Mariners Commercials Are Here!

Watching James Paxton throw at the San Francisco Giants, with the smallest chants of “Eh! Eh! Eh!” coming through on the TV broadcast. Ichiro has left the game already with some sort of (hopefully minor) injury that must have happened during a commercial break because I was sat right here and didn’t see anything happen to him; the Mariners were up in the bottom of the first inning, and Ichiro was shown in a review clip being taken off the field sitting upright in the front seat of a cart. Hoping it’s nothing big, and wishing him a speedy recovery. Hopefully some stretching and his wife’s curry will heal him right up.

Every year we wait for the Mariners commercials. They mark another step towards the beginning of the regular season, and every year, they are subject to varying levels of scrutiny by the fan base. Every year, too, my hope is that they can air all 4-6 of them all season, since stopping the airing of one means the player featured therein has been injured, was traded, or was sent down to Tacoma. My favorite of the past few years is probably still the K-Swag commercial, specifically for the crazy expressions on the marketers’ faces when they were trying to introduce Kyle Seager to their particular brand of…branding. This year, there was not a single one that didn’t make me smile.

This year starts off with Work Related Injury. A Kansas City pitcher talks to his doctor about the dangers of having to face Nelson Cruz and his dingers. I like this one for its simplicity, and Nellie’s little grin at the end.

Second – and my personal favorite – is The Art of the Frame, featuring one of the most fun  pitcher/catcher combos to watch, Felix and Mike Zunino. Players gather to reflect on the art of Zunino’s pitch framing, and Felix’s ability to paint the zone. Winning line goes to Mitch Hanniger for “As a hitter, I find that offensive” – a sentiment that evokes everything from social media opinions to actual art critiques. Brilliantly played. Felix will just paint more.

Next up, starter and Maple Grove favorite James Paxton finally gets his own commercial with Big Maple. Now, I don’t know who in that production team knows what about how the Maple Grove started, but I personally would like to think that the crack about the Blue Jays is a small tribute to our little cheering section, since the first Maple Grove did indeed happen the day in 2017 Paxton started against Toronto. And some of us wouldn’t mind too badly if the little eggs were full of Orioles.

Fourth up is Mound Visit, where members of the Texas Rangers are heartily assured by Robinson Cano that there is very little they can do to stop his bat from meeting the ball. Not so much funny as a very confident look at one of our best hitters.

And finally, the one that seems to be getting most of the attention, Flip. Try as he might, Kyle Seager just can’t work a mane like Ben Gamel can. If Seager has to deal with a neck injury this year, we’ll all know why.

And of course, it’s not a complete commercial collection without a two minute long behind-the-scenes/blooper reel. Baseball players are not actors, but it’s always clearly in good fun, and as always, the marketing team has done right by both the team and the fans here. Well done, ladies and gentlemen, well done.

As I am wrapping this up, Pax has been replaced by Christian Bergman, and the broadcasters are mentioning another injury, this time to Jean Segura for hamstring tightness. Small hurdles, and hopefully easily overcome with time over the next few weeks. Felix is rumored to be in line for the rotation for Opening Day, but there has to be “no hiccup” in his recovery per Aaron Goldsmith just now on TV. Either Felix or Pax I would be totally content with starting that day. Hell, who am I kidding; I’ll just be happy to be in a baseball park surrounded by some of the best fans and friends I could have hoped to make when I first started watching the game. Three more Thursdays, friends, it’s nearly time!

 

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Ichiro, 4Mom, And The Maple Grove’s Reappearance

I think it’s just time to admit to myself that my writing here is never going to be as prolific as it once was. The job I moved to back in November demands a lot of me, and when I’m not there, I’m trying to unwind and not think or do much; but I still want to maintain this site, so writing may be sporadic, but it’ll still be here. I think, too, not being able to go to FanFest this year took some of the wind out of my sails, but tonight marks the first time this month I’ve been able to sit down and watch anything to do with Spring Training, so what better time than now to sit here on the couch and spout my Big Dumb Opinions?

First up: Ichiro’s return. I cried at my desk during the bits of a press conference MLB.com would allow me to watch on my phone. I hoped it would happen in 2012 when he left mid-season, but years with the Yankees and Marlins and then getting bits and pieces of information about his declining hit numbers, I just figured at the least they might do a one-day signing ceremonial thing or we’d see him again when they finally retire number 51. I was in shock all day Tuesday when I first got the news. It was comforting, to see him again, and emotional to see him with Jerry Dipoto during the presser yesterday, hoisting his jersey. Like when you haven’t seen a friend in years and you see each other and immediately start cracking jokes and picking up the conversation as if you were never apart. I know that time marches over us all, and he won’t be the same Ichiro he was when he was here for so long, but it doesn’t matter to me. Ichiro is basically my Ken Griffey Jr, my Edgar Martinez; when he retires I plan to start saving up for a trip to Cooperstown, and I plan to get the best travel package available. I also plan to wear some big sunglasses because I will be crying during his induction speech. I am also aware that there is a very bold division between those of us who love this situation and those that really don’t. It’s everyone’s prerogative to love or hate any given move their team makes, and I harbor no ill will against anyone who is not on board with this; but I am very on board. You could do much worse with a replacement for Ben Gamel. And the home opener is going to be absolutely electric.

Dee Gordon is rumored to have made the switch from infielder to outfielder like a knife through hot butter. I know Gordon was sort of lukewarm with being sent here and being converted from his original position at short or second, but I’m hoping that the addition of Ichiro will lighen his mood about being sent to our isolated little corner here in Seattle, and it sounds like he will make a speedy addition to our baserunning crew as well as having a good throwing arm. My main disappointment with not having FanFest was that I was hoping they’d get Gordon to show up and take some questions at Dugout Dialogue; but I’ll have to wait for post-game interviews, and by that time I will likely have a feel for who he is as a player anyway. All I can say is that I’m looking forward to it.

For those who might not know, Braden Bishop, our minor leaguer CF, has started a sort of fire among some Mariners fans and minor league players from other teams. Bishop’s mother apparently is battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease, so he started a charity  called 4Mom. Players are choosing a dollar amount they will donate to the charity per hit or per strikeout. A small group of fans has started a player adoption for Spring Training (and perhaps beyond) and plan to also donate accordingly. I grabbed up Mike Zunino, and am good for a dollar a hit. So far I understand I owe at least a buck for a home run last week, but Lookout Landing’s Kate Preusser is keeping a spreadsheet, and I know that at least a bunch of people from the Maple Grove will be donating, and have claimed other plaeyrs. I may keep it up through the season. I don’t see any reason not to, and I am hoping for good things for Zunino this year.

Speaking of the Maple Grove…yes, we will be back this year. Due to Felix’s arm injury from that line drive last week, we are anticipating that James Paxton will probably get Opening Day duties, and we do plan to be there out in left field. Hillary is already designing Eh cards, Daniel is already working on signs (and signs for the Jays series, as well, of course), and we have a block of tickets somewhere – I am unsure where, but it will probably be announced a few days prior to the home opener, and there will be quite a few surprised people who are already sat in that section who will find themselves part of the Grove. It may be sufficient to say that I am really looking forward to the start of the season. It is about time for baseball to be back.

 

 

 

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Monday? Mariners!

Happy 2018 to everyone who is still with me – all five of you.

I wanted to write about the winter meetings, but sadly they had all the excitement of a wet firework, so I opted instead to concentrate on my holiday month, and eating and drinking as much as humanly possible while hoping that some of the rumors connected to the Mariners might come to fruition. Spoiler alert; they did not. The one move that Jerry Dipoto did make over the last month involved Dee Gordon for some prospects and cash with the Marlins. Gordon has been connected with PEDs as recently as last year which is disappointing, but I have learned to temper my disappointment on this topic (though I still maintain that there is a HUGE difference between steroids and amphetamines because I’m familiar with pharmacy, but I digress). There isn’t much I can do about it, and I assume that the front office will provide Gordon with some information about the Mariners clubhouse culture that they have worked so hard to cultivate over the last few years since Jack Zduriencik’s departure. I don’t know much about what happns behind clubhouse doors outside of the glimpses we are allowed into spring training bonding events, Rookie Day, and the like, but I would assume that players are encouraged to not use steroids, or at the very least, not to get caught with them. The last thing we need is a player suspension, given last year’s injury-fest, so maybe we can steer clear of PEDs for a bit

I vaguely remember reading something indicating that Gordon wasn’t super happy about the trade, and I get that; we don’t have an Ichiro or a Giancarlo Stanton or a Christian Yelich. I understand that generally speaking, the Mariners are not a destination team. To top it off, it looks like we’re going to possibly platoon (someone let me know if I’m off here) him in the outfield, rather than maintain his second base or even short stop position. I would imagine that is a bit difficult to get used to, being switched around without having much of a say in the matter. But Robinson Cano is still an everyday player at second, and we are still getting plenty of work out of Jean Segura at short. I do hope that if the case is truly that Gordon has any negative feelings towards this development, we as fans can change his mind this year. I am looking forward to seeing what he can do. Per his numbers, we’re not getting a power guy, but a guy who does do some hitting and some base stealing. I’m OK with that. I have in recent years become a huge fan of smaller more strategic ball playing. The occasional home run is never frowned upon, but getting to an opposing pitcher can be such a treat, and it’s a treat we don’t seem to see very often. I’m ready.

The Mariners Caravan has started! Usually the harbinger of Fan Fest every year, the group kicked off today out in Yakima at the SunDome. I have never been able to attend a single Caravan. Even if I got an hour for lunch, I would really be pushing it to get to Bellevue and back before I had to get to work again. I gave some serious thought once to trying to get to University Village to see RA Dickey years back, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Seattle traffic is a cruel mistress that only gets more cruel as time goes on. As for FanFest, woof. The new grass they put in last year after the end of the season will not be grown well enough to have fans stepping all over it to play catch and bat tees and zip line. While I think most fans would be totally cool with having it at WAMU Theater or some other larger venue like a lot of other teams, I can also appreciate the fact that the Ms want to maintain that in-the-park atmosphere, and it just wouldn’t be the same indoors somewhere. I mean, I’d still take it, but half the fun of the thing is being in the park, and I like the dedication they have to maintaining that for everyone. The other bummer part was that I figured they’d invite Dee Gordon out to introduce him to everyone and answer questions; the fan questions most years are pretty generic, some are funny, but it’s the way I get a feel for the new guys, when we are lucky enough to have them come out. Next year, I may have to go to both days to make up for this loss.

Mariners Mondays are currently on, and the Mariners are lighting up the Houston Astros  during the 2017 home opener. I am huddled under a blanket and remembering how cold I was that day, sitting in left field; but I’d give a lot to go do that now, so while rerun sports is not something I’m a big fan of, I am welcoming the little bit of it I get to watch because this year it’s going to be a longer than usual wait to head back to my big, beautiful, black-domed metal summer home.

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“Buying Championships” Is Harder Than It Looks

For the purposes of this article, all WAR measurements are through Baseball Reference.

 

So the Dodgers are in the World Series, and to some degree they are wearing the Black Hat of the villain. Though they haven’t won the World Series since 1988, their payroll tops baseball, and those of us who have gone our whole lives hating the Yankees for buying championships may well have a distaste for the Dodgers for using the same playbook.

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Daniel Riffs on Expansion and Realignment

If you haven’t been following Twitter much today, you might’ve missed an article from Baseball America commenting on the possibility of Major League Baseball expansion, realignment, and schedule changes. Part of it includes speculation that Portland, Oregon would attract a team, which I’m skeptical of (and so is the principal author of this blog), but that’s kind of beside the point.

 

I have a bit of a wish list for any expansion of the league and the playoffs, and I’d like to share that with you now.

 

I’d like to see two leagues of 16 teams each, with each league split into two divisions of 8. The two division winners would be entered into the Division Series. In addition, four Wild Card teams would be included in the playoffs and they would play a one-and-done game to reach the Division Series, hosted by the two non-division-winning teams with the best records.

 

Perhaps the thought that makes this most attractive to me is that winning the division competing directly against seven other teams would be a significant achievement. Having direct competition with so many teams makes it similar to winning the pennant in the pre-expansion era. It would also bring it back in line with division champions from 1969 until 1994 when expansion and divisional realignment gave us three divisions instead of two.

 

Bringing the teams-per-division into alignment with historical norms would give us a better measurement of team dominance over time. Twenty-nine of the Yankees’ 40 pennants happened before divisional play; while this was certainly dominant, the league itself was only eight teams at the time. Being one-in-eight I think is worth celebrating, where being one-in-five doesn’t carry the same weight.

 

In the meantime, keeping wild cards in existence prevents the fate of the 103-win 1993 San Francisco Giants, who failed to make the playoffs because Atlanta collected 104 wins. It also maintains the ratio of playoff teams we’re used to seeing over the last decade of baseball. Lastly, it helps maintain the primacy of the MLB regular season. Over the past few seasons, I’ve mostly grown to like the Wild Card Game because of the benefit it gives to the division winner.

 

The downside I can see here is that having four Wild Card teams pushes ever closer to the NBA problem were sub-.500 teams can make the postseason (A 38-44 Brooklyn team was the last one to do so in the 2014-15 season). My counterargument in the near-term is that an expansion team in each league will probably soak up some extra losses for a few years and middling teams may pick up a game or two and avoid dropping below .500. Perhaps a Monte Carlo Simulation can tell us if this is actually more or less likely with more teams.

 

What seems clear is that MLB is excited to keep fans invested later and later into the season, and having these extra playoff spots may be a way to do that. All that’s well and good, but I’m not convinced that the extra spots have actually driven up attendance any appreciable amount. I’ll use some data: This season, the Mariners averaged almost 25,450 for their August 14-16 Baltimore series, which fell on a Monday through Wednesday after they has been swept by the Angels over Edgar weekend. At this point, the M’s were two back of the Angels for the second Wild Card spot. Look ahead a bit to their series against Oakland on the Friday-to-Sunday of Labor Day Weekend and they only averaged 22,724. Out of 15 home games in September, only four cracked 25,000, and two of those games were Fan Appreciation Night and King Felix Funko Pop Night. On the other hand, the M’s only cracked 25,000 once in the final month of 2015 on Fan Appreciation Night as well.

 

Anyhow, moving aside from the playoff eligibility talk, I want to keep the American League and National League designations for as long as I can, along with the DH in the AL only. One thing I love about baseball is that there is a rule distinction between the two leagues, and the organization of the teams is more than simply “legacy,” like it is in the NFL. From an outside perspective, the NFL’s AFC and NFC conferences seem arbitrary, though they have preserved rivalries like Dallas vs. New York and Green Bay vs. Chicago. I don’t want baseball’s American and National Leagues to suffer the same fate.

 

I’ll get off my soapbox in a second, but since I’m here, I’d also like to eliminate Interleague Play. Unfortunately, I have my doubts that would ever happen. It seems that there’s too much money in it and everyone has more or less gotten used to the idea at this point. That said, I think removing Interleague Play could create more excitement once again for the All-Star Game and World Series. Maybe it could wash.

 

As far as the actual cities go? I’m not sure I could care significantly less. It would be nice to have a nearby rival, or at least another team on the west coast so the Mariners don’t always have to travel so far, and I’d be a proponent of having a club back in Montreal, but I’d much rather have two divisions in each league instead.

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Angel Stadium: Unremarkable, But Odd

Angel Stadium of Anaheim marks the 16th MLB ballpark I’ve visited my slow march around the league, if you count the time I visited Cleveland when the Mariners series snowed out there in 2007. I feel like I don’t have much to say about the stadium itself; the physical location was kind of boring all things considered, but so very many things about the experience were just a little “off,” in my opinion, and in that sense it was jarring.

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I drove to Angel Stadium from San Diego for two Mariners-Angels games in the final series, and was struck by the expansive parking lot surrounding the stadium. Sure, Oakland has a big old parking lot, and Miller Park in Milwaukee is similar, but I’m just used to parks like Safeco Field or Coors Field where that just isn’t a possibility. Additionally, Oakland has the benefit of public transit, which doesn’t exist so much in Southern California. Luckily, parking was only $10, which was refreshing after frequently seeing prices in the 20s and 40s in Seattle, or even higher for bigger games.

The section numbers at Angel Stadium also struck me as unusual. Though they had the standard three tiers of seating, sections numbered up into the 500s because of how they organized the sections. Entering through the home plate gate put you into a lower concourse, blocked off from the field, where you could enter into a walkway in between the 100- and 200-numbered sections. Above the 200 sections was the concourse you’re more familiar with where you can see much of the action. Here’s the view from the “200-level”:

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Despite not being all that busy – I seriously doubt the Angels’ claims of 30,000+ in attendance for this series – the concession stands up on the 200-level concourse always seemed busy with relatively long lines, so I wound up walking the ballpark when I realized that I wasn’t hearing the radio play by play of the game anywhere. When I arrived in Center Field, I noticed that there weren’t any speakers for the PA system, so standing around and watching the game gave this sense of not actually being at the game, like it was a Wrigley Field Rooftop, except that I was clearly still in the ballpark.

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Speaking of the PA system, the home team was only ever referred to as the Angels. Not the “Los Angeles Angels,” and especially not the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” I even noticed that the out of town scoreboard referred to the Dodgers as simply “LA,” not even the “LAD” that you see everywhere else. For a team that was so adamant about being LA that it was willing to append “of Anaheim” to the end of their name, that struck me as super weird.

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The Angels have won the American League West nine times in their history, and their division championships are featured prominently upon entry into the stadium and on flags in the outfield. I didn’t think much of it until they showed a pregame montage, set to Train’s “Calling All Angels,” that reviewed team history and included the clinching moments from those nine seasons.

I was a little surprised that the montage of clinchers didn’t seem to mean anything to me, but then again, I’ve been noticing recently that we hardly ever talk about the 1997 Mariners club that won the division, hit more home runs than any team in history (264), and reached 90 wins for the first time. Instead, Mariners historical conversations are always about 1995 and 2001.

Both the ’95 and ’01 Mariners were historically remarkable, so that keeps the conversation going, but I’m not sure there has been anything remarkable about the Angels up until Mike Trout. They’ve had some good players over the years, especially their 1990s outfield of Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, and Garrett Anderson, but Chuck Finley is the Angels’ all-time #2 in Wins Above Replacement. To some degree, a team wins a title every year (except 1994), so the winning of a division or a World Series is not necessarily all that remarkable, but an unlikely comeback like 1995 or a record-breaking win total like 2001 really reach another level.

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The Oakland Coliseum: An Outdoor “Kingdome”

I just returned from my road trip to watch the Mariners over their final few games of the 2017 season, and I figure it’s the Section331.com tradition to post some pictures and talk a bit about the ballpark experience. Angel Stadium in Anaheim is new to me, and I’ll get into that one in a separate post, but let’s talk about Oakland.

Everybody loves to hate on the Oakland Coliseum, and the reasons for that are legitimate. Between the low attendance figures to the stories of sewage backing up and flooding team clubhouses, to the scene in Moneyball where Jermaine Dye is forced to stoop to the level of actually putting coins in the vending machine to make it work, to the simple fact that they share it with the NFL’s Raiders, it’s pretty clear we’re not talking about a fancy facility.

I’ve gone to Athletics/Mariners games there several times since Opening Day 2010 when I was excited to see Felix and Cliff Lee pitch (Lee would be suspended and injured for the opening series and wouldn’t put up stats until April 30), and since then I’ve considered the Oakland Coliseum to be an outdoor version of the old Kingdome. Both structures were built out of concrete, with fairly narrow and dark concourses, which just sets the tone for your experience. The Coliseum is almost impressive in its brutalism; when you walk across a skybridge from the nearby BART station, you arrive at two enormous concrete pillars out behind center field that just set the stage as if to tell you that you’re just not going to be comfortable.

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The center field monstrosity that is referred to as Mt. Davis was built in 1995 to attract the Raiders back to town after their tenancy in Los Angeles through the late 1980s, and it really is imposing. I’d say it’s the huge structure out in center field that makes the Coliseum actually feel like a coliseum and not just a “stadium,” “park,” or “field.” That it’s the only “coliseum” in baseball feels appropriate.

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Of course, the Raiders are now set to move to Las Vegas in the next few years, so it’s nice to see that investment paying off for the people of Oakland. Below, you’ll see a glimpse of the wider concourses that sit beneath Mt. Davis. Unfortunately, this area of the concourse is blocked off from viewing the playing field, unlike the area between the foul poles.

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For a comparison, here’s a view of the field from the concourse on the main level:

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The Coliseum has parking areas to the first and third base sides of the ballpark, where fans come out and tailgate before games. I visited some friends taking part in that several years ago, but there weren’t all that many people out there prior to games this late-September series. I wound up walking around the park instead and found their Championship Plaza area where they had food trucks set up for a game. This ticketed area outside the home plate entrance honors the Philadelphia Athletics and their championships alongside the Oakland squad’s successes in the 1970s and 1989. It struck me as odd that they would care to honor a team from another city, but as I counted up the flags I realized that the Athletics franchise actually has the third-most World Series championships behind the Yankees and Cardinals, with nine. Even their four titles in Oakland are more than any other American League franchise, save the aforementioned Yankees and their blood rivals in Boston (the four titles would make a third-place tie with Detroit).

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Recently, the Coliseum’s video boards have been updated to bring them up to modern standards. I found it interesting that their main scoreboards out in the left and right field corners that provided more stats on batters than I’m used to, even showing WAR and BABIP. The new scoreboards are used more than they used to with different inning-break entertainment. They added a video presentation “race” of their pitching Big Three of the early 2000s with Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito in a sprint through the history of the Athletics franchise, with guest appearances by a black-and-white Jimmie Foxx in Philadelphia, Reggie Jackson in Kansas City, and then Ricky Henderson, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire in Oakland. The presentation is voiced by MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian, which gives it a little bit more professionalism than you might expect from an inning break in Oakland. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard back in 2012, followed by an updated view:

Despite the updates, Oakland still isn’t a very popular place to go see a game, but I have to tell you that their fans are legitimately passionate. When James Paxton pitched on Tuesday, I was able to get a Maple Grove going near the M’s dugout, but met resistance from nearby A’s fans. Of course you’re familiar with the drummers and flag-wavers out beyond right field as well; I met some of them on Wednesday via Tom Bentley. Any time the A’s scored, they’d get up and sing a brief song about their love of Oakland. The energy brought by the fans is real, but the expansiveness of the park works against them. That said, you have to admire their willingness to go to a place commonly considered to be a dump and cheer on their team, even if it is just a dozen of them.

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