Optimism? Optimism.

The remainder of the Mariners team arrives or has arrived in Arizona today, with full squad warm-ups and whatnot starting tomorrow. Pictures are coming from social media outlets everywhere, and given that I follow at least four teams on Instagram and several more additionally on Twitter, I’m getting bombarded by photos of sunny skies, warm desert/tropical sunsets, and plenty of baseball pitching, stretching, running, swinging, catching, and autographing for fans who are fortunate enough to be in those areas as the season shakes off the dust of winter. So far today on Twitter I’ve seen Ryan Divish posting slow motion video of Steve Cishek side-arming his way into sliders, and the Mariners account posting a still frame of a Taijuan Walker bullpen session, (and Gregg Greene posting more slow-mo of Walker pitching shortly thereafter), and if my job hadn’t suddenly decided that Twitter was an unacceptable page for us to be looking at, I’d post links.

Given this new firewall against social media at my job, I have instead opted to bookmark Shannon Drayer’s blog at work, which I probably should have done ages ago, but didn’t because it was the offseason, and Twitter was just easier to get news from. Now I have to work for my news, and that is fine. Shannon has an article up at MyNorthwest.com that was published a few days ago regarding the five things to watch for as Spring Training starts this year. They are: the bullpen, the vibe, emphasis on fundamentals, the fact that we have 6 starters with 5 spots to fill, and the progress of Ketel Marte. The two things I think I harbor the most interest in are the first two on Drayer’s list…

The bullpen is indeed a question mark going into this season. We’ve had a major shakeup, and almost everyone is new to Seattle, if not to each other or the major league game. As Drayer mentions, Vidal Nuno is being looked at as a reliever, which I feel is brilliant. I went to a few games that Nuno started last year, and while he was fun to watch when he was good, he never seemed to last long enough for me to consider him a real starter, so I think putting him in the pen is the best thing we can do, and will benefit both parties. The idea that we have closers to choose from in Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit makes me comfortable with the way things might shape up. Generally speaking, I like the idea of one, all-powerful closer, but the Mariners haven’t had the best luck with that recently, Fernando Rodney’s fantastic 2014 aside, so I have started to warm up to the concept that there may never be another Mariano Rivera, and even if there is, the likelihood that player shows up in Seattle is nil. Maybe I’m just looking for another JJ Putz, and I’m also willing to admit that I might just be romanticizing my formative baseball years because I’m sitting here looking at pictures of a warm desert outside, while there is a sunny but very cold Seattle outside, and can we please get things started more quickly? My fingers are cold, it’s time for summer!

As for the vibe in the clubhouse, I am optimistic. We have a pretty good mix of guys now; old faces that we already love and new faces that we are waiting to love (Adam Lind! Nori Aoki! Chris Iannetta!). I don’t remember if I mentioned it in my FanFest post, but there is something about Scott Servais that really reminds me of Don Wakamatsu. I don’t know if it’s his demeanor or his eyes or what, but I just got this sort of super-calm thing from him at FanFest that reminded me of Wak in a good way. Due to my short time as a fan, Wakamatsu is still my favorite manager with Lloyd McClendon coming in a close second. If Servais can bring a combination of Wak’s serenity and McClendon’s gruffness and straightforward, no-nonsense work ethic, I think we are in for a treat, and I feel like the roster will respect that. I might have him all wrong based on what is basically a small sample size, but that is what I’m hoping for. I didn’t think I would because I don’t usually, but I really like the fact that we have so many unknown and intangible factors going into this year. It feels like a true fresh start, and I remember how optimistic I was in 2008 (shhhh! It’s fun!). In past years, I would have described my outlook at the start of the season as cautious optimism. This year, I think I’m going to just go with simple optimism.

In the meantime, I was able to secure some really great tickets for my trip to Denver in May, and now the realization sets on me that I may have chosen a month where my games could get rained out, given that Coors Field does not have a roof. But I have three tickets in Section 331 in row 20, which is the purple or mile-high row. This has been a stadium bucket list item for me since I first saw it on a broadcast back in 2012, and Dave Sims mentioned it on air. I just figured that due to my apprehension (I would no longer call it fear) regarding flying, it would be something that maybe I’d luck into, or just something I’d be able to say I wanted to do but wouldn’t actually do. But this year it’s happening, and it’s happening on a Saturday vs the New York Mets. The Friday the night before, I will be down on the lower deck over the third baseline in row 11. If a righty steps up, I might be visible on TV again! I will be posting a stadium preview once I have the chance to sit down and do some research, much as I did for Citizens Bank, Nationals Stadium, and Camden Yards back in 2014. In the meantime, just a little bit more than a week until Spring Training games start for the Mariners. The long nightmare of winter is coming to a close.

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