Seattle’s star-crossed youth is a symbol of life’s injustice and still he manages to be a beacon of hope.
This weekend, with their season spiraling, the Seattle Mariners received a jolt of life-giving energy from their recently returned Rookie of the Year, Kyle Lewis. Limited to merely DH work, Lewis nonetheless injected an additional degree of menace into the lineup Seattle hoped would carry them this season. Lewis is no Reggie Jackson, but his knack for doing damage to some of the most impressive arms he’s faced not only helps build the joy and value of his return, it makes for a player that simply must be watched at every opportunity.
Nearly three full years ago, Kyle Lewis arrived in MLB. The move was slightly unexpected, a September call-up straight from Double-A Arkansas despite middling numbers and plenty of question marks. The twilight of the dismal 2019 season offered few sparks of joy, however, and who were we to turn down the arrival that sometimes felt might never come. Kyle Lewis, in a game I stayed up until midnight on the East Coast to catch, facing the Cincinnati Reds and their then-future-Cy-Young Trevor Bauer, went deep for his first big league hit.
September 10th, 2019. Game one of 116 now that Lewis has played for Seattle, an auspicious number here in its own right. On night number two, against veteran All-Star Sonny Gray, he did it again. On night three, again. His Rookie of the Year campaign in 2020 featured more of the same, including his staggering moonshot on Opening Day to greet future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.
Not all of Lewis’ home runs have come against stellar opponents, nor have all his plate appearances been as exemplary as these. The now-26-year-old Lewis has just 480 plate appearances under his belt and 138 of them (28.7%) have ended in strikeouts. Health issues continue to malign as well of course, holding him back from playing back-to-back-to-back games in Tacoma and again this weekend in Seattle. Yet every time Lewis steps onto the field, there is the hope for something special, at least in my own heart.
Call it the Edgar Effect, or the Ichiro Experience, or the Félix Feeling. As Bren wrote recently, there is something particularly inspiring about Lewis every time he is on the field. Part of it is his status as the first 1st round pick of this regime, the new standard-bearer of hope who shone so bright before his journey through health struggles began. Another piece is those injuries, Lewis’ status becoming borderline ethereal as he battled back from setbacks and surgeries to take the field over and over, somehow dominating still once again despite all ill-fate has conspired to rob from him. Perhaps it is seeing how the rest of the team and organization responds to his success, that they too are rooting for him, not just as a fellow cog in their collective effort to win baseball games, but as an extension of themselves and the joy and power of this sport to inspire and unite.
In an ideal world, I would have something statistically striking to weave throughout this piece, something quantitative to balance the ghastly number of enigmatic descriptors I’ve flung to and fro throughout this piece. But I wanted to write about the way watching Kyle Lewis play baseball makes me feel, and because it’s difficult to analyze 16 plate appearances from a guy with fewer total games played as a Mariner than Adam Lind. Kyle Lewis makes me feel like I want to watch every time he’s up to bat, not just because he might do something incredible, like hit another homer off Verlander to help Seattle take a series from Houston, but also because I’m not sure how many more chances I’ll get to watch him play.
I wonder if this is how Mariners fans felt watching Edgar in 1993-94, after his first batting title and Silver Slugger, when the shoddy turf in Vancouver shredded his hamstring and an errant pitch from Dennis Martinez robbed his wrist of power, casting doubt over their budding star’s future. Edgar was nearly six years older then than Lewis now, a famously late bloomer, or at least late recipient of a full-time opportunity. Even casual fans are liable to know of the journey Lewis has taken, the good nature he’s maintained throughout, and the difference in the Mariners lineup when he is present within it. May this weekend be the portent of a long tail to the tale of K-Lew.