It’s times like these where I ask myself, for the umpteenth time, “what qualifies being a true fan?” My beloved Seattle Mariners, the love of my life (minus every pretty girl I happen to pass by on the street), are dying a slow and painful death. The 2010 season began with hopes high and expectations higher, and 40 games in, both have crashed down to earth like Icarus, the team a broken shell of what it was meant to be. Jack Zduriencik, our brilliant leader, is stuck between a rock and a hard place; he must improve the team in any way possible, but he must also deal with the emotional attachment issues held by the fans and the team ownership to their former star-turned-albatross.
I never loved Ken Griffey, Jr. like others did. I was three years old when the Kid raced home on Edgar’s famous Double, sending the M’s to the AL Championship. I went to my first Mariners game in 2001, by which point Griffey had taken off for Cincinnati. By all accounts, I’m a rookie of a Mariners fan. When the surefire Hall-of-Famer returned to Seattle for one final season, I took on the city’s excitement, despite the glaring fact that I hadn’t been around for the Griffey years. Not because I felt I had to, but because I wanted to. Throughout my short tenure as a Mariners fan, I never had a hero. I mean no offense to the incomparable Ichiro, but I wanted someone like Albert Pujols —- an all-around phenom —- on the team I loved, even though I knew full well that the Kid’s glory days were over. Ken Griffey, Jr. embodies the oddly romantic notion of the falling (and now fallen) star, and I was all too happy to embrace him, like the grandfather I never knew I had.
And now Griffey has overstayed his welcome, has posted a .449 OPS, and constitutes a huge part of the Mariners’ 2010 implosion. But, through it all, I still like the guy and root for him to succeed. And I don’t understand it. The Mariners are 14-26, hopelessly mired in the AL West cellar yet again, score less than four runs on a regular basis, and I still turn on the radio every night to listen to the game. And I don’t understand it.
So why do I love Ken Griffey, Jr? And why do I love the Seattle Mariners? Can the geographic proximity of myself to Safeco Field really conjure up such a massive affinity for a professional sports franchise? Is it simply the presence of the word “Seattle” in the team’s name that gives me a sense of pure elation elation when they win and a sense of deep-rooted anger when they lose? And why is it that when I convince myself that there is no rational way that I should continue paying attention to this flailing mess of a baseball team, I still find myself spending three hours that night watching the team lose yet another by way of walk-off to their division rivals?
Jeff Sullivan recently wrote a Game Recap on Lookout Landing where he admitted that he had crossed the line from anger into indifference (or as he calls it, observation) with respect to the Seattle Mariners, at least for right now. I’m not sure where I am on that scale, but I’m not ready to give up on the team just yet (not to say that Jeff is). However many times I speak the words, “I give up,” or “this team is hopeless,” I realize that I just want the team to succeed that much more. I will never truly give up on the 2010 Seattle Mariners —- because I am emotionally incapable of doing so. Rationally, I want Sean White to lock himself in his closet and swallow the key, for Chone Figgins to take a class on how to hit a God damn baseball, and for Don Wakamatsu to learn how to fill out a lineup card like a human being with a IQ above 7; honestly, the myriad of issues with and under-performances by this team makes me want to hang up my sabermetric cleats and find some other team or sport to obsess over. But I can’t. I have to watch the Mariners and care about the Mariners and think about the Mariners because I don’t know what I would do otherwise.
I don’t know why I still watch the Mariners, and I probably will never understand the underlying psychological reasons why. But I do know that I love this team, and if they fail miserably, I will be right there with them.
At least Icarus has someone to keep him company as he falls.