When Ken Griffey Jr. reached 500 career home runs, Joe Ponanksi wrote this in a commemorative piece for Sports Illustrated:
“There’s an old baseball man I knew who saw Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson and Albert Pujols all hit home runs. He loved baseball with an intensity that never stopped surprising people around him. Wherever he went, people would ask him to name his favorite, and he never could do that. He loved too many of them. He would talk about Ted Williams’ swing, and he would talk about the way Roberto Clemente threw, and the way Willie Mays’ cap flew off, and the way Cool Papa Bell ran around the bases.
‘But your favorite,’ the people would say, coaxing him, and he would smile, and he would say, ‘Well, I sure like that Ken Griffey Jr.’
‘Why’s that?’ people asked.
‘Because,’ Buck O’Neil said. ‘He’s having so much fun.’”
Baseball is many things to many people. It’s the greatest metaphor for life and the preferred sport for the aspiring philosopher. It’s simultaneously a marathon and a sprint; excruciatingly boring and intensely exciting. It’s a sign of hope after a long winter and can bring heartbreak in the fall. It’s both loved and hated. Above all else, baseball is fun. It’s fun to play, fun to watch, fun to talk about. It’s ten guys on an open field, trying to hit a tiny ball with a long stick, running around making fools of themselves. It’s pure, unadulterated fun.
The Seattle Mariners reminded us of this fact this year. It has been so easy to be cynical about the Mariners—they haven’t been a good team since 2002. They’ve been so frustrating that “Mariners” has become an adjective to describe long-expected disappointment (as in, “Taijuan Walker pitches his best professional game of his career but a gork double that falls in no-man’s land is his undoing, because Mariners.”). It’s been downright frustrating to be a fan of the Mariners. And frustration breeds cynicism.
Sometimes it’s easier to be a cynic. You don’t have to give a shit. You can go about your life without any emotional attachment, removed from the best parts of life like a robot. I see cynicism everywhere in our culture. Just look at the state of our political discourse. The most important conversation we could have as a society has devolved into petty bickering. The defining characteristic of an entire generation is cynicism. Sometimes it feels like no one cares about anything.
Because caring about things can hurt, especially if you throw your whole heart into the endeavor. Getting hurt sucks. It’s not fun. It has hurt to be a fan of the Mariners for the past decade; so many promises gone unfulfilled, so many wasted hours trying to care about a team going nowhere, so many meaningless games in June and July.
Until this year. This year was different. I’m not sure when it happened. Maybe it was that three-game series against the A’s right before the All-Star Break. It could have been the homestand at the beginning of August where they went 8-1. Whenever that moment was, the Mariners became fun again this year. They played 162 meaningful games where each emotion, whether it was joy or anguish, was magnified exponentially. The fact that we were actually feeling anything with regards to this team was an accomplishment.
You see, the cure for cynicism is hope. Hope for a better future. Hope for something, anything different than the dreariness of the past decade. We allowed ourselves to hope for an end to the playoff drought and even though we came up short, the optimism that hope produced is not easily thrown away.
The 2014 Seattle Mariners made it easy to hope again. King Felix is ours and you can’t have him and now he has a partner in crime in Robinson Cano. Kyle Seager continues to be a boss and we can now call him one of the best third basemen in the league. Dustin Ackley had his best season yet. Tom Wilhelmsen did this.
So here we are, eagerly anticipating the next season and all the disappointment, joy, agony, and delight it may bring. Who knows what will happen and, for once, that’s an exciting prospect. The Seattle Mariners are fun again!