I’ve been trying to get some more around-the-blogs reading done, and the other day, Jeff Sullivan made this post asking readers to take a look at how they feel about recent losses. I’d like to extend the topic to how maybe we feel about the team as a whole, as it’s something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that over the past few days, especially after the recent losses. My findings in this brief amount of soul searching? I’ve come to the conclusion that I care more and more every day about the outcome of this season for this team. I have only been here for three seasons and change, and my favorite team so far was the 2009 roster; a team that had a bunch of players I really didn’t and still don’t like. I may have said it before, but this team is different; I like these guys, and I like them a lot. Yes, even Chone Figgins with his multiple foibles and whatever other kind word you might want to use for terrible, terrible baseball play.
The funny thing is, I don’t care about the outcome for myself. I’m a Mariners fan, everyone knows it, and I’ve taken my fair share (and then some) of friendly and not-so-friendly knocks for my allegiance from both friends and total strangers. I’m not going anywhere, and the negative outcome of one series – after two 101-loss seasons – certainly isn’t going to affect my ability or desire to follow this team. Not even if none of us really saw it coming. The 2009 Mariners were fun, but they were fun because of the return of Griffey, and the relationship between Griff and Ichiro. They were fun because of Mike Sweeney, and they were fun because we finally wiped our hands of Yuniesky Betancourt, and were pretty sure that Carlos Silva would not be around for much longer, either. The bullpen was fun back then – not that they’re not fun now, but sans Mark Lowe, it’s just not the same. There was a comraderie and a weird sort of chemistry there, and it was fun, but you were never quite sure if they really wanted a win, or if they were just having a lot of fun in their season. And we never did outpace the Angels.
This year, though, it feels like a group of guys that not only isn’t torn asunder by clubhouse drama and enjoys playing the game, but – shock and awe – really wants to WIN. I guess I hadn’t truly realized it until the other night, after David Pauley gave up that home run to Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos. The cameras – perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose, but for no discernible reason at the time – panned during the post-game show to reveal the visitor’s dugout empty except for two figures – pitching coach Carl Willis and a very visibly distraught David Pauley, who appeared as if he was not sure he should join the rest of his team in the locker room. Willis hovered to the side of Pauley, with an arm around his shoulder, consoling him almost like a father might. I don’t know how long Pauley might have stayed out there avoiding his team, or how he might have slept that night, but one thing I do know for sure; David Pauley gave up a winning home run to an opposing team that the Mariners led in both runs and hits that night, and he was painfully, sadly aware of what he had done and extremely upset about it. Like grown-man-crying upset. And that made me realize that the 2011 Mariners are different than those other teams before them. And I like it.
I still harbor no massive expectations; because of my pessimistic nature, I always expect the worst so I can be happy when it doesn’t happen. I’m not big on let-downs – I know myself enough by now to know that my sports fan psyche is very fragile, so I need to be prepared for the worst. This sweep at the hands of DC really did hurt, but it hurt because of the way I express my fandom, which is to say that it hurt because I know that the guys on the team were hurt by it personally and professionally. What I might lack in dogged team pride, I overcompensate for in empathy. These last three losses stung like a paper cut, and while I obviously can never know the feeling of a hard-fought loss, I can certainly imagine it.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that my fandom is still solid. I might not be able to write as much as I used to, and I may gloss over the occasional score or player name, but I am happy with the 2011 Mariners. And that’s worth the price of admission.
Last night’s Felix win was also worth the price of admission, which was a few rounds at Beveridge Place Pub. I took a few notes, but settled into beer, pizza, conversation, and the game, and gradually left them aside. It doesn’t matter, though – 99% of all games started by Felix Hernandez are awesome, and don’t require me to tell anyone. Seeing Felix hit was fun, and we get to do it all over again tonight with Jason Vargas, who we already know can hit a baseball. Maybe if his hitters fail, Vargas can secure himself a win. Let’s do it.