SECTION 331

Just a goth and her baseball team. And sometimes Daniel Carroll.


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Mariners Impressions Two Weeks In

It is now two weeks into the season, and the Mariners are at .385, after last night’s loss to Houston.

Sadly, with the exception of the three games I have actually been at, I have not seen a complete Mariners game since the season started. I have seen the beginnings of pretty much all of them, and the end of Sunday’s ridiculous walk-off win against the Rangers (had a late night Saturday, wound up falling asleep on the couch before I had the chance to even star that one), but while games are progressing a bit more quickly than before (I am assuming this is due to the new clocking system), 10PM is still a bit late for me to stay up on the daily. I keep trying. The away games will be easier to deal with.

I am not panicking – it’s far too early for that nonsense – and the home runs have been fun, but so far I have to say I am a little disappointed. The weird thing is, I have gone into every single one of these games expecting a win; but not because I’m being overzealous, and not in the way that I’ll be upset if they don’t win. But I have been approaching this season with a lot more joy than in the past few years. I still feel really good about things, becaues the flashes of amazing we have seen so far are really and truly amazing. We’ve had a lot to look forward to, even in the context of a loss. The home runs have been out of control for the Mariners so far this year, with Nelson Cruz having 8 already, and Kyle Seager and Dustin Ackley adding 2 and 3, respectively. Robinson Cano is doing his work as a 2B hitter, collecting 7 over the last 13 games. Seth Smith has been plate patience personified (he is my new favorite, I think), and is doing some excellent production with eyes and bat, but in all of this hitting (we have five guys so far who have hit double digits in hits), there is either too much of something or not quite enough, and I’m not quite sure what it might be. It seems as if there is some pressing going on, and they just need to settle down and play ball.

I feel like the team is being much more aggressive than it needs to be and not quite as smart as it should be. Pitching is a little sloppy, baserunning could use some work (I’m not going to really get into Cano’s gaffe over the weekend in LA. It was embarrassing and weird and I’m sure he feels bad enough without fans dragging him through the mud over it), and it still feels like we can’t really come through when it matters, and if a batter does manage to come up with an on-the-spot hit, it’s a too-little-too-late sort of thing. I’d like to think that a lot of this is just shaking off the rust from the offseason, and that as the end of April approaches and May and warmer weather rolls around, things will start to heat up and they’ll play like they do on paper.  I have 19-plus games to attend this year, and that alone makes me happy, but it feels like this month has gone past really quickly with very little to show for it. Especially when my Tigers are 11-2 already, and Baltimore is hovering in second place after the Red Sox. We can do better than this, and I feel that more than I have in a while.

Otherwise, I am really happy to have baseball back. I like that  I have games to look forward to just about every day again, even if I can’t stay awake for their duration. This upcoming Saturday is a season ticket holder early entry day, and I am very excited for it. I would love for it to be sunny and nice out, but if it’s chilly, so much the better for wearing my new Hisashi Iwakuma bear hat (if it fits, my head is massive).  I may even get into the spirit of things and see if  I can nab an autograph or two for my backpack. We’ll get there, and there is still a lot of baseball left to be played.


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Bring Back Hisashi’s Foot!

IMG_2913This is Hisashi Iwakuma. That thing in the air in front of him is Hisashi Iwakuma’s foot.

I have pictures and video from the game on Wednesday that I went to with Daniel, but our internet “service provider” (I’m not naming them, if you live in Seattle you know who I’m talking about) had other ideas about my computer access early this morning. Sadly, the video I took of the holographic Moose will have to wait, as will a few really good shots of Matt Shoemaker (I know, boo Angels, but I’m an equal photo opportunist, sort of).

Regardless of what photos I might be unable to post, the above photo is from one of last year’s games, when Iwakuma was a lot better than he was the other night. Saying Kuma had a bad start is putting it mildly, as he had pretty much lost the game by the end of the first inning. We were sitting in my old stomping grounds up in section 331, in the view box section in the fourth row, and by the end of the inning, I started really watching Kuma’s delivery. And it didn’t look like the picture above. In fact, if I could have posted this morning from my laptop where my photos are, I could have demonstrated how much differently he was pitching the other night.

Hisashi Iwakuma is one of those rare gifts I get, a pitcher whose movements are so predictable that I have been able to take the above shot many, many times. As I have mentioned previously, the highest shutter speed I am able to get on my camera is, sadly, not as fast as I’d like it to be, nor is it really adjustable (unless I’d like it to go much slower), so I have to learn how players move if I want to get action shots. Iwakuma is an easy one, because when he kicks his left leg, he holds it and points his foot as above, then brings it down to plant it in front of him for his delivery. But Wednesday, he wasn’t really doing that for the first two innings. In fact, if I had access to the photo I really wanted to post, you’d see that he was actually kicking out, instead of up, then down. There’s nothing wrong with this – a lot of pitchers kick out, it’s just how they throw – but it clearly doesn’t work for Iwakuma, and it really didn’t work Wednesday.

Yes, a lot of my knowledge of players comes from simple observation, and sometimes when you can’t watch all the time, consistent player mechanics are not that easy to trace. But Kuma seemed very rushed out there the other night. Daniel and I discussed it in length, as it was a very distressing thing not only for us but for the Ms fans around us, and thought perhaps the clock got into his head, or the staff had told him to do something differently, or maybe he just changed it because if someone like me can see how he times himself, an opposing hitter can certainly pick up on that. But I don’t know if it was any of those things, as it hasn’t been discussed anywhere that I have seen, and Iwakuma himself does not seem to have addressed it at all. All I know is, I want it back, and will be interested to see how he does further down the line this year.

Mariners at Oakland tonight after a very odd off-day (seriously? It’s a two hour flight!) and it will be Taijuan Walker against Drew Pomeranz. I am going out to dinner with a friend, but the place we’re going I think might have sports on TV; if they do, I will see about sticking around for a bit at least to see how Walker does vs. the A’s lineup. Meanwhile, I will hope that the next time Hishashi Iwakuma takes the hill, he settles down before giving our opponents four runs.


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Seattle Mariners Opening Day Pictures And Video

Since I was up so early yesterday morning, I didn’t get the chance to do any writing. I came home, had dinner, and sacked out for about 6 hours or so on the couch before getting up and going to bed. It turns out I will also be going to tomorrow night’s Hisashi Iwakuma start, so I won’t be able to finish tonight’s James Paxton game, but I plan to watch at least a few innings of it while I take care of this post. Getting old sucks, kids; don’t do it! Anyway, Daniel posted his impressions from yesterday’s game, so I’ve got the photos and video now.

I did my hour and a half of work yesterday morning, then headed down to the stadium, to go to Jimmy’s to get some breakfast and just hang out a bit before gates opened. I got there just in time, too, and had to be assertive to get a small, not-yet-cleared table in the bar, since the dining room was full. I waited for Tom there until he texted me to let me know that he drove and was not able to find parking. So rather than take up the table any longer, I headed over to the Pyramid beer garden, where I figured I’d at least be stationary for him to find while he figured out where to put the car. An hour and a half later than expected, we met up and headed to the park. There was, of course, a line…

IMG_3707We didn’t have to wait long though – maybe 10 minutes tops – and a quick ticket scan and bag check later, we had our yellow rally towels and our annual magnetic calendars, and were safely ensconced in Edgar’s .

IMG_3708I grabbed a beer and we hung out there for a few errant home run balls, and then decided to wander around The Pen. It was about as crowded there as it would be for, say, a Yankees or Red Sox game; that is to say, a little less than one might think for a sold out home opener. Not a complaint, it was actually kind of nice to be able to just move around.

IMG_6167Brad Adam and Bill Krueger getting ready for the pre-game show.

IMG_6169Fans filing into the center field gate.

We wandered up to the main concourse from this area and passed the Moose Den, which had a remarkably short line for photos. I was tempted, but decided against it at the last minute. Maybe another day.

Some tacos and a short walk later, and we were in our seats. I decided to splurge a bit and get lower deck seats this year, so we had a great view just behind third base in 144. As we got settled in, the opening ceremonies began.

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The LA Angels’ lineup was announced, amid a hail of disinterested applause (for the coaching and training staff) or boos (CJ Wilson, Albert Pujols), and then it was go time for the Mariners. Long-time season ticket holders lined the red carpet holding flags, as they do every year, and the lineup was announced with strobe lights, fireworks, and a roar from the crowd on hand.

IMG_6173IMG_6174Felix warmed up alongside, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.

IMG_6176JA Happ was released into the wild…

IMG_6178IMG_6180High fives for everyone!

IMG_6183IMG_6184The pomp of the National Anthem…

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A moment of silence was had for three lost over the year; scout Bill Kearns, Suzanne Stork, wife of owner Carl Stork, and of course Victor Sanchez. I attempted pictures, but the frame rate on the HD board is too high for my camera to catch, so they were terrible. Moment of silence observed.

A Make-A-Wish child named Jake, with a life-threatening form of epilepsy ran the bases, and Joey Cora threw the first pitch out to Justin Ruggiano.

IMG_6207IMG_6211And then it was go time.

The lineup was announced, and then Felix came out to the grass and everyone went nuts again.

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I love this new banner over left field. Since, due to cost, this area has been my stomping ground for years now, it’s about time they spruced it up a little.

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Starter for the Angels, Jered Weaver, doing his thing.

Some dancing groundskeepers. I don’t care what anyone says, I like this and always have. Enjoying the trappings of the game and enjoying the game do not have to be mutually exclusive, and I have never understood those people who feel that you can’t do both. I cannot remember the song they danced to, but pop music and I haven’t really been friends for a few decades now, so you’ll forgive me this time.

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Felix, Felixing…

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With Ichiro gone, Amy the Ichimeter Lady and family have found a good substitute for in-game activities over in right center.

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More Felix. This isn’t a great picture (I was spending too much time watching the game and chatting to take near as many photos as I probably should have), but I wanted to post it anyway.

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Felix worked seven innings and racked up 10 strikeouts. Danny Farquhar came in for the 8th inning.

IMG_6232Logan Morrison guards his bag against an Angels runner.

IMG_6233Farquhar gave up two singles, which was enough, in a 4-1 game, to make Lloyd McClendon nervous enough to switch to Charlie Furbush.

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And after Furbush took care of his one batter in Kole Calhoun, sidearmer Carson Smith was called in to get Mike Trout to strike out on a foul tip.

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And then of course the top of the 9th was left to Fernando Rodney. Forgive the camera work here; I was battling the weird afternoon light, my habit of taking video with the screen open, and the camera’s propensity to focus on whatever is closest to it. I was having a really hard time trying to take video and watch what was happening in real life. But you get the idea. Rodney comes in, everyone goes nuts.

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I hate posting a picture where a part of the player’s body is cut off, but this was the best one I got. I just don’t have Rodney’s timing well enough to get a really good shot of him, and sadly the shutter on my Canon – while faster than my previous Canon – is not quite as fast as I’d like for it to be. When I have an extra $800 or so laying around, I’ll upgrade my camera. For now, I have to rely on my trigger finger and sense of a player’s timing. I’ll get Rodney yet. I have all year to work on it, certainly.

And of course, we won and there were explosives, and Rodney and Logan Morrison both participated in the arrow ceremony, over at first base. WHERE DOES IT GO?! Somewhere, a Texas Rangers fan with a inflatable pool toy is crying. And very wet.

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As I hit publish on this, James Paxton is holding his own against CJ Wilson very nicely through three innings.  I will watch until I can’t anymore, and then tomorrow Daniel is kind enough to pay for a ticket and maybe a bit of dinner for the last game of the series. Baseball is BACK!

 

 


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In Which Daniel Steals the Keys to the Blog

A new season brings renewed energy, and so I bring you some impressions I got on Game 1 of 162.

I love the pageantry of Opening Day. It’s the one day a year where fans get to recognize head trainer Rick Griffin and the other guys who make up the clubhouse staff. We get some nice video features, some player awards, and other festivities. Then they bring out a kid from Make-A-Wish to run the bases and they play the clip of Dave Niehaus saying “Welcome back, baseball,” and honestly I get choked up a little bit just writing the sentence without hearing the sounds or seeing the sights.

If you ever want to look like you know baseball, bring a friend to an Opening Day Mariners game. Felix shows up to work, and you know there’s going to be a point where he’s going to get super-efficient – he threw an 11-pitch second inning, 10-pitch third and seventh innings, and 13-pitch fifth and sixth innings – while mixing in 10 K’s. You could set your watch to that guy.

The promise of the Mariners this year is that they’re going to have a good middle of the order with Cano, Cruz, and Seager. Well, they went a combined 1-for-12 today and the M’s still won 4-1. Color me hopeful about this one. At some point, those guys are going to have to carry the team, but the more wins this club can steal without getting much help from that group the more likely we’ll be seeing baseball in Seattle after October 4.

I’m also encouraged to see Lloyd McClendon swapping Seth Smith for Justin Ruggiano in the seventh. While a few people behind me at the game were puzzled – why would you pinch hit for the guy who has gone 3-for-3 with two doubles and a triple? – I think it speaks to the commitment the M’s will have this year to keeping the platoon advantage. Ruggiano got himself ahead 2-0 against Angels’ lefty reliever Cesar Ramos before the count evened on a foul and a swing and a miss, but Ruggiano took balls three and four to get aboard.

Dustin Ackley’s fifth-inning home run just kept rising. Off the bat it looked like a pop-up to me, and it took a couple seconds of hang-time before I realized it was long gone. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself as Ackley hit the first home run of the season in Japan a couple years back, but if Ackley can continue to be a decent bat, the lower half of the M’s batting order looks pretty strong. In fact, it reminds me of the recent Oakland model of building a good lineup where you have a lot of decent bats but perhaps few world-beaters.

Oakland had 12 batters at the end of the season with a wRC+ between 90 and 130 (If you’re not familiar, 100 is a roughly average offensive player, guys around 130 include Kyle Seager, Josh Donaldson, Matt Holliday, and Justin Upton). Granted, only nine of the 12 had more than 100 PA’s, but the Mariners only had six players in that zone last season, period. While Cano beat the mark, the M’s who fell in the range included Seager, Michael Saunders, Logan Morrison, Chris Taylor, Endy Chavez, Ackley, and Brad Miller. Only Miller, Ackley, Seager, and Cano had more than 400 PA’s.

It is kind of interesting how watching Jered Weaver changed over the course of the game, too. He had a 19-pitch first inning leaving a lot of pitches up and out of the zone and I had figured that the Angels would need a lot more than one run if they wanted to come away with a victory this afternoon, then he sat down the M’s half of the second on six pitches and looked like the second incarnation of Jamie Moyer. Perhaps that was more telling of the M’s 5-6-7 hitters today (who went a collective 1-for-11 with a single, a double play, and a robbed home run) than it was of Weaver, but if the season comes down to the Angels and Mariners, Weaver could own a darn relevant storyline.


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BASEBALL IS HERE!

I should probably be sleeping right now, but I woke up for no reason, then started thinking about the day, and now here we are. I have listened to Martin Garrix’s “Animals” twice now, because nothing says “go back to sleep, you moron” like house music. Since closers and their songs are inseparable, it got me thinking about this article and what we might be seeing as far as NFL-style fines for some players due to the time taken on, around, and getting to the mound.

I feel like I’m one of the only people left who has no interest in the game of baseball being sped up. For the small amount of time I have been a fan, it seems that the issue of time taken by players on the hill and in the batter’s box has never really been discussed as much as it has recently, particularly this year with the new pitching clock and batter’s box rules. I understand why the league might be interested in such a thing; I get that three plus hours might be too long for people to sit and watch a game (and I have the suspicion that some of this might have to do with advertising dollars). But the length of the game is to me part of its charm. Baseball is casual. It just continues on its own with intermittent bursts of happiness or sadness; y’know, sort of like life. We rush around every day: to work, from work, through work, appointments, catching the bus, being at dinner by a certain time…all of this is on a clock. I love baseball because it’s not really on a clock; the game starts at a reliable time, of course, but you can be there for it or join it in progress and when you’re watching, you just…watch. You lose yourself in it for however long it lasts, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s like floating down a river.

Today marks the beginning of that river; we are at the source of it, here in Seattle, about 7 hours give or take from this posting . I have to take care of some laundry, load up my media bag with camera and maybe laptop if I’m feeling brave (though I am guessing I may immediately change my mind, given the sell out nature of the crowd today), and get dressed for what might be chilly weather. I need to head to work for a few hours to take care of some things that are specific to my job there, but I plan on being out of the office by 9AM at the latest, and will then head to the stadium. I am probably a little bleary due to not sleeping through the night, but what I lack in rest, I shall make up for in pure, unbridled excitement. More sights and maybe sounds later today, but right now I have to dry my clothes and maybe see if I can rest a bit more over the next hour or so.

It’s been a long winter. Let’s do this. GO MARINERS!


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Improvements, Cuts, And The Death of Victor Sanchez

This is going to have to be short; I am low on time this lunch break, just wanted to address a few things.

Mike Zunino is officially now my breakout guy, as of yesterday, when he went 2 for 3, hitting a double and home run. Whatever he is doing is working, at least in Spring Training. Working with Robinson Cano seems to be paying off in doubles, at least. It will be interesting to see how he does against for-real, it-counts major league pitching, but his improvement since camp started is super encouraging, and I hope he can keep up his streak this year. Likewise, Taijuan Walker beat out Roenis Elias for that coveted spot in the rotation, throwing a nice one-run seven innings yesterday against the Angels. They aren’t saying anything official yet of course, but Elias got sent down the other day, so the choice seems pretty obvious to me. Walker has had to face a combination of both major and minor league hitting, and one run in seven innings is nothing to shake a stick at. Clearly, he is very serious about making it. Having Elias hang around is a positive as well, since JA Happ got kind of rocked last Tuesday. I understand that the Mariners wanted a veteran in the lineup, that’s fine, it’s their decision. But Happ is not proven here in Seattle, and I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t make me nervous. I always have a guy who is going to need to prove himself to me. Happ is this year’s guy. Fernando Rodney was last year’s. Rodney still scares the daylights out of me, but he does get the job done. I’d be OK with Happ doing the same thing, as long as he does, in fact, get the job done. I can live with a few scares. So it’s up to you now, JA.

More cuts happened the other day. I can’t say I’m surprised by any of them, but I’m kind of bummed out about Mark Lowe. It was unrealistic to think that he was going to make it, but now maybe I have more reason to take a few games in down south at Cheney. Also, feel free to laugh at the fact that I had completely forgotten about Joe Saunders. Poor Joe Saunders.

Lastly, the death of Victor Sanchez.  For anyone reading this not familiar with the game or team (my hairdresser follows football, and thought that one of our roster guys had died), Victor Sanchez was a 20-year-old pitcher from Venezuela. He was swimming when he was run over by a boat, which caused extensive head injuries and he had been in a medically-induced coma in an effort to help him overcome skull fractures and a cranial hematoma for about a month or so. There was not much news over that time, and I had hoped that no news meant good news, but it was not to be. Mr Sanchez died in hospital on February 28th. I found out from Twitter and remember making an audible gasp, when Tom asked me what was wrong. Such a freak accident, and he was so young. A few of my friends have seen him play in Everett, and met him, saying he was a good person. I heard via Twitter that fans have created a makeshift shrine near the gates of the Ms camp in Arizona. His jersey number 48 was hung in the dugout during the training game the other day. A loss to baseball. Rest in peace, Victor.


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Fifteen Days Til The Circus Comes Back to Town

This week has been busy. I have been getting up at 4 and finding myself asleep by 7.30 or 8 at night, which allows me just enough time to eat dinner and relax a bit, but not as much time as I would like to write (and forget trying to do it at work, I have been swamped). So I had missed being able to be timely on one of my favorite things the Mariners do! The commercials!

They were of course released earlier this week, and while there are only four this year as opposed to the usual five or six, on at least one, the Mariners just about outdid themselves. I haven’t loved one of their commercials as much as I love the new Fernando Rodney commercial since George Sherrill and JJ Putz debated baseball as a “thinking man’s game” back in 2007. In Where Does It Go, Rodney’s arrow puncturing a bouncy house at an Oakland A’s fan’s home even made Tom laugh genuinely, and where sports are concerned, that is pretty hard to do. Nelson Cruz’s assessment of Rodney’s arrow as “not real. It’s a air arrow!” as Logan Morrison refused to believe him cracked me up. I’m hoping we’ll see more of that A’s fan reaction from other teams this year than ever before.

Hawt Corner I found funny, but only for Kyle Seager’s reaction to Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen’s fanboying over the band. “Please don’t do that” sums it up. But Furbush and Wilhelmsen have more to offer in the 2+ minute long Hawt Corner video, and even more still in some of the outtakes. Bat Control pokes fun at selfie sticks and car flyers (that poor flyer guy caught a ball in the groin during the filming), and is also a good one, and Intensely Intense also made Tom laugh, when Felix was pictured “yelling” in pictures with children and puppies. And mimes. I believe that the Ms have been working with the same production company for years now, and they always make winners and losers, but I love the humor of Where Does It Go. I think it hit a chord with a lot of other fans too; it seems to be winning in the voting poll they set up at the site. Now, we just have to hope that the Ms do well enough that all four commercials play on ROOT during the games for the length of the season.

The team’s lineup is starting to shape up now, with more cuts having been made the other day. None of the cuts are surprising, though I am a little bummed that Jesus Montero couldn’t get things done at the plate the past few weeks. As Lloyd McClendon states in the linked article, it was always going to be hard to make this team for pretty much everyone not signed to an extended major league contract. And with Mike Zunino improving with the bat and Jesus Sucre being the seeming choice for backup, not to mention solid starters at first base, there just doesn’t seem to be much room for Montero here right now. You’ll have to forgive me, I am still seeing Montero as a catcher, though I know I shouldn’t. Hopefully he can get a lot of work in Tacoma and be a good fill in, should we have any injuries with Logan Morrison or any of the new guys Lloyd McClendon might want to platoon there. His newfound dedication is wonderful, and I hope it pays off for him.

Taijuan Walker seems to be a lock for the rotation now as things stand. As of the 19th, the battle between Walker and Roenis Elias is still going on, and will be until the very end of Spring Training, but Walker seems to be the guy we need. If that turns out to be true, Elias gives us a long reliever or a really great replacement for injured starters. Walker has been far more solid than Elias so far, which is a good sign for everyone involved. Either way, the team wins and Elias keeps a job here, so as a fan I have no complaints. It also feels like maybe the Tacoma Rainiers are going to be really really good this year, given the players we will have to shed off the 25-man. Both pitchers have options still, so regardless of what happens, neither of them will be going very far away from the team. The two of them will get about three more starts each this year before Opening Day on April 6th, so there is still time for the team to evaluate its needs, while making fans wonder what the heck is going on.

Mark Lowe is also fighting for a spot in the bullpen. I read a bit of an article on the bus the other morning about how Lowe, at now 31 years old, is clearly not the guy he used to be when he started in the Ms organization, becoming a member of the 2009 bullpen, and my favorite pitching staff ever. But the former gladiator-helmet-toting reliever had a lot of positive things to say about the players the team has ammassed this year. Lowe’s outlook (which is stated in an article I can’t link to here because the Times is doing that thing where they give you a prompt to pay for services, but I can see it on my phone) is great; he wants to play here for Seattle or Tacoma, and wants to play until he’s 40 if he can. He is aware that he is a long shot for the bullpen due to the younger, harder-throwing guys we already have and who have been here already working for it, but he isn’t defeated. He just wants to play. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t been a name on any list of cuts yet, so maybe there is a chance. I hope there is. He’s been sorely missed. I hope to see him at least a few times here in Seattle, if I can’t make it to Tacoma.

I am currently waiting to hear back from a friend on this evening’s activities, which will directly affect tomorrow’s activities, but if that falls through, I plan on attending the Lookout Landing viewing party down at Gastropod in SODO. It’s a potluck situation, and the owner, Cody Morris, will be making up some hot wings for the group. I am not quite sure what I will be making/bringing if I go, but if I don’t make it, everyone have fun. The Mariners just lost to the Chicago Cubs by two runs (was listening online), but tomorrow they go up against the Rangers. Game starts at 1pm.

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