By now I felt guilty about what I had got my father into. He had developed no real affection for the club, and would rather, I think, have taken me to any other First Division ground. I was acutely aware of this, and so a new source of discomfort emerged: as Arsenal huffed and puffed their way towards 1-0 wins and nil-nil draws I wriggled with embarrassment, waiting for Dad to articulate his dissatisfaction. I had discovered after the Swindon game that loyalty, at least in football terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with. Marriages are nowhere near as rigid — you won’t catch any Arsenal fans slipping off to Tottenham for a bit of extra-marital slap and tickle, and though divorce is a possibility (you can just stop going if things get too bad), getting hitched again is out of the question. There have been many times over the last twenty-three years when I have pored over the small print of my contract looking for a way out, but there isn’t one. Each humiliating defeat (Swindon, Tranmere, York, Walsall, Rotherham, Wrexham) must be borne with patience, fortitude, and forbearance; there is simply nothing that can be done, and that is a realization that can make you simply squirm with frustration.
Of course I hated the fact that Arsenal were boring (I had by now conceded that their reputation, particularly at this stage in their history, was largely deserved). Of course I wanted them to score zillions of goals and play with the verve and thrill of eleven George Bests, but it wasn’t going to happen, certainly not in the foreseeable future. I was unable to defend my team’s inadequacies to my father — I could see them for myself, and I hated them — and after each feeble attempt at goal and every misplaced pass I would brace myself for the sighs and groans from the seat next to me. I was chained to Arsenal and my dad was chained to me, and there was no way out for any of us.
–Nick Hornby, “Fever Pitch”
Baseball and I have had a complicated relationship these past few years. At first it was the Mariners — I was so fed up with the franchise and its stupid decisions that I decided to stop investing financial and emotional resources in them. The former was easy; the latter wasn’t. I tried to quit them cold turkey and start watching other teams, but there was no passion. I didn’t need to see the games, didn’t need to be involved in its rhythms and patterns — didn’t even really pay attention to the playoffs and certainly didn’t care about the World Series, except inasmuch as I wanted the Yankees (and, more recently, the Red Sox) to lose.
It’s sometimes said that one can be a baseball fan, in the sense that one is a fan of baseball, but I’m starting to think that you need to have a single team to root for — something that anchors you within the context of the sport. You might know how to appreciate a good ball game, and even enjoy watching teams you have no vested interest in for the sake of watching the game (minor league ball is a lot like this for me), but the joy isn’t there if it’s not a team you care about. Maybe other people are capable of caring like that. Probably other people are capable. I’m not. Without the Mariners in my daily life, I came unmoored from baseball: vaguely aware of what was going on, and what had happened over the past week or so, but not engaged and involved in it. I stopped reading Baseball Prospectus, stopped reading the box scores, stopped reading game summaries. If only because the commentary is so thoroughly excellent I still paid attention to USS Mariner and Dave Cameron; the Mariner-specific stuff served only to enrage me further and remind me of why I wasn’t investing any energy in caring.
Don’t play, can’t lose. Don’t care, can’t get hurt.
I try not to get too worked up about sports. At the end of the day, stripped of all the money and glamour and marketing, it’s all just a game. Games are, in the words of one guy, supposed to be fun. Tom Boswell once said there was something missing in the six months outside the baseball season, and I think he’s right — the repetition, the regularity, the consistancy.. ah, you either know what I mean, or you don’t. I’m not going to go all George Will here.
“Fun” was the key. It was fun to go to games. We went to a pair of games last spring in Seattle and watched the Mariners get thumped both times by the Tigers. (I boldly predicted to K. that the Tigers were probably going to win the World Series, based on Chris Shelton and some crazy-assed pitching, and for the first time in my life predicting sports I was only half wrong.) It was fraking cold, the beer was expensive, the tickets were insanely expensive, and they’d hiked the price on the garlic fries since the last time I’d been there, but it was still fun. I didn’t mind. I was twelve feet away from Ichiro taking practice swings in the on-deck circle. What’s not to like? K., a non-baseball fan, had fun. We were talking about going to Opening Day 2007.
Things are different now. They started to change when the Mariners traded Rafael Soriano to Atlanta for Horacio Ramirez. This wasn’t an inexcusable deal, just a stupid one — Ramirez is a back-of-the-rotation guy, not someone who’s going to change the outcome of your season. You need to have guys like him in your rotation, but you don’t trade good bullpen guys for him (and then complain you have holes in your bullpen). Soriano has a bit of an injury problem and took a hellacious line drive off his head on 29 August this year, though he has been pitching well in winter ball. So I can understand why holding on to the flame-throwing kid may not necessarily have been the Mariners’ highest priority.
Then this happened.
This is inexcusable. We’ll set my man-crush on Chris Snelling aside and ignore Fruto, though I do love Chris and Emiliano Fruto has an awesome name. The Mariners got older and more expensive and worse. That’s never the right side of a trade to be on. Jose Vidro solves exactly 0 problems for the Mariners. The Mariners had many issues going into this off-season, none of which cried out for an aging, out-of-shape 2B from the National League, and certainly not at $16M over two years with an option for 2009. About the only nice thing I can say about this trade is that Jim Bowden isn’t the dumbest GM in baseball anymore.
I heard this and wanted to cry. It was the first time in years that baseball has moved me to such an emotion. Being a Mariners fan the past few years has been an exercise in futility — you know the team is never going to return to the giddy heights of 2001, and deep down you know they’re going to find some horrible way to screw it up. But there’s always been hope — that next year, they might figure it out, put it together, and win. Snelling was part of that hope. Fruto was part of that hope. At least, if they were going to suck, they weren’t going to suck and cost the team a lot of money.
Now, though, I’m left with this empty, hollow feeling. I don’t honestly believe this move makes the team better. There’s no way this trade makes any kind of sense for the Mariners. My team has committed to a player with declining skills who costs way too much money for far too much time at the expense of a pair of cheap players that could be effective — all in the name of solving a problem that isn’t that hard to fix in the first place (namely, finding a DH). I know Bill Bavasi’s job is in danger if he doesn’t Win Now!, but this is the kind of thing that (a) ensures you don’t Win Now!, and (b) ensures you don’t win Next Season, or the One After That Either.
I guess all I’m saying is that if my bloated body washes up in the Inner Harbor (or, given the way the wind is blowing now, somewhere around Port Angeles) with a note that says “Take that, Howard Lincoln!” stapled to it.. it’s a guy thing.
“Finally! The craziness of the baseball off-season with the text-based goodness of advent!”
dmz, he be one funny guy.
The Mariners have just finished being swept by every divisional rival in the AL West. They’re on an 11 game losing streak, with 19 straight losses against Texas, Oakland, and
AnaheimLos Angeles, good for 10-32. To say I am displeased is a severe understatement, though I note that my observation from June seems to be eerily prescient, just in the opposite direction — I go away, they play excellent ball; I come home, they find new and imaginative ways to fuck up and lose.
I think this comment over at the definitive M’s blog kind of sums it up:
This team’s looking to arrive back in Seattle in about as good a shape as Le Grand Armée arriving back in Paris after the road-trip to Moscow.
When can we exile Hargrove to Elba? Soon? Please?
Seriously, I mean, huh?
Devil rays! IN YOUR FACE!!!
Not that I disagree with the sentiments or anything like that, but let’s be honest here — isn’t this a bit like picking on the handicapped kid in school? I’d think that being a Rays fan (or, worse still, a Devil Ray) is punishment enough without having Seattle fans get all sore winner-ish.
(Yay for sweeps, though. Woo!)