We are apparently at the yo-yo phase of the Mariners 2016 season; sweeping the Orioles in a conflicting (for me) four game series at home, then getting swept by the Astros in a three game series in a hot and sweaty Minute Maid Park. And tonight, we face a Kansas City Royals team that just got swept in Toronto at the hands of the Blue Jays. This weekend’s 4-game series is going to be like introducing a hornet’s nest into a vat of barbecue sauce. I mean, if that’s your thing. I haven’t given up, of course; we are still above .500 (even if just barely), not too far out of wild card contention (if you can’t enjoy your games back, you might as well enjoy your potential games back), and we have Felix Hernandez getting ready to come back and the All Star break coming up next week.
It’s a little tempting to just bail on the season, though, isn’t it? Just a little? To just give up and believe it’s all over and say welp ,same old Mariners? Our starting pitchers can’t seem to make it longer than 5 innings into any given game, our bullpen is a little shaky, and we still struggle with runners in scoring position. It was determined last night that Edwin Diaz is indeed a human being on this earth who is capable of giving up runs, and Hisashi Iwakuma, quite magically, is the only pitcher who has not spent any time on the disabled list this year. Reading the current 25-man pitching roster is Kuma, James Paxton, and a bunch of relievers with varying levels of endurance. And Joaquin Benoit, who is a long reliever in the very real sense of the word. Mike Zunino came up, did really well, and got sent back down, Adam Lind has a difficult time hitting the wide side of a barn, and did I mention the baserunning issues? Yeesh.
The Zunino move, of course, is a positive one. He did fantastically while he was up, with two home runs in a very successful game against Baltimore. I was a little surprised to see him sent back down so soon, but I feel like the front office knows that particular loaf of bread needs a little bit more baking before it’s ready. Jesus Sucre has done a little better offensively at the major league level, so he remains here with us as Steve Clevenger’s backup. I’ve heard he’s been doing great in Tacoma still – which has been par for the course – and they say he’ll be back before the end of the year. I am wondering whether or not this is Zuni’s final opportunity to make good with the big club; what happens for him if he doesn’t make it here? Do we trade him or keep him in Tacoma? Would he be satisfied with that? Does it even matter? I am looking forward to seeing him come back up here, whenever that might be, to see if his improvement is really and truly for real, or if we’re just swimming against the current hoping someone will throw us a life ring. I hope it’s the former. Chris Iannetta has been a nice addition here, and it sure would be great to give Mr Zunino a future home. My fingers, as always, are crossed.
In the meantime, Lookout Landing is collecting Ken Griffey Jr stories. I got 2009/2010 KGJ. I have no glorious home run stories really, no memories of meeting The Kid and getting an autograph, no tales of being able to go to the Kingdome during school hours on a ticket giveaway for schools (something I hear actually used to happen back in the day). Due to growing up in Oregon and not being into baseball at all then, I have no recollection of when the AV department playing “Sirius” on a regular basis was something that might have truly and honestly given me a real, deep-seated hope as a baseball fan. I have said it before, Ichiro is sort of my Griffey, and I never really had a lot of time with Ichiro, in the big scheme of things. So I don’t have stories, but I do have a peaceful, happy flashback…
The last game of the 2009 season. The Mariners were fun that year, my first positive year of baseball after a miserable 2008 (and right before the dumpster fire of 2010). The team finished the year at .525, and with a win against Oakland at home to finish the year, the bullpen lead an impromptu march around the warning track at Safeco, throwing t-shirts and other bits of swag at the remaining crowd, who were still cheering them on. I was sitting over the third baseline in the Terrace Club with Tom. He wanted to go when the game ended, but it was only my second full season of baseball, and I wasn’t ready yet. I had to stand there for a while and take it all in, get a few more shots off on my not-that-great camera, and watch the gladiator bullpen carry Mark Lowe’s jersey around behind the main crowd of the team (Lowe, if you’ll recall ,was not there due to a family emergency). That year was the culmination of everything we were told Jack Zduriencik could do for our team. We had a winning season, and Ichiro and Griffey had been best friends (FOREVER) all year long, playing pranks on each other, sharing game tips, admiring each other as people and players, it was just a feel-good year. As the crowd of players rounded the third base side and were approaching the clubhouse again, some of the players decided to give us all a show and hoisted (if somewhat awkwardly) both Ichiro and Junior onto their shoulders as they came in towards home plate. It made me choke up, standing there just holding my camera and trying not to get emotional in front of Tom. I knew then that baseball would always be something that would be in my life – regardless of in what capacity – and it was something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It’s still very affecting just to retell it. I don’t remember seeing the team put them down. I think I turned away to go back to the car, content that I’d just seen a Fantastic Thing, and already looking forward to the next year as I walked up the stairs and into the cool hallway of the second deck.
No, it’s not some grand heroic game story. But it’s what I have. Have I felt that way about baseball since then? Actually, yes: quite a few times this year (and not always about the Mariners). And in spite of all our current injuries and problems, I know I will feel that way again before the regular season ends. That’s why I still have faith in this team to end their year on a high note.
Speaking of high notes, it turns out that the Aquasox tickets I got for this Sunday’s game for an out of town friend have just gotten a little more special. My friend Wendy and I have known each other for over 20 years. Life circumstances have separated us every here and there, but we have always remained close. This weekend I wanted to take her to a game, just for fun and to show her what I’m doing these days. The Mariners and Rainiers are both out of town, but the Aquasox are playing the Spokane Indians in Everett, and it was announced yesterday that Felix is going to be making a rehab start for a few innings, turning an already-fun game into a once-in-a-lifetime situation. There will be photos, I got us Diamond Club seats. BEST. WEEKEND. EVER.