Archive for the ‘Seattle Mariners’ Category

h1

Seattle Mariners, 1978

March 19, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Seattle Mariners

You can’t predict the future. You can only hope for the best. Here is the first Seattle Mariners squad ever assembled, the 1977 edition, a collection of expansion draft refugees and free agent driftwood, posed outside the Kingdome. Years later, as the Kingdome neared its last fatal crumbling days as a home for big league baseball, it would be spoken of with shame and regret by the team’s president, Ken Behring [update: Ken Behring was in fact an owner of the Seattle Seahawks]. “We have a building here that was poorly designed, that was never well built and that was poorly maintained from day one,” Behring said. “Plus, it’s downright homely. It was outdated at the time it was built.”

But the setting of this team picture suggests that in the beginning the Mariners had some hope for and pride about the Kingdome. If they didn’t, would they have had their picture taken in front of it? The picture is similar to that of a young family posing outside a first house: Here we are, brand new. Home.

The central dream of human life seems to be to find a home. Maybe this dream has its roots in the very earliest days of human life on earth, when our grunting nomadic ancestors first stumbled into the discovery that any kind of shelter from the harrowing elements was an improvement on loitering around outside and getting pelted with sleet or burned by the sun or swallowed in bloody chunks by saber-toothed tigers. You can’t predict the future, but you can try to lessen the terrifying uncertainty of existence by moving into a cave or a mud hut or a wood house or a concrete skyscraper or a dome. A home.

The idea behind playing baseball in a dome is that it will always be the equivalent of a warm spring day inside such a structure. It was supposed to be one of those days for real where I live a couple days ago. That was the prediction, anyway, but after a brief spell of blue sky in the morning gray clouds moved in and the temperature dropped. I went for a walk late in the day and was a little underdressed, still attached to the hopeful prediction for the day. I passed a newspaper vending bin and saw headlines about a possible nuclear meltdown in Japan. This triggered the loop in my mind of images from the earthquake and tsunami. I continued on my walk. Office workers flailing through nightmare snowglobe frenzies of paper and shattered computers. At a drug store I bought a magazine to help me predict the upcoming season in terms of fantasy baseball. Houses and cars riding giant sheets of water like bathtub toys swirling in a draining tub. I walked back toward my new address, where my wife and I just moved. Survivors in surgical masks picking through rubble. I sat down in my new living room with my fantasy baseball magazine and watched my basketball predictions instantly begin to fail miserably as I planned more doomed predictions for baseball and thought about people in surgical masks searching bulletin boards for familiar names and with all that you’d think I’d give up on the future but I can’t help it. The sun broke through the clouds late in the day and lit up the room where I was sitting and I felt hopeful about my new home.

***

How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 16 of 30: Pay close attention while you still can to Ichiro Suzuki. And do what you can to help.

***

2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s

h1

Ichiro

September 7, 2009

Ichiro 05

Yesterday I went to the third game in the Red Sox’ four-game series against the White Sox, thanks to the kind invite of Joe Stillwell of Stats, Inc. In the first inning, after the first two White Sox batters reached base, Paul Konerko lifted a blooper to short right field. My eyes went to the right fielder, JD Drew, who was racing forward but who clearly would not be able to reach the ball before it landed. The ball hung in the air long enough for me to feel sorry for myself. All season long I’d been looking forward to the Red Sox lone visit to the city where I live, and they had lost the first game of the series 12-2, had gone down with barely a whimper in the second game, a 5-1 loss, and now this: first inning, bases loaded and nobody out. But as I was going through this litany of self-pity, Dustin Pedroia appeared as if from nowhere, lunged, and made a spectacular running catch. He then whirled immediately and threw a strike to the shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, doubling off the White Sox leadoff man, Scott Podsednik, who had strayed several yards from second as the blooper neared its seemingly sure resting place in the grass. In an instant too quick to take a breath, what looked to be a disastrous start had quieted to two out and a man on first.

Beside me, Joe remarked on the alertness of the second act of Pedroia’s play, and of baseball players in general. This morning, as I was turning the play over in my mind, I thought about my own athletic history, and how I periodically punctuated my anonymous, generally ineffectual efforts with a stupid play of one sort or another. Again and again, my mind wandered, or got lost in the flurry of activity, or just went into a blind white panic. The next moment, when I would come back to myself, always felt like the stunned and queasy moment after a minor accident. Eyes would be on me, for once, but not in a good way.

Well, nobody’s perfect, and even professional athletes make bonehead plays, but the amazing thing about these athletes is that these mental miscues are the rare exception to the norm. Labor Day seems to be a good time to celebrate this element of the major leaguer’s job skills, so I thought before spending the rest of the day lazing around and watching baseball players work, I’d briefly turn my own wandering focus on a current baseball star who epitomizes the impressive mindfullness of professional athletes.

Yesterday this player got his 2,000th hit, reaching the mark in fewer games than anyone in baseball history besides Al Simmons (Ichiro needed 12 more games than the 1930s basher). Barring some unforeseen calamity, Ichiro will collect his 200th hit of the year in a few days, which will set the record for most consecutive seasons (nine) with 200 or more hits, a record he currently shares with Wee Willie Keeler. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch him much, but I have to think, judging from his hitting and fielding records, which are not only remarkable for their constancy but also as close to flawless as the failure-riddled metrics of a baseball player can allow, that he’s had few, if any, moments when he didn’t know exactly what to do at any given moment in a baseball game.

h1

Ruppert Jones

August 10, 2009

Ruppert Jones 78

Sundown

(continued from Scott McGregor)

Three

I.
I used to live a few blocks north of a bustling Hasidic neighborhood in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. On Fridays as dusk approached the streets emptied but for a few stragglers who hustled to get where they were supposed to be before it got dark.

I never had anywhere to go on a Friday evening at dusk. Maybe later I’d end up at the International on Seventh Street in Manhattan, and I’d stay there for hours, until last call and beyond, and with a couple other regulars help Rose close and lock the gate, and then after a long wait for a subway and a ride under the East River, where decades earlier my grandfather was found floating, I’d stumble home as the sun rose. Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Bill Stein

November 5, 2008
 Untitled 
Contrary to my propensity for angry nihilistic self-hating screeds, I’m not an altogether hopeless guy. For example, today’s a good day, a hopeful day. I feel like I might have a leader. Last night, after the first speech of the new president-elect of the United States, I pointed at the TV and declared to my wife, “I want to run through a fucking wall for that man.” I really meant it, and felt an emotional tremble in my voice as I said it, but in truth as a declaration of intentions it was nice and blustery and vague. I didn’t actually have to commit to anything. I mean, I could have said, “Where’s the nearest Peace Corps induction center?” or “Get me the number to an organization that sends guys into locked wards to teach the criminally insane to square dance.” Since I’m kind of a quitter, and don’t enjoy quitting, I try to avoid commiting to anything. But here it is the day after and I still feel hopeful and like I want to be part of the Yes We Can battalion instead of continuing on with my usual lonely mantra of No I Can’t.

What does this have to do with Bill Stein? Well, not much. But first of all, at the risk of starting the first day of a hopeful new warmly inclusive era on a sour and mean-spirited note: whoo, he ugly. I only say this because I love my baseball cards, every single one of them, but most especially the ones featuring the luckless marginals, the nobodies, the drifters, the inglorious, the big-eared and mush-nosed and chinless and soggily-mustachioed and dim-eyed. The ugly. Hallelujah for the ugly! Today we spread wide our embrace to include every-fucking-body, the excluding myth of the Aryan suburban blond Mr. Joe America fatally punctured, hallelujah. And second of all, I mean the second reason I am talking about Bill Stein on this hopeful Yes We Can day, is that before this day was This Day it was, in the ever-evolving myth of the Cardboard Gods, Expansion Day.

On this day, November 5, back in 1976 (the year in which the country eructed stars and stripes from every pore in celebration of that first expansion into nationhood 200 years earlier), the heaven that has presided over my life expanded. That was the day of the expansion draft that breathed life into two new major league teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, and breathed life into the flagging careers of dozens of men on the professional baseball scrap-heap, and breathed life into the hopes of everyone who has ever felt the world closing in all around them. Life contracts, gets smaller, narrower, more and more hopeless. But life also expands. So today on Cardboard Gods we celebrate that expansion, as we will every November 5 from here until the molecules currently comprising my singular body expand to mingle with the body of all.

Happy Expansion Day, everybody!

* * *

And speaking of expansion, Bronx Banter’s ongoing Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series recently expanded to include my obscenity-laden ramblings about car wrecks, criminal mischief, and Steve Balboni.

h1

Mario Mendoza

September 3, 2008
 

Untitled 
I Walk the (Mendoza) Line
(continued from Dan Uggla)

Chapter Five

I.
Some guys just look scary at the plate. Their malevolent body language suggests to me not only the imminent production of screaming line drives but also, somehow, physical agony, as if I owe several grand to a mob boss and the hulking batter has cornered me in an alley to administer my late-fee penalties. Pujols, Sheffield, Bagwell, Belle. I don’t know how pitchers pitch to guys like this. If some nightmarish sequence of events somehow put me on the mound against one of these guys in their prime I’d surely just fling the ball over my shoulder in the general direction of the plate while diving behind the meager cover of the mound.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Tom Paciorek

August 25, 2008
 Untitled 

I Walk the (Mendoza) Line
(continued from Bill Plummer)

Chapter Two
Thanks in part to Tom Paciorek, there’s a term for the borderline between just barely getting by and not getting by at all. Some say Paciorek coined this term, but Paciorek himself claims that he heard the term—which alluded to the .200 batting average that a Mariner teammate always seemed to be either just above or just below—from a third Mariner, Bruce Bochte. Either way it seems to have been Paciorek, a gregarious type, who started spreading the term around, most significantly passing it along to Royals third baseman George Brett, who shared it with ESPN’s Chris Berman, who carried news of The Mendoza Line to the rest of the world. Oddly enough, this seems to have transpired in 1980, the year Brett ended up making the most serious charge toward a .400 batting average since the last time the legendary mark was actually reached, in 1941 by Ted Williams. 

Tom Paciorek, like all but two or three living human beings (Brett, Gwynn, Carew), never got close to hitting .400. At the time the card pictured here came out, 1979, he had not hit above .300 in a season either. Conversely, he had hit below .200 once in his career, a mark that may have suggested to Paciorek that the end was always near, which may explain why he so enthusiastically latched onto Bochte’s term. Gallows humor. 

The most recent year listed on the back of the card shows that Paciorek hit .299. One more hit in 1978 and the 32-year-old outfielder would have cracked that barrier for the first time in his 8-year career. It’s difficult for me to refrain from associating his troubled expression in the photo on the front of the card with the disappointment of just missing that mark.

Below the stats of that .299 season is a single line of text: “Brother of John Paciorek, outfielder with Houston Colt .45’s during 1963.” In 1979, the year I started seventh grade, I was first and foremost a Younger Brother. So it’s likely that the message on the back of Tom Paciorek’s card sent me to the baseball encyclopedia to look up John Paciorek. Anyone who has ever treated the baseball encyclopedia as something of a bible likewise eventually comes to John Paciorek, for John Paciorek is in a way the greatest hitter, or at least the most perfect, ever to grace the pages of that glowing tome. Because of injury his career ended very early, but not before he played in a single game for Houston, going 3 for 3 for a lifetime batting average of 1.000. (In 2007, Jose Morales—no apparent relation to Jose Morales—matched this perfection, but he is only 24 years old and may well have a chance to mar his record and leave John Paciorek alone in 3-hit perfection.)

Tom Paciorek finally did hit over .300 in 1981, finishing second in the batting race. At the end of that year I started a tradition, which I only kept up for a couple of years, of cutting out the final Sunday batting average list from the paper and taping it to my wall. So Paciorek was right at the top of that list, just under Carney Lansford. That was the year I stopped buying baseball cards. That was the year my brother went away to school. That was the year I started living more inside my head than ever before.

That list yellowed and curled in on itself in the years to come, right up until we sold the house and I threw it away, along with most of the other things on my wall. That sale occurred in 1987, Paciorek’s last year. A professional hitter, he batted .283 that year, one point above his lifetime average. He was 40, the same age I am now. Last night I lay in bed, unable to sleep, feeling as if I had arrived at my age via a high-speed train that I had moments earlier boarded as a 24-year-old. 

(to be continued)

h1

Stan Thomas

July 25, 2008
 Untitled 
It’s still a few months away, but I’m already looking forward to my religion’s biggest holiday: Expansion Day. The truth is I just invented this holiday a few minutes ago, just as I have been for the last couple years on this site gradually and half-assedly inventing an indecipherable tangle of fallible deities and contradictory beliefs so as to, among other vague purposes, fill the decades-old irreligious void located roughly where I stuff all the potato chips and beer. (The gut thickens; the void remains.) Yesterday was one of those days that circle around inevitably to fall on me like a sour mist, depressing and slack for no apparent reason, boredom and uselessness attaining the level of a physical ache. I dropped into fantasies of contracting some sort of exotic incurable illness that would not kill me or even hurt that much but that would somehow make it necessary for me to spend the last several decades of life in or near a comfortable bed. There I would sleep a lot and watch episodes of old television shows too obscure to have ever been released on DVD but somehow made available to me by the powerful pity-charged network of affectionate well-wishing that added further cushioning to my stress-free invalid life.

“How are you doing?” each visitor would say, smiling sadly, as he or she entered my room.

“Oh,” I’d say, adding a very slight wince to my brave smile. “I can’t complain.”

“You’re so brave,” the loving visitor would say. “And hey, I brought you a bootleg video of all eight episodes of Quark.”

As fantasies go, it’s probably not as alarming as, say, fantasizing about going one step further and offing oneself, but it’s not exactly a sign of robust mental and spiritual well-being. I mean, consider that oft-mentioned and supposedly motivational notion of a deathbed, as in “When you are on your deathbed, how are you going to look back on your life?” (It’s supposed to inspire you to seize the day, I guess.) But in my fantasy, when I’m finally on my deathbed and looking back at my life, I’ll be looking back at a life spent on a deathbed. Which is a pretty narrow way to go through life. And so when things start to seem narrow, from now on, I will try to remember Expansion Day.

As Expansion Day approaches I’ll have more to say about it, maybe, about what it means to me, about the rituals involved in such a day, about the many legends and miracles intertwined with that day, but for right now I will just pass along the date of this holy day, November 5, and take a stab at the core of its importance to me and my ridiculous religion: It is about possibilities.

Lame as it is, there is a certain purity to my religion, in that I am its only adherent. This will always be the case, but if instead it followed the path of development of other religions fissures and splits would inevitably occur. Take Expansion Day. The cleancut, success-oriented BlueJayists would emphasize the day as one in which seeds of future glory were wisely planted, while the more fatalistic Marinerites would find complicated klezmeresque celebration among the inescapable solemnity of life. Joy in the tears. The list of names would be at issue, the Holy List of the Expanded, and among the names of the Blue Jays would be some, Whitt, Clancy, Iorg, who would one day rise up from the ignominy of being deemed unnecessary to appear in the miraculous baseball version of the afterlife called the postseason, whereas among the Mariners listed there seem to be only years of neither rising nor falling, none of the Holy Names ever offering any readily apparent deliverance.

But still, even though you are marginal, unimportant, unprotected, cut loose, drifting, possibilities dwindling or gone, there is Expansion. You are chosen.