The Seahawks own the city, but now it’s the Mariners’ turn to step forward and do their part to make winning a widespread Seattle thing.
The 2015 baseball season, which begins Friday with the unbridled bliss of spring training, marks the 20-year anniversary of the miraculous, franchise-saving, refusing-to-lose 1995 Mariners.
Excuse Jay Buhner, however, for wanting that story line to be understated.
“It put us on the map, and I’ll never forget it, and I’ll always appreciate the life so many of us have built because of that,” said Buhner, the right fielder who played for the Mariners from 1988-2001 and now is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame. “But it would be nice to start a new chapter. I’ll always embrace the history, but that’s the thing — we’re history. I’m ready for a new chapter.”
Those words serve as the perfect prologue to a season of high expectations.
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I spoke to Buhner three weeks ago, before the Seahawks played in Super Bowl XLIX. He went to Arizona for the event and rooted like crazy for the Seahawks in their oh-so-close attempt to win a second consecutive championship. But he also was focused on what it would mean for the city if the Mariners drafted behind the Seahawks and completed a long rebuilding process by making their first postseason appearance in 14 years.
Buhner can feel the momentum. The Seahawks own the city, but nearly every local sports team is feeling good vibes. It’s the Mariners’ turn to step forward and do their part to make winning a widespread Seattle thing.
With Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Fernando Rodney, Hisashi Iwakuma and Nelson Cruz all carrying All-Star resumes, this is the most star power the Mariners have had since that period from 1995 to 2001, when the ballclub made the only four postseason appearances in its history and resided at the height of relevance.
There still are concerns about the roster, but not as many as you’re used to having this time of year. And, yes, the optimism of the approaching spring has deceived you plenty of times over the past 14 years. But it’s time for a new chapter.
The past glory is special, but it’s an old tale.
The ineptitude of the past decade and a half is even more tired.
It’s time for a new chapter.
“How good are Seattle sports right now?” Buhner asked. “How sweet are we sitting? The fans need the Mariners to join this party. There needs to be a buzz and butts in the stands and a product on the field that is successful and profitable.
“The Mariners can help make us one of the greatest sports towns in the country right now. Not too many would be better if we can get them going.”
You know your connection to a city is strong if you’re willing to minimize your fame to spur a new movement. If the Mariners become winners again, the obsession with the 1995 team and the era it spawned would lessen. So, too, would the frustration of thinking the Mariners are trapped in the past. In place of it would be something that matters more to Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and all the other players from that time.
They finally would be able to put their legacy in motion.
It’s not really a legacy if you’re not handing something down. Twenty years ago, the Mariners started creating a new standard for baseball in Seattle. Expectations rose. The game became wildly popular. The Mariners weren’t just a team you were glad to have around for random nights of entertainment. They became a source of passion.
But when it became time to pass on that legacy, the next stewards bobbled the baton. The Mariners have been fumbling around, trying to pick it up, ever since. This season, they have talent capable of adding to a legacy.
Hernandez, who turns 29 in April, remains the best right-handed starting pitcher in baseball. He’s in his prime, and he yearns to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs. Cano, 32, is the team’s superstar everyday player, and now he has the support of Cruz and Seager, who both made the American League All-Star team last season.
The Mariners finally have a designated hitter who can actually hit. They have more dependability in their lineup, so they won’t be asking as many young players to do more than they’re capable of at this point in their careers. They’re a solid mixture of veterans with gas still in the tank, stars in their prime and developing young players who should be able to contribute.
They finished 87-75 last season and missed the playoffs by one game. Unlike in 2008 and 2010, when the Mariners lost 101 games after promising seasons the year before, they’re equipped to sustain that success and perhaps add to the victory total.
If things don’t go right, I could see the Mariners staying in that 82- to 88-win range for another season. But it’s harder to see them falling apart. In fact, barring severe injury misfortune, it seems more likely that this team wins 90 games than suffers a collapse.
Yes, this is a time of unabashed hope across baseball. But Lloyd McClendon’s team looks legit.
Twenty years later, it’s time for 1995 to give way to a fresh era. It’s way overdue.
Even the stars of the Mariners’ past would tell you that.