Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Believe Big

I don't think any year would be complete without some post regarding my near-obsession (okay, it's not a near-obsession, it's an obsession) with the Seattle Mariners. And with the season underway and the M's with a winning record, I feel the need to share with all of you the deep, deep love I have for this team and this sport.

It began in '95 and steadily caught fire, rising to a crescendo in the magical 2001 season where the M's just couldn't be beat. I remember being amazed by the underestimated team full of respected names, but not necessarily any established superstars, taking on the entirety of baseball and winning 116 games - something only done by one other team in all of baseball's long history. We'd lost Griffey, the guy who put Seattle on the map, and A-Rod, and Randy Johnson was gone, too. Nobody thought we could do it. It was Ichiro's first year in the MLB, and no one knew what to make of the guy who won not only rookie of the year that year, but also was the American League MVP. We had Bret Boone, who up until that year wasn't really regarded as a top offensive player, but had a sudden breakout year (probably thanks to 'roids, but we didn't know that then). We played solid defense and won by executing on the small things. It was a wonderful year that ended too soon when we lost out in the playoffs.

The fervor died a little in the Bavasi years, where season after season we had high hopes which would be dashed time and again when the team collapsed and fell out of contention. The laundry list of bad contracts, or guys who didn't deliver on the expectations, or mismanagement of prospects was almost too long to keep track of: Carlos Silva, Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez, Miguel Batista, Richie Sexson, Carl Everett, Brad Wilkerson, the Bedard-Jones trade, the handling of Brandon Morrow, to name a few. They were dark days for M's fans, ending in 2008's disastrous, 101-loss season that no one really saw coming.

And now the light shines again. 2009 saw a complete turnaround in both management and on-the-flied performance for the M's. We went from a 61-win season to an 85-win season, a massive improvement and a nearly-complete roster changeover built around defense and drive. Smart people were in charge of the Mariners again, and it showed. The club went from being at each other's throats to a cohesive unit that actually liked playing together. They went from a team that was horrible at offense and defense, to a team that was horrible at offense but incredible at defense, with the best center-fielder in the game putting up unreal numbers with his range and ability to read fly balls, and the always-incredible, ageless Ichiro, and the new addition of Jack Wilson at shortstop replacing the unfortunately lazy, unteachable, underperforming Yuniesky Betancourt. Add to that the fabulous defensive workhorse Adrian Beltre, and you've got some skilled guys out there who know how to get guys out and help out the pitchers. And then the Cy Young runner-up performance by Felix Hernandez, and Ichiro ninth-straight 200+ hit-season ... one of those legendary seasons.

But 2010! It looks this truly might be THE year, if not the year before THE year. With an almost entirely new club (the only holdovers from the doomed '08 and the Bavasi years being Jose Lopez, Ichiro, Bedard, and Felix), the Mariners go into this season as the talk of the MLB. With an unmatch off-season that saw the acquisition of Cy Young-winner Cliff Lee for a handful of middling prospects, the signing of Chone Figgins, baserunner extraordinaire, and the signing of Felix to a 5-year extension, along with ridding the books of the overweight, overvocal, overpaid, albatross Carlos Silva, the M's gave everyone something to talk about. Was this really the same club that just a few short years ago traded away an All-Star, gold-glove center fielder for a pitcher who can't stay healthy, or traded a grade-A closer for a starter who got shelled every outing? The absolute transformation from laughingstock to shrewd, savvy wheelers-and-dealers has not just Seattle buzzing, but all of baseball. It's a good time to be an M's fan again.

So here's to you, Seattle Mariners: may this season hold many beer showers and a pennant at the end! Felix, may you win your first of many Cy Youngs, and Ichiro, may you take one more step in taking away Pete Rose's record. Guti, may you win your first of many Gold Gloves.

I am, as ever, a devoted fan.

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