Sometimes the baseball opener creeps up on me. Even though it seems as if the Mariners reported to spring training years ago - pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona, I think, when Jake Locker was a UW sophomore - I wasn't aware the 2011 season is now upon us until the other day, when a fan dialed up Mike Gastineau's afternoon sports radio show on 950-AM.
“You want to know how to fix the Mariners problems?” the caller began. “Fire Eric Wedge. That’s the guy who’s gotta go.”
“You want to fire Eric Wedge?” replied Gastineau, who then noted – reasonably, it seemed to me – that Wedge’s first Seattle team has yet to lose an actual game.
The caller’s reason for replacing the new manager a few days before the season opener was Wedge’s reluctance to criticize the talent-deficient roster he has inherited: As long as the skipper is offering even tacit approval of the moves made by general manager Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners are doomed to lose 100 games again.
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That was the logic in firing Wedge, anyway, and ...
Hey, wait a second. Did I just use the word “logic” and “firing Wedge” in the same sentence?
Although Gastineau’s exchange with the founding father of the Fire Wedge Camp was laugh-out-loud funny, the tone of the call pointed to a serious case of disillusionment among many Mariners fans. The team has stumbled to five last-place finishes in seven years, remaining relevant through Labor Day only in 2007. (That was the summer then-manager Mike Hargrove was so giddy about a seven-game winning streak on June 30, he announced he was quitting on July 1.)
Four years and three managers later, there’s a prevailing sense the Mariners can do nothing right, even when their 0-0 record insists they’ve done nothing wrong.
Granted, malaise in September is the price paid for putting too much early-April hope into a non-contender. But what’s so foolish about clinging to hope on April 1? Can’t the malaise wait until, like, after the All-Star break?
Here are a few tips on how to sustain interest in the first half of the season:
• Count the number of times a Zduriencik quote contains the phrase “at the end of the day,” then compare it to the number of times the same Zduriencik quote contains the phrases “going forward” and “at this point in time.”
• Establish your idea of an over-under date on when the five-man starting pitching rotation of Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard and Michael Pineda is broken up, either by injury or ineffectiveness. My over-under date is May 1, which might be less pessimistic than it sounds. If the staff remains intact until May Day, that means Bedard will have started five times – a full third as many starts as he has made in any season since he was acquired before the 2008 season.
• Tack a really cool nickname on Michael Pineda. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, the 22-year old right-hander’s sheer physical presence (Wedge likens it to former Astros All-Star J.R. Richard) packs too much of a fear factor for Pineda to follow the Mariners’ annoying tradition of applying a “y” after the first syllable and using it as nickname. As in: “Ichy” for Ichiro Suzuki, “Figgy,” for Chone Figgins, “Guty” for Franklin Gutierrez and “Lopey” for the erstwhile Jose Lopez. We can do better for Pineda than “Pinny.” I sort of like “The Beast,” but the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch already has dibs on that.
• Abridge the definition of a “perfect game.” The odds of a starting pitcher retiring all 27 batters in a victory are roughly one in 16,500. For the Mariners, a perfect game should mean nine innings without a baserunning blunder caused by a player forgetting how many outs there are, or misinterpreting a sign, or failing to check for a sign, or jogging back to a bag after an outfielder has rifled the ball back to the infield, or ...
You get the idea.
Even if the Mariners lose tonight in Oakland, I’ll regard a perfect game as evidence of progress.
• Avoid discussing any facet of the anemic offense. Runs were scarce last season, and figure to be almost as scarce this season. I get it: The Starland Vocal Band had more hits than the 2010 Mariners.
On the bright side, should their struggles at the plate continue, at least we won’t be inundated with Volume II of Milestones Depicting Futility. “Fewest runs scored by a team since 2010” sounds quite less profound than “fewest runs scored by a team since the advent of the baseball bat.”
• Quit agonizing over the Mariners having to begin the season with Milton Bradley batting third. Bradley is more familiar with that batting-order spot than any other – 1,360 plate appearances over his career – and, besides, do you remember who occupied the role of Mariners No. 3 hitter for the first month of 2010? That would be Casey Kotchman, who at this point in time is, well, not going forward. Kotchman accepted a demotion last week to Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate in Durham, N.C.
• Understand that it’s never too early in a baseball season to have fun with magic numbers. An attainable magic number for the Mariners, for instance, is four: That’s how many days their 2010 won-loss record was over .500.
I suppose a more aggressive magic number would be five, but I’m not in a position to be greedy. I’m looking for perfect games.
• Boo the Rangers’ Michael Young whenever Texas visits Safeco Field. I don’t advocate booing, and I can’t remember the last time I sat in the bleachers and yelled at another adult 50 feet away from me.
(Actually, I can remember: I booed the Rangers’ Juan Gonzalez during a 1999 interleague game at San Diego. Some bachelor party silliness with fellow sportswriters, liberated from the no-cheering constraints of the press box.)
Anyway, Young earned himself public-enemy status when he recently nominated Seattle as the AL West city where he’s least recognized.
“Not a lot of sports fans, and there’s usually some sort of political uprising going on,” he told ESPN The Magazine. “They couldn’t give a darn about me.”
Sounds like he’s thrown down a challenge for a sportswriter’s bachelor party, doesn’t it?
• Wait until Eric Wedge has amassed a body of work before calling up a sports talk show and advocating that Zduriencik fire him. I mean, the least you can do is give Zduriencik until the end of the day to determine that going forward is the Mariners’ only real option at this point in time.