The Cure for Cynicism

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!

The King’s Court and Home Field Advantage

“K! K! K!”

The chant rises out of the din of the stadium. A sea of yellow cards start bobbing up and down. Men in chain mail, Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators, and those with thick, fake mutton chops join in.

“K! K! K!”

The King looks in towards home plate, gets his sign, winds, and throws. Those clad in yellow wait with bated breath as the ball speeds towards the catchers mitt.

“Steeeerike Three!”

Pandemonium. The cheering only gets louder.

The King’s Court is unlike anything else in baseball. When you’re sitting with hundreds of your courtesans, chanting for a strikeout every time there are two strikes on an opposing batter, it’s hard not to believe there is some tangible effect you’re having on the outcome of the game. Baseball is a tough game for the crowd to affect. Each play occurs separately and the crowd is often reacting to the play that has just finished on the field. It’s not like Soccer or Basketball where the momentum of the game can swing from side to side and the crowd plays a large part in that swing. The common belief regarding home field advantage in any sport is that it does not provide a positive effect on the play of the game but, instead, favorable treatment by the officials calling the game.

Many have looked into the effect of home field advantage in baseball. The baseball blog Beyond the Box Score looked into home field advantage, specifically with the strike zone in mind, and found that there is little evidence to suggest any influence on the game. FanGraphs ran a similar post where Dave Cameron advocated for home field advantage have a more significant effect. After the Pirates won the Wild Card playoff game last year with a loud and rowdy crowd at home, Jeff Sullivan wondered if that type of crowd, so unfamiliar to a baseball stadium, could have had a larger effect than normal.

Along the same lines as Jeff Sullivan, I wonder if the Kings Court could have a larger effect on the outcome of the game than a normal crowd at a baseball game.

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Mariners Mid-Season Report Card

Week 15 Recap

Date Away Team Score Home Team Score Result
7/7 Twins 0 Mariners 2 W
7/8 Twins 2 Mariners 0 L
7/9 Twins 8 Mariners 1 L
7/10 Twins 4 Mariners 2 L
7/11 Athletics 2 Mariners 3 W
7/12 Athletics 2 Mariners 6 W
7/13 Athletics 4 Mariners 1 L

The Mariners head into the All-Star break after taking two of three from the division leading Athletics. This week seemed like a good way to gain some momentum for the second half but a stinker of a series against the Twins put a damper on any hope of a hot streak. In the two series against the White Sox and Twins, the Mariners scored a grand total of 9 runs in 7 games. We owe our two wins to excellent pitching performances by Felix, Iwakuma, and the bullpen. The two wins over the Athletics were pretty decisive. It definitely felt good to get two strong wins against the best team in baseball right before the break..

For this week’s recap, I’m going to go through each position group and give a mid-season report. The stats included will be to-date season performances instead of the normal two-week period.

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Mariners Winning!? Yes They Are!

Week 10 Recap

Date Away Team Score Home Team Score Result
6/2 Mariners 10 Yankees 2 W
6/3 Mariners 7 Braves 5 W
6/4 Mariners 2 Braves 0 W
6/5
6/6 Mariners 0 Rays 4 L
6/7 Mariners 7 Rays 4 W
6/8 Mariners 5 Rays 0 W

If the season ended today, the Seattle Mariners would be participating in a one game Wild Card playoff against the California Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Los Angeles. We’re into mid-June and the Mariners are playing playoff caliber baseball. The last time we we’re this many games over .500 at this point in the season was 2007. That team featured Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, Yunieski Betancourt, Miguel Batista, and Jeff Weaver. It was also a year before Bill Bavasi was fired and the “success” of the team in 2007 led to a number of failed decisions in 2008 (one name, Bedard). Who knows if 2014 will be Jack Zdurencik’s version of 2007. Maybe this will be the start of a long and healthy run of success for the Mariners. Maybe it’s all a mirage and we’re going to come crashing down in July and August. All I know is that the Mariners are winning and its been really fun to watch.

  • According to FanGraphs, the Mariners playoff odds sit just over 33%. 1 in 3? Sounds good to me!
  • The only two current Mariners who were on that 2007 team: Felix Hernandez and Willie Bloomquist. We’ve come so far.
  • The Mariners rode a 5 game winning streak until losing on Friday. Those five wins were against the Tigers, Yankees, and Braves, all competitive teams with playoff aspirations. After the single loss on Friday, we beat the Rays twice in a row over the weekend.

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Mariners Stumble Against Rays, Twins

Week 7 Recap

Date Away Team Score Home Team Score Result
5/12 Rays 5 Mariners 12 W
5/13 Rays 2 Mariners 1 L
5/14 Rays 0 Mariners 2 L
5/15
5/16 Mariners 4 Twins 5 L
5/17 Mariners 3 Twins 4 L
5/18 Mariners 6 Twins 2 W

Well, we’re now more than a quarter of the way through the season and the Mariners sit just a game under .500. A rough week against the Rays and the Twins pushed the Mariners back in the win column but we’re still on the cusp of greatness.

  • After a twelve run offensive outburst on Monday, the Mariners didn’t score for 21 straight innings before scoring a single run in the fifth inning on Thursday. Woof.

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Mariners Begin Season with Hot Start

Week 1 & 2 Recap

Date Away Team Score Home Team Score Result
3/31 Mariners 10 Angels 3 W
4/1 Mariners 8 Angels 3 W
4/2 Mariners 8 Angels 2 W
4/3 Mariners 2 Athletics 3 L/12
4/4 Mariners Athletics PPD
4/5 Mariners 3 Athletics 1 W
4/6 Mariners 3 Athletics 6 L
4/7 OFF
4/8 Angels 3 Mariners 5 W
4/9 Angels 2 Mariners 0 L
4/10 OFF
4/11 Athletics 4 Mariners 6 W
4/12 Athletics 3 Mariners 1 L
4/13 Athletics 3 Mariners 0 L

Welcome back to another season of Seattle Mariners baseball. I’ll be covering the team week by week again and in the coming weeks you’ll be seeing some new features to this recurring series. For now, enjoy this recap of the first two weeks of play.

  • That series sweep against the Angels to begin the year felt really good. A number of experts picked the Angels to have resurgent year, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton couldn’t this bad the thinking went. Well a thorough dismantling by the Mariners doesn’t prove much–its only three games after all–but it sure was fun.
  • I’ll be glad when the Mariners are playing any of the other 27 teams in the majors. We started the year with five games against the Angels and six games against the Athletics. While we were able to build a small lead against three of the AL West teams, it’ll be nice to see another opponent.

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Spring Training 2014, Rotation Preview

The 2014 Seattle Mariners roster preview continues as we switch from position players to pitchers. I’ve previewed the infield and the outfield already, now we take a look at the starting rotation. In the past few days, the Mariners’ starting rotation has taken on a completely different look but the lingering question marks remain. Some lingering injuries have forced the Mariners to scramble to fill out the back end of their rotation. A few veterans who were looking to crack the rotation were in camp with the Mariners this spring ended up being cut. A veteran, who was in camp with another team, was brought in to join a pitcher who hasn’t pitched above Double-A for spots number 4 and 5 in the rotation. It seems eerily familiar to last year. This could be another boom or bust year for this position group–a common refrain for this team–as they surround a star with a group of unproven youngsters. Continue reading