By Tom Wilk
At the risk of being controversial, let me start by saying: baseball is a little different in the Pacific Northwest.
Having grown up in the NY Metro area, I’m familiar with teams being close and fans having overlapping knowledge, rivalries, and interests. As a Mets fan, the Yankees were the hated cross-town rival. The Red Sox were the “anti-Yankees.” The Phillies were schoolyard bullies from two towns over. The Baltimore and Washington, DC teams, despite being “just down the road,” were after-thoughts.
Six teams within a 250-mile radius. Fans, especially in New York and Boston, rabid for success and excellence. Fans with generations of loyalty and perspective. Fans who defined the spirit of “allegiance” and “rivalry”.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are nearly 1,000 miles away from the next-closest MLB team. While the Oakland A’s are in the same division (AL West), the sense of rivalry is nothing close to Boston vs. Yankees. Often baseball here in Seattle is more about a great time at our beautiful ballpark, without care for who we’re playing or even who wins.
Attending games in the late 1980’s (in the Kingdome), I was shocked to find that few Seattle fans ever booed. Bad plays, bad calls, bad baseball – yet rarely a complaint voiced by polite fans. Lou Piniella helped change that, but to some extent this cultural difference remains today. Perhaps the biggest difference from other MLB fans in other cities – for the most part, over many seasons, Mariners fans are OK with just being OK.
Here in Seattle, MLB didn’t even appear until 1969 (with failed Pilots, who left for Milwaukee after just one season). Since being created from a lawsuit against MLB, the Mariners have shown up every season since 1977, but have rarely distinguished themselves. For 45 years, our Mariners have rarely been legit contenders for a Championship.
Many current Seattle fans are transplants from other MLB cities, with dual allegiances – a concept unheard of in the NY Metro area. Myself, there’s always a soft spot in my baseball heart for the Amazing Mets, the team of my boyhood that shocked the world in 1969.
The 1995 Mariners put Seattle on the MLB map. That team brought a joy and excitement to the city, as never before from a baseball team. They showed fans what was possible. The 2001 team garnered similar attention with 116 regular season wins. But, ultimately lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.
Since then, Nothing!
Well, not completely “Nothing”. Local fans did learn how to Boo a player when ARod left Seattle to chase the money. Plus, we sure did enjoy watching Ichiro and “King Felix”. We even invented a new baseball term: “Getting Felix-ed” (to pitch a great game but get zero run support).
For the last 20 years, the Mariners have only had 8 winning seasons. No Playoffs. Little Glory. Lots of memories of 1995 and 2001. A techno-fan created a Twitter bot as the “PostSeason Drought Counter”. It’s already passed 3,270 games. Over Three Thousand Mariners games without a playoff appearance! What MLB fan base would accept their team going 20 years and over 3,000 games without even a playoff berth?
In September of 2015, Jerry Dipoto joined as GM. Since then, “Trader Jerry” has executed over 120 Trades. After the 2018 season, he started a Rebuild effort to be Young, Talented and Cheap. His stated goal: “Sustainable Championship Rosters”. Loyal fans have been watching, waiting, doubting, hoping.
The 2021 season finished with 90 wins and huge excitement. Now, here we are, early September 2022. The Rebuild is completed. The 2022 Mariners are built on Pitching and Defense and a young star named Julio.
As I write this, the Mariners are holding a wild-card spot for the American League playoffs. They seem on track for at least 88 wins. The eye-test shows them as a more talented team than last season. They are the type of baseball team, led by great starting pitching and a solid bullpen, that could do damage in any post-season series. As the adage goes: “Great Pitching will always stop good hitting.”
As I mentioned at the start, Baseball is a little different here in the Pacific Northwest.
There are many fans who are new to all this. This is their first legitimate pennant race. Many are still learning about the roller-coaster ride “down the stretch” and the nightly scoreboard watching. Fan attitudes range widely from the highly cynical who say: “Same Old Mariners, they’ll blow it”, to the massively optimistic, already planning playoff lineups.
While some already think the race is over - despite a month of games still ahead - there are a few old guys (like me) who have seen many a pennant race and stretch run. We know from experience that over 25 games nearly anything can happen. Nothing is won yet, but it sure looks good.
After 20 years, this fan base is ready to explode. From kids to grandparents, the PacNW is ready for MLB Playoffs and the chance for a championship run.
I’m tracking “Quality Starts” and enjoying the consistently good play of this Mariners team. I’m cautiously optimistic. I remind myself that even a World Series appearance is possible – a lesson I learned from those Amazing Mets of 1969.
My baseball daydream for the 2022 season?
Seattle Mariners face New York Yankees in the ALCS, win in 5 games.
Then, Seattle vs New York Mets in the World Series.
Game 7, Edwin Diaz trying to close out a one-run win for the Mets… M’s with a runner on 2nd and Julio at the plate.
And here’s the pitch…
Tom is an old-school baseball fan from his days on the sandlots and time spent at Shea. Since moving to Seattle in late 1980’s he’s followed the ups and downs of the Seattle Mariners. Contact him via Twitter [Fastballs&Curves - @tomseaver41] or Email TJW14214@icloud.com.