Like a Million Baseball Fans Cried Out, and Were Suddenly Silenced

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Tuesday’s Old Mariners News

I have spent the past week or so battling a cold, finishing up the World Series, and watching a rugby game. Every day I mean to write, and every day I manage to schedule myself out of it, whether by work or health or just being tired with the time and light change as autumn and winter set in. So I have all these thoughts on things that are backed up from like mid-October…

Chris Young of course was named Comeback Player of the Year by the Sporting News, by a group of voters that was comprised of baseball players and not members of the press. This is actually surprising to me, since it seems like so many awards surrounding baseball are determined by the BBWAA, the fans, or managers and coaches. I approve of this greatly, but not just because I’m a Mariners fan. Young had his moments, certainly, every pitcher does, but he also engendered quite a bit of confidence when he was up in the rotation. I started the year out not being so sure about him; I had no prior experience with Young, so all I had to go on were blogger opinions and jokes (yes, I could have looked it up on Fangraphs, but I didn’t, just naturally assuming that everyone else knew more than I did), and everything I heard – outside of quite a few jokes about Young’s height – sounded like Young might be a decent back of the rotation guy and nothing more, after spending 2013 out recovering from shoulder surgery. But he proved that he still had a lot of gas in that shoulder, and had a super solid 2014 with a winning record. I am glad that his fellow players voted accordingly. Some of them were likely on the receiving end of the Chris Young slingshot, and could see that comeback for what it was.

Justin Smoak got snatched up by the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of last month, a move that both thrilled and saddened me. Smoak, of course, never turned into what he was supposed to, and we have dealt with the fallout from that for a little over four years now. I literally had to sit here and count the years on my fingers, feeling like I was over-counting but no; it’s been that long. Smoak went from the reason we traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers (aside from the fact that our season was down the drain before the All Star break was even being mentioned in 2010) to a great Tacoma Rainier and bad Mariner, to a great Tacoma Rainier and  so-so Mariner, and then…a Blue Jay. I would find it funny if Smoak did what a lot of fans think he will do, and became an amazing ball player while in Toronto, but I have the feeling we’ll be seeing him here in Tacoma again as a Las Vegas 51 more often than in Seattle as a Blue Jay.

And because apparently our work servers are powered by hamsters in  a wheel somewhere and I am nearly out of time on my lunch break, I need to cut things short, but I will say that while I was glad the Giants managed to eek one out over the Royals this year with a very close and exciting game 7, I am really glad that playoff baseball is over so  I can get back to Mariners news, and planning next summer’s baseball trip, which will be a short flight to Denver and Coors Field to see some sweet Rockies action. Have to plan a smaller trip this year so I can afford season tickets again. I really missed having them last year.


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Well, Now What?

I have been battling a cold, a deadline, and extra time at work over the past two weeks. I was not terribly pleased with the outcome of the ALCS playoffs – as you can perhaps imagine – nor was I too interested in the World Series itself, as I have no horse in either the Giants or the Royals. I know a lot of Mariners fans were on the Royals side. There were even a few articles written in the local press about how Mariners fans should be “jealous” of the Royals, or that somehow the Royals have something in common with the Mariners, so Mariners fans should be happy about their ascent to the World Series – I must have read that particular article at least twice, trying to figure out the connection. Didn’t make it. But that’s not where I’m going with this…

I started out the year, technically speaking, at Camden Yards. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life as a baseball fan. Getting to see your second team in their natural environment is one thing; but when you’re afraid of flying, and then slip a disc two weeks before you have to leave, and aren’t sure if you’re even going to be able to walk to do the things you want to do on your vacation is completely another. But I was OK, and I was walking without the cane by the time I got to OPACY, and the first night I spent there, with the good tickets over the visitor’s dugout was one of the most fun days for me this year.

Then the Mariners season happened after I got back home, and things got even better! From a good start to sort of a scrappy middle and then a boost of energy after the All Star break, and then a run at a tie-breaker for the Wild Card, the Mariners made this year so much fun! We even made the Angels walk the plank in the last series, dominating them in an attempt to make that run, but it was not to be, because the Rangers were just terrible this year and couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain against Oakland.

But then? The Orioles were still going strong. They beat the Jays to clinch their playoff spot and win the AL East – a game that I watched from a pub by my house, nearly on the edge of my chair the entire time. And then they didn’t stop, plowing through the Detroit Tigers to face the Royals…where they played terribly and got swept for four games. The Royals were even cocky about it, former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie even wearing a shirt at a post-game presser that said “These O’s ain’t Royal”. Another player poked fun at Baltimore in another interview. And that pretty much sealed it for me. Maybe if the Royals had shown a bit of humility over their win, I would have been on their side. If they acted as if they’d been there before, and not been sore winners, I could have dealt with it and might have watched this World Series with less contempt. But they didn’t, and frankly I’m not really into them as a team to begin with – Jason Vargas or no Jason Vargas – so there you go.

And baseball is weird that way. It makes you think things and feel things that you wouldn’t think you would or could about the game. And while we’re on feelings, I need to talk about mine for Baltimore. You see, this is the first time in the short history of me being a baseball fan that I have ever gotten to feel these feelings about the game. I have followed the Orioles since 2008 because of Adam Jones. Getting to watch a team and players I am familiar with over the years get to that position in the season that the O’s just had was amazing. It was overwhelming to be able to watch these games with the kind of hope one has that one’s team might actually make it to the  World Series, for real, because they are playing so well. And I can’t act like I’ve been there before, because I haven’t. It was, dare I pull a cliche’, sort of magical. After having this experience, I think that if the Mariners were in the thing up until the end, I might actually lose my mind. I want that experience, but I’m not sure if I could handle it. It is too awesome and too horrific to think of the stakes being that high. But I feel like it’s not that far off, so I’ll get my prescription heart medication and wait…

I do love baseball.

So I woke up this morning and, after realizing that I was too sick to be around other people and called in sick to work, saw this Tweet from Craig Calcaterra, who has been following the series  while writing about it for Hardball Talk. And I realized that it’s over. Baseball is over this year. I am stuck in the momentum though; surely there must be another game coming? Today is just a Thursday break and then tomorrow we start another series, right? RIGHT?!?

No, we do not. What a terrible way to end such a great season.


Monday Baseball Odds And Ends

Baseball in 2014 was over for me when the Orioles got booted unceremoniously from the playoffs in a four-game sweep by the Kansas City Royals, a team I can neither really bring myself to care about or dislike; but now I can’t bring myself to like them, either, Jason Vargas or not, because they have robbed me of enjoying the World Series. So now they will fall solidly under the mantle of teams that I still don’t feel I should be paying much attention to, but regard with a higher degree of distaste than I had at this time last year. I knew the Mariners were never going to make it, but the Orioles had a chance. All I can do now is be thankful to all the teams I follow in the AL this year (Tigers included) for a really good baseball season. From Opening Day here in Seattle, to finally getting to travel east to see the Phillies and O’s in their natural habitat, to the gonna-have-a-heart-attack end of the Mariners’ summer, and then the playoffs with the Orioles facing the Tigers (who I had fully planned to support, had the outcome of that series been different), baseball has been very good to me.

There was a tiny dust-up on Twitter a little over a week ago regarding this Ryan Divish article on Michael Saunders and an issue I hope begins and ends with the article itself. Surely, I don’t have access to anything behind the scenes, and I don’t have any idea what Saunders does to prepare himself for a game. But I do know that none of this is any of my business, unless Saunders has other issues that make him a clubhouse poison, and so far I haven’t seen any evidence of that, and I don’t think anyone else has, either. Physical conditioning and training should be a matter between the player, coaches, and the team. It is not something that needs to be brought out into the public eye (one could make the argument for reports on injury rehabilitation, of course, but this was handled badly). The organization may be alright with throwing Saunders under the bus within earshot of the public, but this is just as damning to the organization itself; isn’t part of a ball club’s job and the work of its employees to keep the players fit and well so they can play? Saunders spending more time in the weight room is mentioned as a possible reason for him being so injury-prone during the season. So…make him go in the weight room; don’t tell the press he’s not doing it, do your job and have your professional property do his job to prepare himself for the games you’re paying him to play. I really don’t like when things like this come out. It makes the club look like it doesn’t have itself together, and it takes the sheen off what was otherwise a fantastic string of 162 games. I don’t think that public shaming is really the way to handle a lack of activity in the weight room (if that is indeed what they believe the problem to be). Take care of this in-house.

On to happier news…the Mariners came out over .500 this year, and I am making good on my promise to get a Mariners-related tattoo. They have to win bigger to get an actual team logo (I need a good reason to become a billboard, thank you very much), so I have designed something that goes with my general aesthetic, and my appointment to have it done is on November 7th. Pictures will of course be posted when it is finished, though I have posted the draft of the design on Twitter (not enough time during lunch to look it up today, sadly). So in a few weeks, the deed will be done!

So the World Series start tomorrow at Kauffman Stadium, with the Giants paying the Royals a visit for the first two games (go, Giants, go!), and I start to pick up the pieces of the year and wonder what the 2015 tour has in store for us. Not a lot of Mariners news has been coming into my inbox from The Times, and I haven’t had enough time in my day to check all the blogs to see if there is much going on that hasn’t been pushed through the news filter, so I may be woefully behind on what counts as news for the Ms these days, outside of Taijuan Walker’s starts in the Arizona Fall League, before he went home just the other day. Two starts sees him very agreeable, and apparently that was all the organization wanted from him before giving him a well-deserved  break. I really hope that he is not – as has been tossed around on local radio – going to be a trade chip. I feel like we have a prize here, and we need to hold onto it; but I also know that we still need to bolster our offense, still, and Jack Z and company might run into a deal they can’t refuse. I just hope it’s better than the plan they envisioned with Kendrys Morales. Please, let’s not take that train again. We are getting better, though. It feels like there is finally a little bit of hope for the Seattle Mariners.



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Some Research on Traveling Baseball Teams

It’s well documented that the Mariners travel more than any other big-league team. We hear about this often in discussions in the offseason when looking at free agents and how Seattle has to overpay for players, and we’ve heard this in the discussion about the September swoon on the M’s final road trip. I had to wonder, though, if it could be proven that the long road trip actually was the culprit.

The question then is, well, how do you measure the influence of travel on a team?

At first, I took a look at the Mariners record for the first game after traveling between cities. This would mean the first game of any road series and the first game of any homestand. I found the M’s were 23-16 in these games (including 2-1 on the final road trip). Travel, in and of itself, didn’t seem to mean much – the M’s also outscored their opponents 174-139 in this subset of games.

So I tried taking a bit of a Mythbusters approach. Under what circumstances would travel actually be hard for a team?

I searched through the Mariners calendar and found a handful of cross-country trips. Surely, if there were going to be complications with travel, they’d occur on the first game after traveling more than 2,000 miles. The Mariners were 4-3 when traveling 2,000 miles to meet their opponents. Huh.

Okay, so how else can we stack the deck? I took my list of games again and determined whether or not the team had an off day prior to the trip or not. The Mariners were 3-0 in games after an off day when they traveled 2,000 miles or more to get there. Looks like we’ve got something (of course, this means they were 1-3 without the off day).

It took me a while, but I started indexing the number of miles between teams, taking care to log the Angels as “Anaheim” rather than “Los Angeles” and the Rays as “St. Petersburg” instead of “Tampa Bay,” though I also set the San Francisco and Oakland distances to be the same on the assumption that teams fly into SFO to play Oakland. Both Chicago teams were assumed the same mileage as well as the New York teams.

All in all, I found 78 total games where one team flew basically cross-country to meet the other. A few of these were games where both teams actually traveled 2,000 miles (San Francisco at the Dodgers on May 8, Detroit at Oakland on May 26, Toronto at Oakland on July 3, Dodgers at San Francisco at July 25, Angels at Baltimore on July 29, and the Mets at Oakland on August 19). Sixteen of the games were in the middle of road trips (teams in those games were 8-8). I indexed them for days off or no day off, and here’s what I got:

Without a day off, teams went 16-23, scoring 126 runs and allowing 153. Nine of the games were decided by one run, and the team that had traveled went 4-5.

With a day off, teams went 23-16, scoring 184 runs and allowing 154. Twelve of the games were decided by one run, and the team that had traveled went 6-6. Funny that it’s the reverse of the other, and it’s the exact same number of games, and it doesn’t look to be influenced heavily by luck.

Six teams faced long-haul travelers five times or more. Oakland went 9-0 in these contests, and the Mariners went 4-2. Atlanta and the Yankees each went 2-3.

But what does it mean? I’m not entirely sure. It does seem like having a day off to travel seems to help, but we’re still not talking about a very large sample size. Certainly nothing large enough to draw meaningful conclusions, but maybe it’s something to keep an eye on.

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Mariners Thank Fans With Fun Video

I haven’t had very much time lately to sit and write, which is a shame because the Orioles are thick in the ALDS right now and doing very well. But I wanted to share this video with  lot of moments from this year that I remember, and a lot I never saw due to not being able to watch various games during the year:

I may need some time to properly collect myself and my thoughts on the 2014 Mariners season, and I have a lot of photos and video to share from the last series. Sadly, I was leaving the stadium while Tom Wilhelmsen was going about his final dance of the year to “Turn Down For What“, but a simple Google search brings this hilarity up, where pitching coach Rick Waits not only joins him on the field during batting practice, but may have out danced him. It’s the throw of the glove and stripping off of the jacket that makes it:

I am sad that I was never at a game where Wilhelmsen did this (or at least not there when he did it). It seems as if it might have happened during season ticket holder early entry days, which I was unable to participate in this year, but I plan to fix that next year.

I watched a bit of the Tigers and Orioles at OPACY on Thursday, got home just in time to catch it from about the 4th inning, but was unable to watch yesterday. I downloaded MLB’s At Bat app to keep track of it and was certainly notified of their win (was faxing documents at the time, and actually did a bit of a dance in the office when it happened), but it wasn’t until later last night (a clip) and then again this morning (rerun of the game on MLBN) that I was actually able to witness the big move in the 8th inning that pushed the Orioles into victory against a very tired-looking Joba Chamberlain:

Generally speaking, I have nothing against Joba Chamberlain. I might even like him as a concept; but I’ll be damned if he isn’t one of the most tragic figures in baseball to me, and always has been. From what I understand, he comes from a very turbulent family background, and has been able to make a great living playing the game, but whenever I think of him, the image of him being attacked by gnats while pitching for the Yankees against the Cleveland Indians in 2007, or his constantly sad face always spring forward and just make me feel sorry for him. I am sure I shouldn’t, but his current 108.00 ERA just makes me terrifically sad. I am not sure why Brad Ausmus insists on continuing to run him out there against the Orioles, but I fear for Chamberlain in Detroit if his manager continues this trend.


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Cautious Optimism With The Mariners Until The Bitter End

As of this writing, the Mariners are two games back from the Wild Card. Which WC? I don’t know. If you’re reading this, you probably know more than I do; if I were to follow every little thing at this point, I would be a wreck. Yesterday in Toronto they could have been mathematically eliminated. They won instead, sealing the door tight on what has been a terrible road trip that frankly, I didn’t have any words for. It’s hard to write about the team when Felix gets lit up as badly as he did the other day at Rogers Centre. What am I supposed to say about Felix walking a run in. Felix Hernandez walked in a run! *twitch* It hurts me to write that. Hurts worse to have to italicize it for emphasis. This whole trip has been a disaster. I know we are at the mercy of MLB scheduling, but they could take it into consideration how far away we are here from pretty much everywhere else that has a major league team. No, I’m not going to be one of the people who will blame scheduling on the Mariners elimination (pessimistic? I don’t think so); but when the cameras panned to Kyle Seager in the dugout during the game the other night as the Ms were losing by one run, the guy looked far older than his 26 years. It shouldn’t be that difficult to maybe not have them sent to another country 6 hours away at the very end of the season; but I know I’m barking into the wind. MLB, like the honey badger, does not care.

One of the things that has made it particularly difficult to really get into the tail end of this season (other than the yo-yo win/loss that we have been dragged through), is the basic fact that Seattle just never seemed to care whether or not it had a winning baseball team. I work downtown. I walk from work to go see ball games. I ride the bus, and I have been out and about in my own neighborhood. You don’t see people flying flags with Mariners logos on them. Nobody wears jerseys unless they’re physically within three blocks of the stadium and it’s game day. No Mariners car flags flying, no compasses created in office windows using Post-Its. No “Blue October” or “True to the Blue” signs anywhere. It is as if the Mariners don’t exist to the city at large. Even when they were really ramping their season up after the ASG, people still seemed fairly indifferent. All I have seen all season is Seahawks logos everywhere; even when football was far from starting again. And y’know, that’s great. I get it. They just won the Superbowl, it’s been a long hard road for them, etc. But based on what I’ve witnessed this year, I’m not sure the city of Seattle would really care much if the Mariners went to the playoffs, or won the World Series. And it bums me out. We as a fan base have to do better.

To that end, I’ll be at all three games of this last series. I am absolutely prepared to watch the Mariners mathematically eliminate themselves from playoff chances. In fact, I’m prepared to have it happen tonight, as Iwakuma takes on Jered Weaver. I don’t want it to happen, but I am prepared. I am also prepared to stand up on Sunday and cheer them, win or lose, because this team has given us one of the best seasons since I’ve been a fan. Baseball has been fun this year. It’s been meaningful, it’s been exciting, it’s been interesting, and it’s been enjoyable, dare I say! With my early work schedule, I have watched far more games than I did last year, because I really wanted to see what was going to happen, rather than resigning myself to movies or outdoor activities because I felt like I knew what the outcome of the game would be already. I have enjoyed seeing Kyle Seager come into his own, transforming from an uncertainty to a hitter that pitchers on other teams may be kind of afraid of. His defense has been Adrian Beltre-esque, and he has the upside of a bit of power in Safeco Field. He made the ASG this year, for the love! It’s been fun to see Logan Morrison go from a guy throwing his bat into the dugout wall that comically bounced back into his own face (a very Mariners event, if you think about it), to a guy who has flashed some awesome moves at first and also at the plate. I haven’t witnessed Robinson Cano “not hustle”, either at second or on the base paths, so maybe it was you, not him, New York. Our defense and pitching, once again, has been great this year. The offense has increased. I feel like all we need to do is make one or two more trades this winter or spring to put us up over the top of a ledge we can just about reach if we stretch real hard. We are closer to the post season than we have been in a while with this lineup, and I hope we can work something into the little booster seat we need to make it into the postseason in 2015.

I have to be honest, I’m a little glad it might be over this weekend. I wouldn’t have any issues with the maybe/maybe not of this last month, if the maybe part had been a little more wide open than it was. I would be more excited if we were a few more games up in the standings, hadn’t done so poorly this year against teams like Jose Altuve the Astros, and I thought even remotely that we could handle maybe having to face this year’s Baltimore Orioles team. I will gladly watch a playoff game, if that is what is to happen in the very near future, but with a 3-game series against the AL West champs, and one game away from mathematical elimination, I harbor doubts. I’m supportive, but cautious. That may always be the way things will have to be for me and the Mariners. I normally only go to the last game of the season every year as a tradition; but this year, I felt like I need to see the whole series. This team has meant that much to me. I’m totally poor now, but it’s so worth it to me to be there this weekend. I want to be trolled with wins, Mariners. Make it so!

See you at the ballpark!


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The Mariners Have Exceeded Expectations

I was not able to watch either of the last two games in Anaheim, and particularly glad about Wednesday night’s. Whatever the opposite of enjoying seeing the Angels clinch the AL West is, that is what my experience would have been. I didn’t get to watch last night’s game either, and I am glad we split the series, but winning 3-1 on a day Felix is pitching against a bunch of LA’s scrubs…eh, it feels kind of hollow. Particularly because we tossed all our regular guys out there.

But a win is a win, and the Mariners are still hovering at a game back out of the Wild Card. I think the invention of the second Wild Card is what is causing me to shy away from watching these late season PST games. Not only is it that I cannot stay up until the last out anyway, (and I hate starting to watch games I can’t finish), but the up-again, down-again thing is killing me. I am glad that MLB sites have added the WCGB stat to their standings lists, but it is hard for me to deal with the yo-yo of the winning and losing. The upcoming Houston series should be much easier for me to watch, at least, but I can’t keep up/remember who else won or lost on any given night, and even though I love this game and love this team, I am experiencing copious amounts of not wanting to look. I think if we were doing much better, this wouldn’t be an issue. But this teetering on the edge thing is making me crazy. Especially with only a handful of games left. It has been far less anxiety-inducing to simply make checking the box score in the mornings a priority, rather than the three hours it would take for me to have an ongoing heart attack.

That said, I am very much looking forward to next weekend, and spending the last three days of the regular season at Safeco. I am not completely sure how I will make it work financially, but I will give it my damnedest. I am still milling over whether or not I will get a season ticket package for 2015 right now; it would grant me access to playoff tickets, but it’s also a lot of money I just don’t really have laying around at the moment. I don’t feel like I can give up the yearly tradition of attending the games at the very end of the season, especially not this year. I know that it is probably terribly boring for the five of you to read about my finances (or lack thereof), but this is important to me every season since I have been a fan. I don’t make a lot of money, and even the LF bleachers are rising in cost. I will take CF if I have to, but there are people on StubHub charging more than $30 for those seats as well. Basically, I’m going to have to spend a ton of money before I get priced out of the games. This is an expensive hobby; even just doing the home stand Fridays thing has been eating my wallet alive.

If you would have told me back in April that this would be going on, I’d have told you to stop huffing paint. Certainly, there have been some fairly bleak moments in this season, and we still need to work on building a far more consistent offense (I will probably harp on this until it happens) and we need to be getting our star pitcher runs effective immediately (I die a little inside every time Felix is left with a loss or a no-decision), but there has been a good vibe about this team this year, for sure. I have really enjoyed watching Mike Zunino become Mike Zunino. The guy’s average is terrible, but his defense is wonderful, his game calling is great, and his HR record this year has been a thing of glory. Y’know, for a catcher. I don’t worry when I see his name on the roster for the day. Kyle Seager has been a stellar surprise. I finally feel like we have another Adrian Beltre on the corner. And no, of course there can never be another Adrian Beltre, but what Seager may lack in defense (though I haven’t seen too much lacking this year), he certainly makes up for in offense. Beltre may be more suited for Arlington, but Seager is definitely home right here in Safeco.

I can’t go into many more, though I would certainly like to give others as much praise. Logan Morrison started out rough and became much better, filling a rather questionable gap at first, Brad Miller has been serviceable at SS, and I still am 100% comfortable with anyone Lloyd McClendon has tossed into the outfield this year. We need better offense, certainly, and we are getting there, but this year has been a great surprise, and it’s been a fun ride. Part of me (the anxious, wound-up part) wishes that the season was over next Sunday. The other part, like a gremlin, wants to see what kind of a wrench we can throw into the works into the post-season. I harbor no illusions that the 2014 Mariners are going to face whole series of really huge games after the last out is recorded next Sunday…but we could make it difficult for some other teams to go where they want to go. That’s baseball.

Bring it on, Houston.


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