Scott Servais and his surging Seattle Mariners have done what many thought was impossible: They’ve made long-suffering Mariners fans believe again.
“I think we do, and I think this is a really cool sign,” said Jim Stewart Allen, gesturing to the filling stands Saturday night at T-Mobile Park as he stood under a large yellow sign in left field with the word “BELIEVE” painted in blue letters.
Allen thinks regardless of the outcome of their thrilling, Quixotic chase of an American League playoff berth here in the final days of the 2021 season, the Mariners have earned the attention from Seattle fans as they move from step back to leap forward.
“We’re just going to be amped for this team next year, I think,” said Allen, dressed in an eye-catching pink-and-blue romper. “The pieces are actually coming together, and I see the future right now. And I didn’t for a while, so this is really exciting to be a part of.”
There will be a lot more love in the stands Sunday as the Mariners continue their chase of a wild-card berth following their 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night — their 42nd comeback of the season and 90th win. That’s something that hasn’t always been there during the longest postseason drought in major professional sports. Twenty mostly dreadful years with barely a moment of relevance.
Now they’re playing games that matter. In October. And the fans responded with a sellout series against the Angels.
“Everybody in this town will support a winner in a heartbeat,” said John Pittman, 57, of Bellevue, who attended the game with older brother Jim. “We’re just waiting for it. We’re so sick of hearing about losing for the last 20 years.”
Pittman woke up Friday morning, checked the AL wild-card standings and called his 62-year-old brother. The discussion brought back memories of 1977, when they watched the Mariners’ first game together in person, and of 2001, the last time Seattle was really relevant in the baseball world.
“The first thing I said was, ‘How many games do you want to go to this weekend?’” John Pittman said. “And he knew exactly what I was talking about. So, we’re on No. 2.”
“It was cool to see the stadium full like when Lou (Piniella) was here and Edgar (Martinez) and Ken Griffey,” Jim Pittman said. “It was just good to see it because I’ve been to a couple, two or three games and for all the reasons we know about, it hasn’t been great. So it was just fun to have all of that kinetic energy back for two or three games.”
The Mariners felt the love instantly Friday night, rookie center fielder Jarred Kelenic said.
“When they announced us taking the field, you know, ‘Here are the Seattle Mariners,’ to hear the crowd go crazy like that, all of us guys were talking about it,” Kelenic said. “We had goosebumps, and you just felt weightless out there.”
Saturday’s crowd was listed at 44,414, slightly above Friday’s 44,169.
Asked if he’d ever experienced anything like it in his 11-year career, third baseman Kyle Seager deadpanned his answer: “On the road, yeah.”
He agreed with Kelenic about the vibe: “It’s truly incredible and it adds so much, like, energy and almost like an anxiety out there, so it’s real.”
Though the Mariners would eventually lose 2-1 Friday, there wasn’t a moment where everybody in the park didn’t believe the team would come back with runners on the corners in the seventh and a runner on second in the ninth. The same was true Saturday when the team struggled offensively early before breaking out with Mitch Haniger’s 39th homer run and go-ahead two-run single in the eighth.
This believe concept is the result of a seed Servais, the team’s sixth-year manager, planted last spring when he began referencing the Apple TV+ television show “Ted Lasso.” The association continued organically throughout the season as the relentlessly optimistic Servais peppered in ideas from the show — most famously repeating the oh, so Lasso quote, “We’re like goldfish, we have very short memories.”
“That took on a life of its own,” Servais said before Saturday’s game. “It’s all in fun. You have to have fun and enjoy it, and sometimes you’ve got something away from the game that can distract players, fans, whatever, you know? Why not? Let’s enjoy it. Let’s have fun. So it was pretty cool to see the excitement in the ballpark last night.
“I hope it’s just as electric tonight.”
Oh, yeah, it was.
Positivity in the face of impossible odds is one of the themes of “Ted Lasso,” which follows the travails of a small-college football coach who’s hired to take over a highly skeptical professional soccer team.
Servais has taken aspects of the show and used them to have a direct conversation with the fans. Rather than hurl hurtful insults like they did in 2019, the first year of the step back, they now hang on every pitch, wave handheld believe signs and chant each player’s name. With simple positivity repeated daily, Servais has managed to repair a relationship some thought might be permanently damaged.
His handling of the fans has been “outstanding,” ROOT Sports’ Mariners play-by-play commentator Dave Sims said.
“In terms of the ‘Ted Lasso’ thing and integrating that into his regular message, he’s done a great job,” Sims said. “I mean, there have been a lot of great managerial jobs, but you can’t tell me there’s somebody better than he’s been in the American League this year. Nobody expected the Mariners to be in Game 161 and looking at a playoff possibility. No one. That makes (winning the award) a gimme in my book. If I had a vote … .”