Rue-ing In The Deep

You had my heart inside your hand and you played it, you played it to the beat.” – Adele

Oh, Mariners.

I love you. I want to love you unconditionally. So many people in Seattle want to love you unconditionally.

Why do you make it so difficult to love you at all?

The baseball stuff alone makes it hard enough. Losing season after depressing, losing season. Payroll slashing. Staggering leadership ineptitude.

You add to all that by speaking out against a new sports arena in SoDo. A sports arena that would bring back an NBA team, the loss of which, much of Seattle is still grieving as acutely as always. Whether your concerns about the location are valid or not, you look scared of the competition for fandom dollars.

Then, last night we have the Great Home Opener Debacle of 2012. Credit and debit card machines stop working, ATM lines were long, then the cash machines stopped working. None of this, you felt the need to communicate to the fans. I haven’t heard of one person who had a great time last night.

Blame last night on Friday the 13th, blame your position on the arena on concern for the fans, blame the atrocious product on the field on the various general managers, field managers, coaches, players, etc.

Blame whoever you want. Maybe you’re working on a book titled “How to Lose Fans and Alienate a City.”

Get your shit together, Mariners. I know you’re banking on a small section of your fan base to never abandon you. We know we’re being used, and for now we’re hanging in there.

But there’s going to be a breaking point for us too.

In the meantime, I’m getting ready to go to the game tonight. I’m excitedly putting on my jersey and packing up my scorecard.

There’s nothing I can do. I only want to be with you.

Frustration, Thy Name is Olivo

I’ve been stewing over Miguel Olivo’s performance in last night’s game for a little while. It’s probably not very healthy to stew, especially when it’s about something I have absolutely no control over, and therefore no way to fix the thing that has me stewing other than to just stop stewing.

Brendan Ryan was benched yesterday because of his throwing error in the first inning of Monday night’s game. Eric Wedge told reporters it was a matter of “accountability”. Presumably, on Eric Wedge’s team if you eff up, you sit.

And yet there’s Miguel Olivo, every day in the starting lineup. There’s Miguel Olivo, flailing wildly at pitches in the dirt. There’s Miguel Olivo, refusing to take a first pitch, refusing to show any semblance of intelligent thought in the batter’s box. There’s Miguel Olivo, until I’m so tired of seeing the basics of baseball mocked of by a player who serves absolutely no purpose to this team I could cry.

Here I am, questioning Eric Wedge’s managerial decisions. Why pick on Ryan when Olivo commits much worse offenses all the freaking time? Is it because Ryan has the brains and the brawn to do better? Is Wedge trying to push him to be a better player? Is Wedge ignoring Olivo because he knows this is the best he’s going to get out of him?

I don’t know the answer to any of that and it’s incredibly frustrating. It certainly seems like Wedge has his favorites and blithely looks past their shortcomings. Carlos Peguero, for example. I love Peguero more than any other Mariner fan and I’m happy to see him play even though he’s got a flaw here and there to work out. But my enamoration is harmless because I’m a fan, not the manager of a team that needs an objective evaluation of players.

Miguel Olivo is just not a good player. He occasionally hits a home run. That’s it as far as his value goes. Dave Cameron explained exactly why he’s bad so there’s no need for me to repeat it here. If his approach to hitting is to swing as often as possible and occasionally make contact, his approach to defense is to fling his glove around and occasionally catch something.

On a team being built around doing things right, Olivo is bad mojo. The presence of Jesus Montero and John Jaso clearly eliminates him as a placeholder until other options are available.

He needs to play much less.

He needs to be held accountable.

It’s 90% Half Mental

Baseball is a thinking game. You have to think, ask questions.” – Lou Piniella in one of the great classic Mariner commercials

I’ve been a Mariner fan for a lot of years now and for most of those years (particularly the recent ones), the team hasn’t been very good. There’s a certain masochistic pride in acquiring these scars of baseball fandom.

Oh, the things I’ve seen.

Spectacular blown leads, stunning errors, and devastating strikeouts. Agony that sinks into your bones.

That’s the thing about sports. No matter how well you play, sometimes you’re going to lose. And sometimes you will really, really suck just because you’re bad.

Being bad is something I’ve come to terms with as a Mariner fan. I’ve seen a lot of players come through who really wanted to win, really wanted to be good and put their hearts and souls into the game just to not be able to hit the ball quite far enough or hard enough, or throw pitches that don’t quite break enough and don’t quite go where they’re supposed to.

That I can deal with.

There is an incredible amount of raw talent needed just to get to the Major League level and it’s the rare player who can use that raw talent to perform well. As a rule, players need to learn how to play.

Yuniesky Betancourt is one of those players that squander their talent. He was fantastic when he first came up and I thought he was going to be my favorite for many years. Instead, he took his talent and put it in his back pocket. He look lazy and unmotivated. I’ll never understand what was going on with him, but it sure frustrated the hell out of me.

Now, there’s Miguel Olivo. He has talent, or he would never have made it this far. I watch him play and can see that he’s trying and wants to do well. He just makes stupid, dumb ass, pickle brained decisions.

Constantly hacking at the first pitch and hitting into inning ending double plays, sliding head first into the base, and the egregious inability to block pitches in the dirt. Mental mistakes of the worst kind because they keep happening ad naseum.

There are different kinds of smart and for all I know, Olivo could have a Rhodes Scholar mind. But on the baseball field, baseball smart is the smart that matters.

Miguel Olivo just doesn’t get it.

Norm Norm Charlton* got it. He had grit and heart and every pitch he threw, he threw with every ounce of his soul. He got it, but he didn’t have it. And man, if I had to choose I’d choose the player who gets it over the player who doesn’t without a second thought.

Baseball smart. If I were a team looking for a player, that would be my non-negotiable.

*Not a typo.

Random Nostalgia: When There Was One

Happy Opening Day!

Again!

From what I can tell, all 30 Major League Baseball teams are opening the season on a different day. Which is a fantastic idea. Why have 1 super awesome exciting Opening Day when you can have 30 separate Opening Days that most fans know nothing about?

Mariner and A’s fans know the REAL Opening Day took place on March 28th at 3:00 AM PDT. We know, even if no one else does!

Based on all the national baseball writers tweeting about the Marlins’ new stadium, I’m pretty sure the Marlins are beginning their season tonight. More teams are opening tomorrow. By the time the Mariners have their second Opening Day on Friday, I’m going to be so Opening Day’d out I’m worried about generating the requisite Opening Day excitement.

Alas, this is the state of modern baseball. Take something great, break it into significantly less great chunks, and try to sell it for the same price.

Since I’m old now, I’m going to wax nostalgic about the Opening Days of my long-ago youth, when it lasted for one night and one glorious day, when Bug Selig was just the interim commissioner, and when all the players were on steroids.

The good old days.

There was the Opening Night game on Sunday. A single, teasing appetizer. A tiny taste of the bunting and pristine baseball fields that would fill the next day. A little nibble that would keep you up all night with excitement.

When the alarm sounded on Monday morning, the world was different. No matter the weather, it was sunnier. No matter the economic indicators, it was was more optimistic. Life was better. It was baseball season.

Most Opening Days, I had to go to school because the day was not yet declared a national holiday (Seriously, Congress what exactly are you doing all day? Get on this!). The day would be full of clock watching and surreptitious radio checking during class (this was the 90s, no one had iPhones). Finally, finally, the school day would be over.

If the Mariners opened on the road, it was a mad rush home to drink in as much baseball as my eyes could handle before the Mariners started. ESPN and ESPN 2 used to be channels 14 and 15 on tv and all afternoon I flipped back and forth savoring the games, the day’s highlights of strikeouts and home runs, and a scoreboard with a full slate of games.

The Opening Days when the Mariners played at home where the best of all. Especially the Opening Days when they played earlier in the day. Day Opening Day games meant no school. No school meant being able to watch the early games. For a stretch of several years my birthday present from my Dad was tickets to Opening Day and my birthday began 10+ days of burning anticipation.

At the end of the day, whether the Mariners won or lost, I fell into bed and slept the happy sleep of a baseball fan who’s year was beginning.

Opening Day was the familiar, mundane routines of baseball sparked with excitement and optimism, a day long celebration of the most beautiful sport in the world.

Some of the same elements still exist. The stadiums covered in bunting. The excited buzz of the crowds, finally coming out of their winter hibernation. The grass looks greener, the chalk glows whiter, the lights burst brighter. The fireworks, the pomp, the players – they’re all still there.

I just miss the clear excitement and shared happiness of baseball fans everywhere on one special day every year.

I Miss You Most at Baseball Time

Not many people burst into tears when they hear Glenallen Hill is in charge of outfield instruction for the Colorado Rockies. Laugh, shake their heads in disbelief maybe, but rarely do they cry.

Let me explain.

The exact details are a little fuzzy, but I do know the Mariners were playing a game sometime in 1998. Glennallen Hill, hitter extraordinaire that he was, wore special shoes that help you grip the dirt in the batter’s box better. Incidentally, they are terrible for roaming the outfield. He was going back on a fly ball, his cleats got caught in the turf, and a tumbling down he went.

This led my Dad to nickname him “Glenallen Asshole”. (It was a catchall nickname; he’d referred to the pitcher as Bobby Ayala Asshole for years.)

If I had heard about his outfield coaching gig a season ago, I would have immediately texted my Dad. We would have bantered and had a good laugh.

But the thing is, St. Peter has a strict No Cell Phones policy.

It’s not just the silly nicknames that I miss. Although, we did have some great ones. There was Fat Ass, a portly pitcher Ron Fairly described as being “built like a pitcher, thick through the middle”. And I’ll never forget Scott Brosiusaurus, bestowed when I mentioned that Scott Brosius’ face reminded me of a dinosaur.

There’s too many things I miss to mention them all. It’s skipping school to go to Opening Day games. It’s the blue bag with homemade hot dogs, peanuts, Diet Pepsi, scorebooks, and mechanical pencils we brought to every game. It’s sarcastically quoting Ron Fairly and genuflecting to Dave Niehaus. Groaning at errors and cheering magnificent pitching performances. He may be the only person who agreed with my impression that Game 6 of last year’s World Series was a terrible display of professional baseball, not the exciting game everyone says it was.

That’s the last game in his scorebook. I finished the last couple innings when he was too tired. At the time, he and I both thought that was going to be the last game he saw; the last game we watched together. Then that jerk David Freese ruined it with his stupid home run and we had a Game 7 that felt anticlimactic.

Opening Day was tough this season. Not the game. I’ve gotten used to watching games without him. It was hard the rest of the day because he wasn’t here to talk to about the game. He wouldn’t have gotten up that early, but he would have asked how it went. We would have talked about Ichiro and Figgins, and he’d ask how Olivo did behind the plate. We’d talk about Carp in the outfield and Montero’s first at bats. And we’d talk about the season as a whole, our viewpoints speckled with sarcastic cynicism, awash in love for baseball.

We didn’t get to talk about those things. My favorite part of baseball isn’t here.

It’s not just the silly nicknames I miss.

It’s everything.

‘Twas The Night Before Baseball

“I can see your face, I can hear your voice, I can almost touch you.” – The Stampeeders

IT’S OPENING DAY TOMORROW!!!

If I had bunting, it would be hung on the railings with care in hopes a World Series soon would be there.

IT’S OPENING DAY TOMORROW!!!

I should be nestled all snug in my bed while visions of terrible tv feeds dance in my head.

TOMORROW IS OPENING DAY!!!

At 3 AM, my alarm will arise with a clatter. Instead of springing from my bed to see what is the matter, I’ll finally wake up my brain from that long winter nap.

Happy Opening Day to all, and to all a good morning!

For The Rest Of Us!

I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!” – Frank Costanza

I hope no one takes this post to mean that I don’t like Fan Fest. Because I do. It’s awesome and baseball-y and the sort of connection with the fans that teams should do more of. It’s especially great for kids, and we all know those little bundles of sunshine are the future baseball fans of Seattle.

However, based on the Pineda trade and Prince signing, Mariner Land needs an outlet for their collective frustrations. An airing of grievances if you will.

Hence, I present to you, Fan Festivus.

Of course, the most important part of Fan Festivus would be the Airing of Grievances. Each player, coach, and key front office personnel would gather around the Fan Festivus Pole and be subjected to the fans letting rip their emotions. This would go both ways and the players, coaches, and front office personnel could let rip their frustrations with the fans. It would be cathartic and heal the wounds of a fan base that has along felt betrayed by the Organization.

Also, it’s really fun to tell people how you really feel!

Any aggression still left over from the Airing of Grievances would be unleashed in the Feats of Strength. What Mariner fan out there doesn’t want to wrestle Chuck Armstrong?!

(Naturally, the Seattle Police, King County Sheriffs Deputy, Washington State Patrol, and National Guard will all be fully deployed to deal with the crazies and rabble rousers.)

Then, the roof would close over the angry, exhausted Mariner masses. The crowd will declare it to be a Fan Festivus Miracle. And we’ll walk away into the night, happy and satisfied in a way that buying free agents could never make us.

Prince Fielder and the Needing for Something

Give me something to believe, cuz I am living just to breathe, and I need something more to keep on breathing for, so give me something to believe.” – The Bravery

I should love Twitter. I’ve met some great friends on there, I’ve been able to find the 14 people who really actually like the Mariners, and I’ve been able to con a few of them into reading my sporadic internet postings.

But today, once again, I really really hate it.

Because even though Prince Fielder is in Texas, he’s in Seattle. This is a thing that can only make sense on Twitter.

I see the Tweet about him being here, and even though I know better, even though I’ve been on the merry-go-round before, I get that stupid little spurt of excitement and start thinking, what if?!

I don’t even know if I want Prince Fielder here. The only thing I know I feel about him, is that I’m tired of hearing about him. And Scott Boras (who is either overplaying his hand, or has some evil genius strategy that’s gonna get Fielder $100 zillion dollars a year). I wasn’t even going to type a single word about him because all there is to say right now is kicshkwshash (that’s white noise).

But, this isn’t about Prince Fielder at all.

I just want &$*@#^$% something to happen!!

Anything worth that stupid little spurt of excitement! Anything to make the offseason more bearable and endow us with the false hope we need to survive the winter! The Texas Rangers won the pennant, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won Albert Pujols, the Houston Astros get to switch divisions, and the Oakland Athletics, well, I guess they’ve had a sucky offseason too.

It’s less than a month until Pitchers and Catchers and I’m already dreading the season. I want a new player to get all excited about and Aaron Heilman just isn’t doing it for me. So unless Edgar Martinez is going to unretire and spend a few years loafing around in left field in order to improve his chances at a Hall of Fame induction, I’m totally fine with overpaying some overweight slugger and watching his power numbers plummet at Safeco Field.

Just doooo something!

UPDATE: Not more than 30 minutes after I posted this, news broke that the Mariners traded Michael Pineda for Jesus (Montero). Jack Z listened to me!!

Eulogy For My Dad

This is the eulogy I read at my Dad’s memorial service yesterday. It only skims the surface of what he means to me, but I hope it gives even a small bit of perspective into what an amazing person he was.

When I was 7, my Dad took me to a Mariners game against the Red Sox. It was one of the first games I ever went to and this one was extra special because it was just me and my Dad. And because it was lunch box night. The game went into extra innings and my Dad told me a story about how the Red Sox once played a game that lasted so long they had to come back the next day to finish it. My 7 year old self thought that meant if the game lasted long enough we would get to sleep at the Kingdome. Needless to say, I was quite upset when he made me leave before the game ended. I’m the sort of baseball fan that would never leave a game early, and I periodically pointed that out to him over the years.

The lunchbox is still one of my favorite pieces of Mariners memorabilia.

That was the beginning of my baseball obsession. My relationship with my Dad grew as we watched thousands of games over the years. We would go to several games a year, where he taught me to keep score. That blue scorebook we toted to every game is an invaluable record of our time together.

When the Mariner’s broadcaster Dave Niehaus died last year his family talked about how overwhelming it was to hear how much he meant to fans. To them, he was just their father, husband, and friend. Having heard from all the people that my Dad meant so much to, I know exactly how his family felt.

It’s amazing how much influence he had on so many people. To me he was just my Dad and he is so much a part of me, and not just genetically, that I wouldn’t be myself without him.

In addition to baseball, I also shared his love of history. I loved talking to him about what I was reading and hearing his perspective about events of long ago. He was a devout Abraham Lincoln fan and I sincerely hope he’s been talking old Abe’s ear off for the last couple weeks.

My Dad was my favorite person to talk to about politics and current events. When you read a lot of history you learn not to overreact to small things and I’ve found there are very few people with the breadth of knowledge and thought process to intelligently talk about these things.

He did everything he could to encourage me in doing things I loved. He drove me to countless riding lessons and horse shows. Shuttled me and my friends to all those gymnastics practices and meets. And when I had my heart set on going to college on the east coast, he was encouraging and supportive. Going to UMass was one of the best things I’ve done in my life and I owe him so much for making that happen for me.

At every change in my life, he was there with intelligent perspective. The talks we’ve had have shaped the way I see life and the way I think about it. At one point, I was complaining about something or other and he asked me, do you want to whine about it or do you want to fix it? Naturally, I wanted to whine about it. But I’m learning to ask myself that question and asking it is the most valuable guidance he gave me.

My life is finally coming together and I’m sad that he won’t be there to see how it turns out. Because I loved, admired, and respected him so much that nothing was more meaningful than hearing him say, “I’m proud of you.”

Occupy Nintendo!

New car, caviar, four star daydream, think I’ll buy me a football team.” – Pink Floyd

The more I learn about the business of baseball, the more disgust I feel towards the system that sustains baseball. Such a beautiful sport with such an ugly structure.

As fans we want to believe in the “organization” – the owners and executives, the scouts, coaches, and players. We want to believe that they all want to produce a winning product at the Major League level.

The more cynically inclined among us are apt to believe that’s not true.During my formative years, I remember some talking head mention how teams like the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins managed to turn bigger profits than winning teams by keeping payroll low and playing just well enough to keep attendance levels steady year to year. Makes total sense when you don’t have the money to outspend your competition.

In my wizened maturity, I know that there are many ways to make profits look like losses and perform trickery with facts and figures, so even though I’ve always kept this information in the back of my head, I’m suspicious of this type of reasoning.

That one Mariners beat writer that we all love to hate posted a story last Sunday about the Toronto Blue Jays and their 10 year ascent to mediocrity. The team has made no effort to win and has concealed its lack of effort under a veil of trendy excuses, all in an effort to leverage the Blue Jays for other business ventures.

At various points throughout my baseball fandom I’ve fallen prey to the anger and betrayal that is only natural when the realities of baseball’s economy present themselves. It’s at this point that I think wistfully about the good old days, when it was a game, and all that nostalgia. It can be difficult to keep in mind that baseball has never been pure; before steroids and conglomerate owners there was gambling and fixed games.

From a business perspective it makes sense these owners don’t really want to win. You don’t accumulate the requisite billions to own a sports team without constant leveraging and investing. And even though some owners might view their teams as a toy they’ve earned with their hard work, I’ve always had a hard time believing all owners felt that way.

So what we have is a system where fans are pouring their energy and devotion into a team that not only may never win a championship, but that passion and reverence is being wasted on a team that has no desire to even try.

Sign me up for season tickets!

It’s the 99% vs the 1%; fans vs the owners and players. As such, the Mariner fanbase’s Occupy Wall Street is the Fire Nintendo movement that sprung up last season thanks to a healthy mix of passion and frustration (and Twitter).

Many people have shook their heads at OWS and Fire Nintendo. They’ve been told to get jobs and lives, been called dirty hippies and crazy idiots. The problem isn’t that these protesters don’t get it; the problem is that they don’t know what else to do. Fire Nintendo has had as much success at changing Mariner ownership (and ousting Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln) as OWS will have on changing the country’s economic system.

Here’s where I want to tie this up in a nice feel good bow so we can all happily spend our money on baseball teams trying to be the averagest they can be. What I think is, if it bothers you that much, stop going to games and buying merchandise. I’ve done my part as far as economics goes by not buying houses I can’t afford.

I suppose a baseball fan could also start supporting only winning teams. Bandwagon jumping may be considered abhorrent behavior, but it could make good sense if you want to feel good about where your fandom dollars are going.

Another option is to realize you are getting something for your money : a Major League Baseball team (at least when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town). And if you got a variable rate bazillion dollar mortgage for the McMansion of your dreams, at least you got to live in a pretty cool house for a while before your life was ruined by the big banks that wanted to be paid the money they spent on your habitat.

As for me, I’m going to continue going to games and continuing hoping that someday the Mariners will be contenders. But that won’t stop me from complaining and whining. I am an American, after all.

The Mariner’s beat writer we all love to hate extolled fans not to make excuses on behalf of the team. I can see the fantasy of a vocal and powerful fanbase persuading owners with more pressing interests than winning to abandon their nefarious plots against us virtuous fans.

But these excuses, for some of us, are the only way we can still enjoy baseball.