For the recent opening game of a series against the Minnesota Twins, the Mariners drew 37,798 fans. Two dozen games out of first, it’s unlikely there will be another 35,000-plus crowd unless a freebie is attached.
The only reason Seattle drew well for the Twins was a bobblehead giveaway of Ichiro, which had fans lined up four hours before the first pitch. It was the fifth and last bobblehead promotion of the season for the Mariners. Seattle lost, 6-3.
At the beginning of the decade the Mariners could be counted upon to be one of the American League leaders in home attendance. From 2000-2003 the Mariners drew more than three million fans per year to the then-new Safeco Field. Didn’t hurt that the club won 90-plus games a season during that stretch.
In four of the previous six years before 2010, the club lost more games than it won, three times losing 90 or more. So attendance has crumbled without giveaways, except for the visits of teams who are big draws. The only once left is Boston, which itself is struggling this year. The Red Sox are in Sept. 13-15.
The bobblehead night has generally been a good omen for Ichiro. For his career, the right fielder is 14-for-42, .333 when the Mariners have given away a bobblehead featuring him over the last decade.
He hasn’t generally been a big fan of his likeness on bobbleheads over the years, although this year is different he hadn’t seen it.
The Twins game was another example of why the only thing that always works is bobbleheads.
If the starting pitcher isn’t on top of his game and lefty Jason Vargas wasn’t the Mariners are hard-pressed to win. The eighth inning defined what has gone wrong for the Seattle offense this year.
They went wrong when Don Wakamatsu was the manager, and they are going wrong now with interim manager Daren Brown in charge. The root problem hasn’t changed — few big hits.
Against the Twins in the eighth, they loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth. A single by Russell Branyan, an error and a walk loaded the bases for Franklin Gutierrez. The Twins had Matt Guerrier take over for the shaky Randy Flores. Guerrier went 2-0 to Gutierrez, then got him to pop out. Adam Moore then grounded into a double play.
“If we keep putting ourselves in those kinds of situations,” Brown said after the game, “I believe we’ll eventually get the big hit.”
Wakamatsu said variations of that same theme for four months, then was fired when those big hits never came.
The only thing with the Mariners that is more consistent than futility at the plate is the appeal of the bobblehead. Perhaps the trinket business is the club’s real future.
John Hickey is a senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)