I can’t help but be swept into the roil
If you’re reading this, you’re probably thrilled.
Fresh off of the hottest 25-game run in the past five years of all of Major League Baseball, the Seattle Mariners hold sole possession of the second Wild Card spot. All of the major projections give them about a 70% chance to make the playoffs. Leading the charge has been Julio Rodríguez, easily the most exciting Mariners prospect since Félix Hernández.
What Julio has been able to do defies nearly any attempt to describe it. Despite an April in which the rookie center fielder batted .205 with a 61 wRC+, he’s has been as good as Juan Soto was across his first 90 games. If he continues the pace he’s set since May, he’ll finish with 32 dingers and 31 steals. He would be the first rookie ever to join the 30-30 club.
As impressive as Julio’s numbers have been, the energy he’s brought to both the team and the city has been nothing short of astounding.
For the club: Julio’s energy is infectious — when you see him smiling, you can’t help but grin yourself. He’s almost always smiling. That joie de vivre has bled out onto the field: Julio, along with Jarred Kelenic and Jesse Winker, helped start the outfield “washing machine” celebration. That celebration in turn prompted the infield to create their now-famous celebratory dance. You might not believe that having fun helps the team play better. It certainly makes them more fun to watch.
For the city: we’re collectively experiencing a resurgence in excitement surrounding the Seattle Mariners that hasn’t been present since, at the very least, the end of last season. Such excitement hasn’t been seen this early in the season since 2018, and that excitement was quickly tempered by, well, everything. For all of his accomplishments, Julio’s biggest one might be melting the Seattle Freeze. I can’t hardly walk down the street without seeing someone in Mariners gear. Each time it seems like a Let’s go Mariners or Juliooooo uncontrollably bubbles out of one of us, so uncontainable is the verve we collectively feel.
But if you’re anything like me, you’re terrified.
Terrified that it’ll be any day that the other shoe drops. That the tear that the starting rotation has been on is unsustainable, that it’s telling that every single starting pitcher on the team has a strand rate that is well above the MLB average of 72%. Terrified that the gaping holes at second base and right field will come back to bite the team, that Sam Haggerty will find himself in a high-leverage situation and turn back into a pumpkin. That Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger won’t really get healthy this year. That the trade deadline will come and go, and the best the front office will muster will be half-hearted stab at Jake Marisnick or an awkward reunion with Erasmo Ramírez.
You might be terrified that, when the winning streak ends, and a few losses pile up, and the easy chemistry that comes with winning dissipates, that the fun will evaporate. The dances will feel forced. The massive infield dance will be reduced to just five players, then four, then cease to exist altogether.
As the sun sets earlier, first around 8:30, then at 8:00, jackets will become mandatory again to leave the house. The cool air from a breeze will become an abrupt discomfort, rather than a welcome freshener. As the team slips back out of contention, the same old questions will rise about how much the team will really add in payroll, and whether Jerry Dipoto just isn’t good enough or isn’t being given enough money to play with.
So if you’re anything like me, you’re terrified of all that.
It’s not something I like, the fear. It’s reminiscent of the awkward will-they-won’t-they that comes with asking out your first date in high school, or of applying for a job or a school program that you might not actually be a shoe-in for. It’s the fear that stops you from putting yourself out there, from moving forward into the unknown.
I’ve always masked the fear and called it cynicism. It’s a blanket, the cynicism. It’s so easy to comfortably lie back into the losing that we’ve built an identity around, wrap ourselves in the blanket, and refuse to move. After all, every time we’ve taken off the blanket before, the frigid wind has swept in, the rain has poured down, and we’ve been left cold, wet, and disappointed.
It’s safe and easy to lie back down. It’s scary to take off the blanket.
And yet, this year feels different. I look at Julio Rodríguez, and to choose not to believe seems childish and foolish. I see Logan Gilbert and George Kirby dazzle, Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen grind, and Robbie Ray simply pound Cal Raleigh’s palm with fastball after fastball, and I can’t look away. I see Jesse Winker, Carlos Santana, J.P. Crawford, Eugenio Suárez, and Ty France go on one hot streak after another, and the winning seems inevitable.
I’m mesmerized by Paul Sewald every time he strikes out a batter to win another game, screams, and raises a glove to the camera. Enraptured by Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash touching 100 MPH. In awe of the turnarounds of Diego Castillo and Erik Swanson. Astounded by the emergence of Penn Murfee, and the re-emergence of Matthew Festa.
This team has it all. The physical performances are there, and unlike in years past, they’re backed up by the statistics. Their personalities, reminiscent of the old You Gotta Love These Guys commercials, make you want to pull for them.
Every fiber of my being wants me to sit back down and wrap myself in cynicism. Every time someone says “how ‘bout those Mariners?”, I’m tempted to half-grin and say “it won’t last.” 10 of the Mariners’ next 13 games are against the Astros and Yankees. If things don’t go too well, I’ll want to start drafting the postmortem.
I’ll want to, but this team won’t let me. I don’t know how many more Mariners seasons we’ll get. I hope that it’s dozens, or hundreds, but there’s no guarantee. Do I want to look back and say that I sat back into cold comfort when the sun was just breaching the horizon?
Or do I want to say that I gave into this team wholeheartedly, allowing myself to be swept up into a joyful oblivion?