The Redemption of a Red Head

Ron Fairly was right. About everything.

It’s not that I ever thought he was wrong, really, just vociferously repetitious. He used to drive me up the wall with those maxims that he repeated over and over and over.

“The hardest play an outfielder has to make is on a ball hit right at him.”

“You gotta keep the ball down. You know why I say keep the ball down? Well, when was the last time you saw a 400 foot ground ball?”

“Those lead off base on balls will come around to kill you.”

(Turns out Ron Fairly was a moneyballer before we even knew about moneyball.)

Once you’ve got a grasp on the game, these maxims become annoying and you roll your eyes at the sheer obviousness. In hindsight, I’m realizing that Ron Fairly saw right to the heart of baseball and was able to talk about it in such a simplistic, straight to the point, way that it became easy to dismiss.

But all those years of listening to Ron must have drilled his baseball proverbs into my skull because they get loose and rattle around in there from time to time.

Whenever an infielder bobbled a ball, he would talk about how important it was to stay with the play and not give up after the bobble. The words that seeped into my brain on summer evenings in front of a televised game tap me on my shoulder on a sunny spring afternoon while watching a high school game.

We often forget how easy major leaguers make baseball look. Even the errors aren’t all that egregious. Because I forget this, high school baseball was eye opening in a way I hadn’t expected.

First of all, these kids are good. A little league game, this was not. They made acrobatic plays and hit the ball hard and ran out ground balls (so, it wasn’t exactly a Major League game either).

Then, they’d mess up and I’d be reminded that I wasn’t watching professionals, I was watching high school kids. (Also, they don’t sell beer at the games. Lame.)

I watched a shortstop struggle to get a handle on a ground ball and I’d remember that Ron liked when players stuck with the play. I finally saw the whys and the hows behind everything he said.

I was watching the building blocks of baseball. The players were good enough to make it look easy, but not so seasoned that they didn’t trip over the fundamentals from time to time. Each time they tripped I understood baseball a little better. Each bobbled play I got a little closer to baseball’s soul.

The beauty of baseball is in its easy simplicity. I was surprised to learn that Ron Fairly understood that better than I did.

While pondering Ron, I found that this still exists on the internet, a relic of my Anglefire site. Please forgive the comic sans font. It was the early 2000s and that sort of thing was acceptable then.

I Like That Old Time Rock And Roll

I decided to go to Safeco Field for Opening Night, hoping it would trigger something in me the way it used to.

It didn’t.

I thought I had a few years left before I reached this point. I thought it wouldn’t happen so fast, but last night it did.

I have reached the point in my life where, maybe, perhaps, attending major sporting events just isn’t for me.

It seems like a crazy conclusion for me to draw. I love sports, I breathe sports, I don’t know what I’d do with my time if it wasn’t for sports. And baseball? Baseball is my soul.

The whole experience of attending a baseball game is a tonic. Drinking a beer (if it’s a night game, my day drinking days have long been over), chatting with the person next to me, soaking in the soothing pace and frenzied bursts of action.

Last night, Safeco Field felt more like a nightclub than a baseball game to me.

I get that the Mariners need to attract fans that want more than baseball and this is no knock on that. It’s just not for me. I don’t like loud, pounding, popular music being blasted into my eardrums and vibrating my skull with the force of their booming bass. I don’t want to feel like I need to be drunk to enjoy my time at a game, which the frat party atmosphere seems to require. It seems that those are the things (arguably) that attract an audience to the games. I get it, I really do. It’s just not for me.

I like to read about baseball in the early 20th Century. The players were paid peanuts in the pros and amateurs were everywhere. Towns put together their own teams and played other towns in front of enthusiastic local fans.

My Dad was always a big fan of reverting back to this system for baseball entertainment. I was horrified; I wouldn’t be able to watch games on tv! But, now I get it.

The whole set up sounds amazing. I’d love to cheer on my Hometime Nine in a stadium lacking the frills and popular music of the Major Leagues. A bunch of rabble scrabble players, shucking off the work day. Fans cheering away their life stress. A fight for bragging rights against the next town over.

It sounds like baseball.

It sounds like nostalgia.

And I should probably be careful with it because this sort of baseball just doesn’t exist anymore.

I Can’t Say Something Nice

Nothing brings out my snarky meanness quite like a Mariner’s game. It’s beautiful, really. Those stark white uniforms adorned with Navy Blue and Northwest Green (nee teal) trigger an unconscious dip into the inner recesses of my cynical soul.

It wasn’t long ago that I was one of the Mariner fans agog with the sublime sunniness of Opening Day. I used to fool myself into optimism and happiness and believing that anything could happen. Now, I pity the fools who waste their time with such things.

Silly Mariner fans, hope is for kids.

I see you people with your dreams of .500. I scoff at your belief that Justin Smoak will have his breakout season. I howl in hysterics at your thinking the team doesn’t need starting pitchers or outfielders all because they signed Robinson Cano.

I can barely contain my incredulousness that you think an opening series sweep signals season long success.

Being snarky and cynical is kind of my thing, but I don’t want to be that way about baseball. Baseball is romantic and gooey and the Mariners have infected Major League Baseball with their grossness and I don’t want to lose all of baseball to that.

This baseball season won’t be about the Mariners. There are so many other options for baseball that I don’t need them. The new Husky Ballpark opened, there are two minor league teams within shouting distance, and I’m positive that other magical baseball things exist outside of the Major Leagues.

I’m changing it up and expanding my baseball horizons. Who knows what I’ll find. Maybe something good will come out of the horrid horribleness that is the Mariner’s very existence.

Random Nostalgia: Mi$$ion Accompli$hed

This seems appropriate as Robinson Cano officially becomes a Mariner today. Written my freshman year of college…13 years ago (seriously?!), it’s quite the interesting trip down memory lane, and it’s quite different being on the other side of the fence. I prefer this side.

In 1995 a core group of players became forever imbedded in Mariner fans’ hearts. Much like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle are the classic Yankees, these players were seen as the Mariner players for the ages. Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Dan Wilson, and Jay Buhner. Of these six, three stood out. They were superstars. As the new millennium dawns and the haze of euphoria from six years ago has perhaps finally worn off, Mariner fans awaken to the knowledge that these three are gone.

Johnson was the first to go. He left in the middle of controversy and finger pointing that soured the chemistry of the defending division champions. Traded to a contender in the eleventh hour of the trading deadline, his departure left sorrow and anger in its wake. Didn’t he always give his all in every game he pitched? His intensity was legendary, his drive incredible. He returned from back trouble in 1996 to finish second in Cy Young award voting in 1997. He hadn’t had a hint of back trouble since. And yet Mariner brass determined that he was too old, too hindered by “chronic back trouble,” too expensive. They announced that he was to be traded. No contract talks. No negotiations. It was set in stone; the Big Unit would not be a Mariner much longer. He left on July 31, 1998 for Houston. In his free-agent year he was lured to Arizona where he has been nothing short of overpowering.

Nearly as soon as Johnson left, we began to hear whispers about Rodriguez and Griffey. Would they stay or would they go? Every week there was another rumor and more speculation about the situation. Both insisted all they wanted was a chance at a ring, the Holy Grail of baseball. It’s not about the money they insisted. Both had misgivings about the Mariners new ballpark. The fences are too far back; our power numbers will suffer. Both expressed discontent with Mariner management and player development. Then Pat Gillick arrived as the new General Manager to save the day. Possessing baseball savvy that had won World Championships, he began to fill the Mariner roster with roll players, players with solid fundamentals who would complement the power of the big two. But by this point, they had lost Griffey. He demanded a trade to Cincinnati. His abrupt departure stung. The Mariners first legitimate superstar just packed up and left without saying good bye. He had some harsh parting shots, but they were to be expected. After all, in his ten years in Seattle he had often played the spoiled child.

Two of our most loved players had left. We should be used to this by now. Every year another one leaves. Then why does this hurt so much? Losing Arod was an event we all prepared ourselves for. But we thought we knew him. We thought he was, maybe, different from all the other egotistical athletes out there. He seemed to genuinely care about the future of this team. He showed up to play every day. He never bad mouthed teammates or made excuses. He was honest and passionate about the game. He led the new look Mariners to victory in 2000. They won the wild card and earned a trip to the American League Championship Series. We all thought he was serious when he said he wanted to play for a winning team. They finished well over the .500 mark, and proved themselves to be the second best team in the AL. They were a winning team and showed signs of being just as good next year. But more than that, they were his team.

So why all the demands for private jets, shorter distances down the right field line, and ten year contracts? Not about the money? Could have fooled me. If he wanted to play for a winning team, why did he sign with the Rangers? Rafael Palmeiro, in a Sports Center interview, is under the impression that he will add twenty to twenty-five wins to the Rangers paltry 70 in 2000. If one player were capable of an impact that great, then shouldn’t the St. Louis Cardinals be celebrating their third consecutive World Championship? The Rangers have average power, average defense, and average pitching. Yet, they finished below .500. Arod will certainly help out the power and defense, but he is only one player. He can’t defend all nine sides of the diamond. He can’t stop an opposing team’s big inning.

His role in Seattle was to provide some pop from the three hole, amazing defense at shortstop, and leadership. The Mariners have other players who can hit and perform other offensive duties. They have players that can catch and throw. His role with Seattle was to accent these other players and in that way put the Mariner heads above the other teams in their division. The Rangers have too many holes; one player cannot fill them all.

He said he left feeling disappointed in the Mariners offer of a five-year contract. You almost get the feeling that he was leading us on, feeding us these lies about winning in Seattle and wanting to play here. With Griffey it was different. He simply said screw you, and left. Arod said I love you and want to be with you, but still walked out without a word. We’re left feeling betrayed and wondering what happened. It all comes down to one simple truth. Alex Rodriguez is like every other superstar athlete. In the end, greed won out. We were wrong about him and now we look to the next star to lead the Mariners on the field while Arod enjoys his 252 million new best friends. Perhaps this outfielder from Japan, Ichiro Suzuki, will step to the plate and fill the holes in both the roster and our hearts that Alex left.

It’s How You Made Me Feel

There are a few things I knew for a fact when I was a kid. Parents never understood, summer was too short, and center fielders always made spectacular catches. Especially that last one. That one I knew beyond a doubt.

Try telling any kid growing up in Seattle in the 90’s that center fielders didn’t always make acrobatic plays in the outfield. You’d be mocked and shunned for such a ridiculous statement.

Alas, adulthood has a way of erasing the certainties of childhood.

Not all center fielders make diving catches, it turns out, and I realized how spoiled I’d been watching Ken Griffey Jr. turn the Kingdome’s center field into his own personal playground all those years. It’s almost crazy to think that I watched him his entire career and didn’t realize just how good he was until he became a Cincinnati Red.

My eyes drank in an enormous amount of baseball, particularly in my teen years. It should have been obvious that he was leagues ahead of every other outfielder. But I still practiced diving catches with a tennis ball in the backyard because that’s what center fielders did.

I’m not a chick who ever dug the long ball. Diving, leaping plays in the outfield have always been more my speed. As such, you would think the tape loop of Junior’s catches would be omnipresent in my mind when I think about him. They aren’t. That attitude of his elbows his outfield acrobatics aside.

Like the time the Kingdome stopped the fireworks after a home run because it bothered him.

Or, how Safeco Field had a space in the locker room designed specifically for his chair.

Or, calling himself the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball.

When he kept his mouth shut, I adored him on the baseball field. When he started complaining, I’d just roll my eyes. Everyone bowed and kissed the ground he walked on, but he still didn’t get enough respect?

Twitter is practically erupting with collective genuflection because he’s being inducted into the Mariner’s Hall of Fame tomorrow. It’s figuratively nauseating. And I think to myself, “If you can’t say something nice…”

I suppose if anyone is entitled to be entitled, it’s Ken Griffey Jr. I’m never going to feel all-encompassing Griffey love, but I’ll never forget his otherworldly talent.

Especially those catches. Show me a highlight reel and I’ll be Griffey giddy.

Just leave out the one with the broken wrist in 1995. I still cringe every time I see it.

Steroids and Jerks

Back in olden times, baseball players had to get jobs in the off season because playing baseball didn’t pay very much. I like to imagine them playing with an aching love and undying passion for the game. I like to pretend they loved their teams and fans and played purely for joy. I know it’s misguided and inaccurate, but it’s so fun to make believe that baseball used to be that way while watching these modern baseball players make me despise modern sports.

Oh, these effing steroids.

Oh, these arrogant jerk baseball players.

Funny, how they seem to go hand in hand. In fact, sometimes I think I’m more bothered by the arrogant showboating in baseball than I am by steroid use.

There’s so many complaints we throw at steroid users. They’re ruining the integrity of the game and corrupting our children and they’re cheaters and liars and bad people. I think they’re just a symptom of a narcissistic culture that thinks it can cheat fate.

The problem with baseball in a narcissistic culture is that baseball is humbling. There isn’t as much opportunity for chest thumping and gorilla yelling as there is in other sports. So, naturally, you ingest steroids, pump iron, and hit home runs so you can enjoy a few moments of glory and adulation, and a really big paycheck.

Size matters, y’all, when it comes to muscles and money.

It’s not steroids that are ruining baseball. It’s taken me a long time to see that. Cheating has always existed and will always exist. It’s sad that we probably won’t look back on this era of cheating as cute and fuzzy, like we do scuffed balls and spitballs. (Although Ray Chapman doesn’t think the reality of that era is so nice.)

My problem with baseball all these years hasn’t been steroids after all. I don’t like the arrogance, or the egotism, or the narcissism.

It seems silly to complain about those things since they’ve always existed in some form. It seems stupid to make the past into something it’s not in order to wax superior about the attitudes of modern athletes. None of those things are absent from baseball at any level, I completely understand and accept that.  But Major League Baseball just isn’t as attractive to me because it has so much of those things. And many fans like that. I realize I’m in the minority. So, consider this my little “This Is How I Feel” diatribe, on which I don’t expect anyone to agree.

If I had to choose, steroids are less bad than gambling was because gambling directly changed the outcomes of games. While steroids have certainly changed the game itself, it can be argued that the lasting damage is born only by the user.

So, I guess, if you’re going to juice, just don’t be an arrogant jerk about it and I won’t hate you so much.

The Long Slow Ride to the End of the Trolley Line

The Mariners are bad and depressing and there’s just no way around it, not enough sugar for the coating required to make it any less so.

I have a tough time with the fans preaching optimism and decrying the cynicism that so naturally erupts from the Mariner faithful. I don’t get it. How can they not want to punch walls in frustration, being stuck on this treadmill of fandom, barren of scenery, rolling on and on?

Non-sports people wonder why I’m a fan. “Why do you care when they’re so bad?”, they ask, shaking their heads in confusion. I just sigh and tell them that they don’t understand.

But the truth is, I don’t understand.

I’ve run through the explanations ad nauseum. I’m masochistic and love the pain. I’m an eternal optimist and think that someday this will turn around and all be worth it. I’m naturally cynical and pessimistic and the Mariners justify my world view.

Each of these explanations is true, but none gives a satisfying answer.

I have even less an explanation for why I stopped watching. I do know that on a cold April evening at Safeco Field the scoreless innings piled up and I reached a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wearily closed my scorebook, despite having started a new page for the double-digit inning that was beginning. I left the stadium and I haven’t seen a full game since.

I hate not watching. I sneak a peek every now and then because I miss my stupid team. Yet, I find that it is physically painful to watch. I observed Mike Zunino’s first Major League at bat with a gnawing in my stomach that warned me not to get attached and an ache that told me not to let hope twist the blade already bleeding my heart. I glance at Twitter and read that another game has unraveled.

Maybe this new batch of sprouting prospects will grow into superstars. Maybe Jack Z’s 7-Year – nee 5-Year – Plan will work. Maybe it’s true the team will never improve until Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln are gone, and a new owner takes charge. Maybe they’ll never be good again and the beautiful 1995 run and 2001 dream season are the best we’re going to see.

But the Red Sox were cursed for 86 years before they won the World Series. The Mariners have only been around for a fraction of that time. As stupid as it feels, I still believe it can happen.

I haven’t given up or abandoned my team; I’m just clinging to the little sanity I have left.