Let's face it. After 2001, the aughts were pretty awful years for us, Mariner Magic faithful. Not a magical decade. There were 93 wins apiece in '02 and '03, but there were no playoffs and no energy -- we were still reeling from that spirit-killing, disheartening ALCS in '01. The triple-whammy of losing Randy, Griffey and A-Rod began to set in. The 116 wins had allowed us to forget the superstars for a little while. But then Lou left too. And Edgar retired in '04. I was there, I cried a little. The team felt empty. The last of the Mariner Mountains was gone, and we were left with... Bob Melvin? No. Not even Bo-Mel would be around to save us.
The second half of the dark decade was marred by the Bill Bavasi and Mike Hargrove parade of stupid. Their stubborn ineptitude brought into question the ownership's intentions and sanity. Bavasi, Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong became symbolic co-captains of the Good Ship Mariner, now rudderless, and crashing repeatedly onto the rocks at Alki with each tsunami wave of choices.
Rightfully, we called for their heads. Rich Aurilia and Scott Spiezio? Ramon Santiago? Horacio Ramirez? A dude named "Yorvit"? What the hell is a "Wiki Gonzalez"? Seriously. Later there would be Jose "DH" Vidro, and Carlos "Hamburglar" Silva. The list of characters is long.
And for every eyebrow-raising acquisition, another real Mariner wandered out Safeco's gates scratching his head. Magic favorite, Rafael Ninja Soriano went poof. Belltown bosom buddies Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen were forced to suffer through a tearful breakup -- they just couldn't do the distance thing. Jamie Moyer went away to win a World Series. Kaz-Man Sasaki? ...Well, we're still unclear on what happened there. But even Kazu's perpetual schoolboy grin could not endure this hope-shredding, soul-crushing era.
Don't get me wrong, I still loved the Mariners. I was no less a fan. But being a fan almost felt like a chore. Aside from getting my Felix fix every fifth, watching the team play became an exercise in excruciation. Even the good players got into the act. Worse than watching Richie Sexson's decline was witnessing Yuni's transformation from a sparkling Gold Glove into a little ball of goo rolling around on the infield dirt.
It was enough to make even the most loyal Mariner Magician drop his wand and cast a slew of crass four-letter curses at the TV.
I don't think I realized just how pessimistic and jaded I had become during that period of baseball until I went to Mariners Fanfest this past weekend, and noticed that not a single sniff of Bavasi's swirling sewer of decisions remained. No more Hamburglar. No more Yuni. No more maddening Morrow, or positionless Clement. Batista? Nowhere to be found. I could only smell Figgins' snazzy cologne. And hot dogs. And that was heartening.
That's where Duritz's lyrics come in. We've been invested in this team all along, but the time has come to really love the Mariners again. Without having to peer through squinty eyes, afraid to watch.
The past year has been like taking a bath -- loving the Mariners doesn't feel dirty anymore. Does that make sense? It's time to love them like we loved them when Junior was 26. Like we loved them when The Unit shouted down a victim, and his sweat-soaked curls clung proudly to his pelican-like neck. Back when Edgar made the Dome's outfield walls look like his own personal pinball machine. Our baseball innocence has been restored. So roll a new love over, Magic.
The cast of the next great Mariners team is beginning to take shape. They aren't all here yet, but soon enough. You know the headliners by their first names. Felix and Ichiro and Cliff. Franklin and Chone. Supporting roles are played by flamethrowers Aardsma, League, and Lowe, and a left fielder who can actually hit -- and who also manufactures a nifty line of boardgames. Jack Wilson is standing in for Little O. There's an Australian southpaw, and a pudgy yet friendly-looking Venezuelan at
Some of the cast will surely shift and change, but most of the headliners are here to stay. Finally. This feels like the genesis of something pretty cool.
Walking around at Fanfest with a favorite album piping through my earbuds, I smiled just as I did when I took the pre-opening tour back in 1999. The energy was back at the Safe, and it was only January. This team feels fresh. It might not feel this way for long, but it's a good feeling, and I'm going to ride it.
Who's with me? Magic, I know you're out there. Time to grease the wheels. Let's get our Mariner train rollin'. I know we're a little rusty, but October isn't too far down the tracks.
Not sure if you've heard. The aughts are over. Amen.
[I think August and Everything After by Counting Crows is the most timeless album I own. Beginning to end, it never gets old. It would feel weird to say out loud, but with a gun to my head and forced to choose just one album, August... would probably be it. Dig it out if you have it.]