Thinking about jumping back on the Mariners’ bandwagon? There’s plenty of room. A franchise that has crushed the hopes and dreams of its fans finally seems to be winning them back.
At a juncture when it has become customary to gripe about what’s wrong with the Mariners, fans are exulting about what’s right with them. Weird.
Each day that passes with the Mariners still in the division lead, each win that they pull out of thin air, each new hero that emerges, serves to chip away at the long-established mindset of skepticism and fatalism surrounding this team.
It’s happening, right before our eyes, in a fashion that increasingly has the feel of a sea-change rather than a temporary surge.
Yes, it’s just about time to get the Mariners’ bandwagon out of long-term storage.
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I don’t use that term in a derogatory fashion. It’s OK to be a bandwagon fan. It’s even natural. It only stands to reason that a team that has continually crushed the hopes and dreams of its fans would have to win them back. Yet I have felt for a long time that Mariners fans desperately want to have a reason to believe again. And this team is giving it to them.
So with all the provisos of it still being early and them not having proven anything yet, I’m going to go with my gut, and the anecdotal evidence I’m observing. People seem to be falling back in love with their baseball team. Which is really all that “bandwagon” means: Being jilted, and then wooed back.
The hardcore will stay loyal through thick and thin, or even thin and thin. But logic, and human nature, dictates that a team’s following will ebb and flow depending on the product they put forth. And this Mariners team has been a very good product, after too many seasons of manufacturer’s defects.
It’s a ballclub that finally is getting on base and scoring runs, after years of stultifyingly dull offense. They’re also hitting the ball out of the park at a rate that would give them over 200 home runs (the pace is for 226) for the first time since 1999 — the last season that Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez were together (that team had 244 home runs).
The pitching looks strong enough to compensate for any lulls in the hitting. As I write this, the Mariner stand first in the American League in earned-run average. The bullpen, which I (along with most) believed to be their Achilles’ heel, had been a revelation until self-destructing the last two nights against the Angels.
That all might not last, but the Mariners at least have reinforcements waiting in the minors — a dominating James Paxton for the rotation, and newly converted reliever Edwin Diaz for the bullpen. Not only that, they have a new CEO just itching to prove his commitment by approving the big trade-deadline acquisition that has often eluded this organization.
Beyond all that, this team is developing an endearing personality that is as important to wooing back fans as anything. They have Robinson Cano seemingly having fun again and playing at MVP caliber. They have an emerging cult hero in Dao-Ho Lee, a jolt of energy in Ketel Marte, a burgeoning young ace in Taijuan Walker, and the dependable charisma of Felix Hernandez. Ultimately, winning trumps everything, but likability tends to flow naturally from successful teams. Funny how that works.
That’s not to say the Mariners will play .600 baseball all year, but they might not have to. The American League West is a division suddenly ripe for the taking. The Houston Astros, who were the preseason pick by most, suddenly have more holes than anyone realized. After just 27 games, they were already 10 games under .500, a daunting hole.
The Oakland A’s, meanwhile, are in a freefall, and the Los Angeles Angels had been a hot mess until pulling out two late wins in Seattle, having been riddled with pitching injuries (including ace Garrett Richards, out for the season) and losing their Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons from a team that was already rife with problems. Mike Trout alone does not a contender make, and the Angels are clearly not one this year.
Could it be shaping up as a two-team race between the defending division champion Texas Rangers — far from a flawless ballclub — and the Mariners? Too early to make that determination, but if that’s the case, it’s a great place for the Mariners to be.
That’s the essence of bandwagon-jumping — when the allure comes totally out of the blue and worms its way unexpectedly into your heart. There is a sense of freshness about this Mariners team, from the management and manager to many of the players. That, too, is part of not only the appeal, but the hope that this flirtation will not be unrequited.
So my message to Mariners fans is, don’t be ashamed, or embarrassed, to hop on the bandwagon. Enjoy the ride. You’ve earned it.