When it all goes wrong

The day after the devastating smoke was gone and we could go outside again, we leaned back with the lights on and wore hooded sweatshirts against the falling cold of autumn. We stared wordlessly into the darkness.

We knew that as the night enveloped us, the hope that we had so carefully nursed and cared for had withered into brittle leaves and dying roots.

We pretend we just don’t feel anything, even though we know we still feel everything acutely. The spring of hope, the summer of broken dreams, the coming autumn and winter of darkness and unknowns. It presses down on us as the darkness pushes the last reach of the sun’s rays from the sky.

It shouldn’t have been like that. We never thought that 2021 would be the year we would win everything. We were realistic about where the team was rebuilding, where it was relative to every other team in baseball. This wasn’t the year we’d have it all. But it shouldn’t have been a year that ended with nothing.

Our thoughts wander restlessly back into spring. Back to the hours of sunshine that wake up and stretch after their hibernation. Back to blooming tulips and the first open windows of the year. There was hope. Hope in baseball, hope in the Mariners, hope in us. Baseball would start again in April. Jarred Kelenic would make his debut. Coronavirus vaccines found their way into guns. We began to dream – carefully at first, then all at once – of the smell of garlic fries and the taste of warm beer in plastic cups as we sat in the outdoor stands and laughed with our friends as the Mariners came in on their reps and reached in Towards a future of the rapture.

We should probably have seen the shadows that appeared before us. They seem ridiculously obvious in hindsight, don’t they?

The ship was stuck in the Suez Canal mud with EVERGREEN on its side. The feather injuries. The ghosts of the passing Mariners floated and scurried through the lineups.

It all started to go wrong before spring even started.

We alternated between disbelief, anger, despair, and amazement when we saw Kevin Mather casually dehumanize beloved Mariners players, cremating his job in the process. The face of the Mariners’ unrecognizable group of owners was sent out to smooth it all over. Instead, John Stanton stumbled through a disastrous press conference at which he appeared confused that people were so upset. He could tell that something bad had happened, but he couldn’t make out what it was.

The separation between us, the fans and them, the owners, has always been long and gaping. Never again that it was February of this year. They don’t get what we go through for them. They don’t understand the emotional turmoil of fandom. They don’t see what we see, the humanity of the players and the meaning of their stories. The desire to be part of everything.

We were insane, but we couldn’t stay away from the attraction of seeing Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez in the few spring games televised. We eagerly held on to the promise they kept with the same intensity that we Northwestern go out and bask in the early spring sunshine. When the injuries surfaced, we were disappointed, but we didn’t despair. They were typical spring disturbances. You lose a mug to Tommy John and a reigning rookie of the year to a knee tweak. It happens. Even the weird, bizarre violation of the team’s most hyped prospect. How should we know it was just the beginning?

In the spring we saw the ghosts of the Mariners lurking past. We saw Alex Rodriguez’s pursuit of perfection in Kelenic’s intensity. We saw A-Rod’s swing when Julio landed on the plate. Cal Raleigh channeled Jay Buhner in his demeanor, evoking the spirit of Jason Varitek and this libelous trade. Not since the spring before Jose Cruz Jr.’s debut has an outfielder been as expectant as the Kelenic-Rodriguez duo. Cruz was supposed to come in with Ken Griffey Jr. in the middle and Buhner in the right form, as Blaine Newnham of the Seattle Times put it: “The Mariners Outfield for the Age”. It was an age that ended 2 months after it started.

The ghosts of past Mariners haunted us. Some of us ignored them as filaments of bygone eras. Some of us embraced their cold misery and refused to pretend we had been exorcised. Even when we refused to recognize them, they whispered to us. Every national baseball preview column that couldn’t resist pointing out that the Mariners have never competed in a World Series. That they haven’t reached the postseason in 20 years. That they exist in an area of ​​stoic boredom based on decades of uninspired failure. We joke about curses and wrong tridents, but we wonder how it comes about that our team is so unlucky.

At the start of the season we just focused on watching the prospects reach the majors and the newbies blossom to stars. We wanted to believe it would happen. The opening day was a celebration of joy and a little taste of normality after a year in which time lost its meaning. If longer hours of daylight coincided with the start of baseball, we could pretend we existed outside of the real world for a few hours.

Like so many previous Mariners teams, this one had a broken bullpen. Leak after leak jumped up in the Mariners’ ship. It filled with runs and sank to the bottom of the overall standings. Shohei Ohtani mocked the Mariners with visions of what could have been when the angels came to town for a series where he failed to meet our unfortunate sailors and bludgeoned a walkable home run a few days later.

Regardless of whether the team was out of sync or just all collapsing at the same time, it didn’t seem to find a smooth sea. There were arguments in the clubhouse and clear frustrations in the field.

The games were tough but it was still a pleasure to watch our players. We were more pleased about their individual victories than about team victories. This was the only way to enjoy the season. That’s why we’ll never forget the sight of Kyle Lewis lying crumpled in the grass of midfield. Or Mitch Haniger’s awkward sliding into the second base. That’s why we’ve felt every ounce of Kelenic’s frustration with the first major slump in his career, which began just two weeks after his stunning debut.

Kelenic was sent back to AAA to find out. He wasn’t the only one. Some taxis have made a lot of money moving gamblers between Seattle and Tacoma. Throughout the year, it never felt like the prospect was advancing. Maybe it was the impact of the 2020 loss. Maybe it was the pressure to move forward. Perhaps the Mariners are forever destined to be a team that takes one step forward and two steps back.

The deadline trades brought a new kind of rain to the year. Every announcement has twisted our hearts. We tried to find hope in the returns, we tried to see the trades as good things. But they just ripped out our baseball souls. It was kind of an ugly joy to see Kyle Seager take the Rays to another World Series in the postseason. There was a bitterness that threatened to stifle us when Marco Gonzales made his first start for the Yankees.

After all these deals, we are forever haunted by Jerry Dipoto’s dejection at a press conference. He stood right there, looked us straight in the eye and said it was over now. But he couldn’t quite believe it himself. Rebuilding is still ongoing, he told us, it has only been delayed for a while. But we knew and he knew he wouldn’t be there to fix the problem. We’ll pay our debts at some point.

It’s hard to explain the desperation of the Mariners fandom if you haven’t lived through it.

In the spring we were realistic, curious and hopeful. Now that it’s autumn we’re cynical, apathetic, and drained. We face another winter of lockdowns, another cycle in a pandemic that refuses to subside. Another cycle in a remodel that is never completed. The spirits of the Mariners whiz and float, waiting to be recognized and reckoned. The Mariners are down in a hole and we don’t know if they can be saved.

The source ship got stuck in the Suez. The Evergreen State baseball team was stuck in the AL West mud. It’s just the old Mariners’ hoarfrost.

Day after day, day after day
We were stuck, neither breathing nor moving;
As idle as a painted ship
On a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere
And all the boards shrank;
Water, water, everywhere
Another drop to drink.

… the albatross
Hung around my neck.

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