Eight days after they began their 2014 season, the Seattle Mariners became the last major league team to play its first home game Tuesday.
A few hours before the Safeco Field gates opened, manager Lloyd McClendon was asked to compare the home opener with opening day.
“This,” McClendon said, “is the real opening day,” and then he explained why: “When you’re on the road, you don’t have your fans there. I’m sure our guys are anxious to hear the home crowd.”
Although the fireworks and red-carpet introductions were familiar, the pregame scene was unlike any of the 14 previous home openers at Safeco Field.
This time the ceremonial first pitch was preceded by a celebration of the Super Bowl champion football team that happens to play down the street. Coach Pete Carroll led a delegation of a half-dozen — it included former Lakes High wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, who held the Lombardi Trophy over his head — to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch thrown by quarterback Russell Wilson.
The pregame guests showed up in their home-uniform Seahawks jerseys, but for one night they were honorary Mariners, paying a neighborly visit on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Dream Weavers.
The dream goes like this: Eight months after a Seahawks victory parade snaked through downtown Seattle and stopped at CenturyLink Field, a Mariners parade will take a similar path toward Safeco Field.
That’s right, a Super Bowl victory and a World Series title, two in one city, two in one year, and while it’s a crazy and ridiculous notion, what’s the point of turning home openers into red-carpet spectacles if you can’t cultivate a crazy and ridiculous notion?
I’m not saying it will happen. I’m not saying it might happen.
But it can happen, because it has.
In 2004, the New England Patriots beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl, and the Boston Red Sox swept St. Louis in a Fall Classic notable only because it was the Red Sox’s first World Series championship since 1918.
A week before clinching the title, nobody in Boston — or outside of it — thought a Series title was possible. The Red Sox had just been clobbered by the Yankees, 19-8, in Game 3 of the League Championship Series to go down 0-3. Prior to Game 4, some Boston players offered their rivals congratulatory handshakes.
“It was crazy,” said Mariners reliever Charlie Furbush, who grew up in New England as a fan of both the Patriots and Red Sox before enrolling at St. Joseph’s College of Maine, some 100 miles north of Boston, in 2004. “The whole campus was watching. The Yankees had scored a ton of runs in Game 3, and everybody was like, ‘This thing is over.’”
Four games later, it was.
“Just shows you how crazy this game can be,” continued Furbush. “You can turn things around just like that.”
In 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory over the Dallas Cowboys was followed by the Pirates’ World Series upset of the Orioles. The Pirates were on the road for the finale, by the way. No World Series team has won a Game 7 on the road since those Bucs, whose motto — “We Are Family” — was borrowed from a Sister Sledge song.
And then there were the New York Jets and Mets in 1969, a duo that defined the premise of anything being possible. The Jets’ upset of Baltimore remains the most surprising result of any Super Bowl, and then the Mets outdid them by transforming from bottom feeders — since their 1962 inception, they’d never been over .500 after the ninth game of the season — into a team that overcame a 9.5-game deficit in the middle of August.
Like the 2014 Mariners, who lost 91 games a year ago, the 1969 Mets, who lost 89 the previous season, had no realistic chance of parlaying a city’s Super Bowl victory into a World Series title. But their young pitching staff sprang behind future Hall of Fame ace Tom Seaver, a makeshift lineup essentially built around right-lefty platoon matchups scratched out enough runs, and the “Miracle Mets” became baseball’s most unlikely champions since the 1914 Boston Braves.
The “Miracle Mets” showed how fearless ambition, when combined with karma, can defy modest expectations.
Could the “Miracle Mariners” do the same? Eyes typically roll when words like “miracle” are used in conjunction with the Mariners, and McClendon understands the skeptics.
“We’ve been knocked around quite a while,” he told reporters before a game that began with starting pitcher James Paxton getting knocked around quite a bit by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. “People on the street can be very pessimistic, as well as you guys, and probably rightfully so. We just haven’t gotten it done, and it’s a results-oriented business.”
Except before the home opener — the real opening day — when it’s a sky-is-the-limit business.
“Anything can happen,” said Furbush. “We’ve got a really great group of guys here. We’re all pushing for each other, and we all know what the bigger goal is: to get into the playoffs and hopefully win it all.
“And hey, maybe we can bring some Seahawks love from over there and see if we can get things going the way they did.”
Charlie Furbish realizes the odds are steep of the Mariners bringing a second major championship to Seattle in 2014.
What he’s telling you is, there is a chance.