The first Friday of the last month of 2013 did not loom as momentous on Seattle’s sports calendar.
Absent a single game involving the area’s pro or college teams, fans figured to spend Dec. 6 as they would any other uneventful winter day: Talking about the first-place Seahawks and their upcoming road test Sunday against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
But before the frosted lawns had a chance to glisten in the sun, news broke about the University of Washington’s search for a new football coach. Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward had reached out to Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, a perfunctory candidate on coaching-replacement watch lists who perennially turns down offers from power-conference schools.
Not this time. Petersen, who during his eight-season tenure at Boise State established the Broncos as The Little Engine That Wins Almost 90 Percent Of Its Games, finally exchanged a job he had for life for the job challenge of his life: Proving he can succeed, week after week, against the kind of competition unavailable to him in Boise.
Hiring Petersen, a two-time recipient of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award as national coach of the year, was a blockbuster move for a Huskies program briefly rattled by Steve Sarkisian’s sudden departure for USC. And yet, within minutes, Petersen’s bold decision to relocate to Washington turned into the second-most prominent story of the morning.
Former New Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, the best player on baseball’s most illustrious team, had agreed to take the money and run to Seattle, home of baseball’s most irrelevant team. As recently as last week, Safeco Field was seen as an improbable destination for Cano, who spent three years of his childhood in New Jersey and wanted to remain with the Yankees for the duration of his career.
But when Cano, accompanied by his agent Jay-Z (I can’t believe I just typed that) visited Seattle on Thursday, the Mariners made an offer reported to be as long 10 years and as lucrative as $240 million. (I can’t believe I just typed that, either.)
If the numbers are accurate, Cano will own the one of the richest contracts in baseball history, topped only by the deals former Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez got from the Rangers and Yankees and equal to the deal the Angels gave first baseman Albert Pujols.
Because it’s a certainty Cano, who is 31, won’t perform at a peak level during the final three or four years of his contract, the Mariners set themselves up for ridicule. It’s fair to wonder if their quest to land a superstar position player in 2014 finds them tethered to an albatross in 2020.
It’s also fair to wonder if the Mariners were left without a choice. The plodding saga of reinventing themselves through the hit-and-miss process of the draft had done something more insidious than alienate fans. It bored them.
Despite his all-around talent, Cano won’t transform the Mariners from a team that typically loses 90 games a season into a team capable of winning 90. But the splash they made Friday could have a ripple effect that entices other established players – be they free agents or veterans with no-way-you’re-trading-me-to-Mudville clauses in their contracts – to consider Seattle in their future.
For two guys who’ll always be linked as a headline tag team on Dec. 6, 2013, Chris Petersen and Robinson Cano have little in common. Petersen is a cerebral, dour looking tactician who had been content overseeing a mid-major program in the Mountain Time Zone.
Cano whistles as he works, wearing a smile that suggests baseball, the most frustrating of sports, comes easy to him. New York can be intimidating for those who aren’t comfortable in the spotlight. Cano was comfortable in the spotlight, to the point his critics complained – such as on those occasions he didn’t make a mad dash to first after hitting an easy-out ground ball – he was too comfortable.
But Petersen now has the opportunity to mold the Huskies into conference champions, and he won’t have to design gadget plays to do it. (Please don’t be shy about that Chris. Just because you’ve moved to Seattle doesn’t mean you put those last-second, hook-and-ladder touchdowns in a desk drawer.)
And Cano now has the opportunity to help make the Mariners a team worth following again. (We’ll forgive you not running as fast as you can to first base, Robbie, although you might want to pretend you’re going all out for the first month or two.)
Dec. 6, 2013: Who’d have thought it will be recalled as a landmark anniversary in Seattle sports history?
Then again, Dec. 6 happens to be Saint Nicholas Day, when tradition in many European nations calls for children to wake up with the expectation of a gift left in a stocking.
Thank you, Saint Nicholas. We owe you one.