I was barely a teenager when the Seattle Mariners had their magical playoff run, clawing their way into the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Those “Refuse to Lose” signs covered my bedroom walls until I graduated from high school. I still get chills when I see footage of that Edgar Martínez double to win the ALDS series against the Yankees. A few years later, Mariners magic came back, when Ichiro and the Ms won 116 games (tying an MLB record) in 2001.
But it has been a long time since 2001.
In those 20-plus years, my love of the Mariners never wavered. I was living in Denver when I had my first child and I moved back to Seattle because I couldn’t bear the thought of raising a Rockies fan (nothing against Denver — they just aren’t the Mariners). My daughters spent their infancy nestled between my scorecard and a bag of peanuts. They learned “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” before their ABCs, and can critique umpire calls with the rowdiest of fans. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But my kids have never seen a Mariners postseason.
Even in 2001, the Mariners didn’t make it to the World Series. They have the dubious distinction of being the only MLB team to have never played in baseball’s final contest. The Mariners entered the 2022 season suffering through the longest playoff drought of any team in all four men’s sports leagues in North America.
But I’ve always been an optimist. My final days of summer are often spent staring at the Major League Baseball standings, calculating postseason possibilities. I imagine unlikely multigame winning streaks for the Mariners and math out complicated losing scenarios for their opponents. Desperation always sets in by late September, and a quiet acceptance falls over me by October. I am a Mariners fan. Playoffs are not for me.
Until this season.
It’s been a season of Julio’s stolen bases and Eugenio’s good vibes. Rookie pitcher George Kirby shattered expectations, and young catcher Cal Raleigh turned into a home run machine. There have been silly dances in the outfield, bomber helmets in the dugout and pranks pulled on national television. T-Mobile Park has been rocking, and the Seattle Mariners have been winning.
Back in 2018, Mariners management promised fans they’d pick up dynamic players and draft new talent. It would take a few years, but it would all be worth it. Last year, the team won an impressive 90 games, but ultimately fell short of making the playoffs. Outfielder Mitch Haniger wrote an open letter to Mariners fans, promising that this group of ball players would be going to the playoffs. Soon.
And here we are. Our promised season.
Things looked promising even before the season started. At spring training, a young center fielder turned out to be shockingly good. Only 21 years old, Julio Rodríguez was expected to start the 2022 season in the minors, but he earned a spot on the opening day roster. Young players often struggle with the transition to the majors, and Julio sure had a reason to. His first few weeks were soured by terrible umpire calls. But the rookie kept his cool. It didn’t take long for the hits to come.
Now, Julio is only the third rookie with 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He dazzled the national media at the All-Star Home Run Derby, and his fielding skills are impressive. He’s a Rookie of the Year shoo-in. But beyond his ability to hit, run, catch and throw, Julio Rodríguez has that special sauce. He can turn around a game by sheer force of will. He’s always smiling, ready to leap over the railing and embrace his teammates. He’s quick to engage with fans, not just in Seattle, but around the nation. Even in New York and Cleveland you can hear the Juu-leee-ooooh cheer when he pops out of the dugout and bounces to home plate. He is a joy to watch, this superstar in the making. In August, the Mariners signed a contract that will keep Julio where he wants to be: Seattle. Hopefully he’ll be ours for keeps.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. On opening day, Seattle’s new pitcher, Robbie Ray, was the one everyone was talking about. He showed his dominance on the mound, and the Mariners won. Things looked good for a few weeks. Mariners fans let themselves feel optimistic.
The feeling didn’t last. The team lost series after series for the next two months. By the end of June, the odds of the Mariners making it to the playoffs were hovering around 10 percent.
But baseball is a long season, and things turned around again. Julio had emerged as a superstar, but one superstar can’t carry a team (see: Mike Trout and the Angels). Cal Raleigh, the young pitcher who struggled to hit, suddenly found his swing. Mitch Haniger, J.P. Crawford, Ty France and Eugenio Suárez all got hot. Carlos Santana discovered a knack for driving in runs during key moments. Every single pitcher continued to dominate, from rookie George Kirby and young Logan Gilbert to the newly acquired Luis Castillo (who has also just signed a multiyear contract with the Mariners).
The Mariners had a 15-game winning streak in July, sweeping four teams. The four-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays was especially sweet, as all the Blue Jays fans in Vancouver made the trek south in an attempt to take over T-Mobile Park. The Mariners won every game.
These Mariners have been having so much fun. In the beginning of the season, the three outfielders would get together for a strange little swaying dance after every win. Not to be outdone, the infielders got in on the act, huddling up in a dancing circle complete with leg kicks to celebrate a win. When 24-year-old George Kirby was interviewed on national television, Ty France stood off to the side and threw peanut shells at the stoic pitcher. Somehow Kirby ended up wearing a Dubble Bubble bucket on his head by the end of the interview. Winning is fun — and having fun leads to more winning.
By August 13, the Mariners were at a 90 percent chance of making it to the playoffs.
Admittedly, things have been a bit hairy lately. Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez both missed several games in late September due to injuries. The Mariners lost three series on the road that they really should have won. But these guys are comeback kids.
After returning home, and in the final three days of September, the Mariners beat the Texas Rangers on Wednesday and then again in epic extra-innings fashion on Thursday. On Friday night the Mariners opened a series against the Oakland A’s. Tied into the ninth inning, Cal Raleigh came in to pinch-hit.
The perfect pitch, the crack of the bat, the ball sailing over the right field fence. Walk-off home run. The Mariners clinched a playoff spot!
The Mariners are ready to dominate this postseason. Not just this postseason, but the next one, too. And the next.
Now is the time to be a baseball fan in Seattle. This is the time to encourage a love of the game in your own kids. My own formative years were spent keeping score at Everett AquaSox games with my dad, traveling to out-of-state games with my parents and brother, and riding that championship wave in the ‘90s and early 2000s.
Baseball is still the glue that holds my family together. Now my young daughters keep score with their grandpa. They dance at Mariners games and hug the Moose and cheer for their favorite players (J.P. Crawford and Eugenio Suárez, respectively). Maybe this will be their year of Mariners magic. Maybe this year my kids will experience that unbelievable surge of hopefulness and pride as their team accomplishes what nobody ever thought they could.
Let’s do this, Seattle.