse or a close friend who passed away but whose love for the Mariners never wavered. It’s been genuinely tear-inducing to read about how this team helped people get through divorces, through the passing of a loved one, or through the darkest moments of their lives.

Two people keep coming back to mind here. One is a name familiar to every Mariners fan on the planet, and one is familiar just to those who read Lookout Landing (and, perhaps, a small subset of people seeking real estate and construction law assistance in the Seattle and Tampa areas).

One, Dave Niehaus. The voice of the Mariners, the voice of all of us, and a true friend & stalwart of the organization. Dave passed away in 2010 of a heart attack; his legend and generosity made this organization into the community cornerstone it is for so many, and there will always be a hole in our heart for him.

And two, Tim Cantu. Our friend was far, far too young when he died last fall. We’ve eulogized him at length, but I find myself thinking about him and his family most days.

That’s the funny thing about death — Tim and I weren’t even that close. We only met in person a small number of times. But we became internet friends, in the way that all of us are internet friends, and to have him not see this run still breaks my heart.

So tonight (or whenever we get over the hump), whether you’ve been a fan for one year or for forty-one years, take a moment to celebrate with your people. Think about those who helped you become the fan that you are, and think about the people who aren’t here to watch this. Celebrate for them, and for each other.

This is our time, Mariners fans. Let’s revel in it together.