ANAHEIM, Calif. — To be a Mariner fan is to have the hope beaten out of you. The optimism seems to diminish with each succeeding season until a certain defeatist attitude has taken hold, the nagging certitude that somehow, eventually, it will all fall apart.
Today, however, is the day to believe. Ozzie Smith has been leading a movement to have opening day declared a federal holiday, so far without much luck. But I hereby declare this “National Believe In Your Team” Day, in which optimism and hope is not merely acceptable, it’s mandatory.
As Lloyd McClendon said Sunday, before the Mariners’ workout at Angels Stadium in advance of Monday’s 2014 debut: “It’s a great day. Hell, everyone’s in first place, and hope springs eternal.”
Yeah, it’s kind of hokey, but hokey is OK today, too. It may all prove to be patently unrealistic, but we won’t look at the warts. Yet.
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No obsessing over the wafer-thin rotation with which the Mariners start the season — Felix Hernandez and four question marks. No grousing over the fact they spent lavishly on Robinson Cano and then didn’t properly address all the other holes. No skepticism over the necessary next steps that must be taken by so many young players.
No, much better to savor, for 24 hours, all the heartwarming human-interest stories. Stefen Romero and Roenis Elias will be suited up for their first major-league game. Seven others will be experiencing their first opening day. Joe Beimel, Corey Hart and Chris Young will all have fought their way back from injuries that cost them at least a full major-league season, or in Beimel’s case, more.
That’s good stuff, even for the cynically inclined. So is McClendon’s return to the manager’s seat after nine long years in which he wondered when he’d get his second chance.
On Saturday, McClendon received a heartfelt text of encouragement from his mentor, Jim Leyland. McClendon knew exactly why Leyland used such a seemingly impersonal method for imparting his message.
“I told somebody, ‘I know he’s on the other end, crying.’ Because it was a very emotional text,’’ McClendon said. “That’s why he didn’t call. I shed a tear and texted him back. I didn’t call, either. I didn’t want to cry either.
“Yeah, I’m excited. I’ve been waiting for it a long time. I’m proud of the team we have, and I’m proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”
Before the first slump, it’s easy to get intoxicated by statements such as this on Sunday from McClendon: “I don’t know how many games we’re going to win. But I do know this: We’ll be prepared every day to win. And that’s real important.”
Before the first crisis, it’s easy to buy into earnest proclamations like this one from Michael Saunders: “I think you can tell this spring that everyone worked hard in the offseason to take the next step. I feel if we can do that collectively, September games will become very meaningful, and we’ll be fighting at the end of it.”
It’s going to happen one of these years, right? It really is. All bad things come to an end. Just ask the Pirates, who had losing seasons for a staggering 20 seasons in a row — the first two of them, in 1993 and 1994, with McClendon on the roster — before bursting out with a playoff season last year.
I asked McClendon what his main source of optimism was as the season loomed.
“I like where we are from a mental standpoint,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve got to pitch well, and we’ve got to hold the fort until we get a couple of guys healthy. But I like the attitude. I like the preparation. I like the walk. And they’re playing good baseball.”
Yeah, it’s OK to pin your hopes today on things like “the walk.” It’s OK to revel in Romero’s quiet excitement, the awe with which he is viewing each milestone, even something as mundane as a locker in a major-league clubhouse with his name on it.
“Especially being a rookie, I look up to guys like Robby (Robinson Cano) and Corey Hart, and take everything into consideration that they’re saying — the knowledge they bring to the game,” Romero said. “Ultimately, that’s what builds championships, having guys like that in the locker room.”
Yeah, championships. The Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since 2001 and have just two winning seasons in the past 10 years, but why not? Mathematically, they have just as good a chance as anyone.
That’s a statement that could expire in 24 hours, so enjoy it while you can. The angst and the agony may be looming just off in the distance. But for now, breathe in that hope, swirl around that optimism, and let the possibilities envelope you. It’s opening day, and all is still right with the world.
“That’s the beautiful thing about baseball: You have to earn it every day,’’ said Brad Miller. “Every day. I’m excited for us to go out there and earn it.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry