Now that two days of delirium have been subdued by a 7-1 thumping in Oakland Sunday, the infant Mariners season is back on track to the goal, unstated as it is unavoidable: Averageness.
The 6-6 Huskies barely qualified for a postseason game, yet thumped Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, and suddenly the sports atmosphere around Montlake is no longer a near-death experience.
The 7-9 Seahawks took mediocrity to a new (higher?/lower?) level by making the playoffs and beating the defending Super Bowl champs. Should the NFL ever play again, the Seahawks will be seated at the adult table.
Fans of those teams will betray no shame regarding the seasonal outcomes. Granted, Seattle sports have a low threshold for success, but hey, no nation gets to shed Third World status in a year.
After a 61-101 season that finally caused Mariners bosses to realize they are a long way away from the adult table, baby steps were called for and apparently accepted. No extra payroll was made available, no big names were pursued, no dumb marketing campaigns were undertaken (Ready to Play: it cant get more innocuous) and humility reigned.
First results are in: The Mariners won two of three in Oakland against an As team some believe are division winners.
Of course, giddiness can dissipate as soon as Monday in Texas, where heckling fans could get under Milton Bradleys skin, or Erik Bedards thrice-repaired pitching shoulder could fly out of his skin, or Texas could simply chainsaw the Ms as they did the Boston Red Sox, who were swept 26-11 in three Opening Weekend games in Arlington. And the Mariners’ start was due in no small part to hideous play of the As Friday and Saturday.
But aside from the disclaimers, disqualifers, ahems and nervous coughs about early assessments, there is this: the Mariners have won their first three games only twice in their history (1985 and 1995) , so 2-1 is more than respectable; and they walked 11 times in three games against the As.
Small deal, yes. But were talking baby steps, right?
The idea that the Mariners have either acquired and/or taught hitters that it is better to swing at strikes than balls is a feat of minor majesty. So too is the avoidance of passed balls and foolish baserunning. Of little things is averageness built.
The Mariners began the season with only two players in the same position from Opening Day a year ago, Ichiro and Bradley. And Bradley, for a variety of reasons mental, emotional, physical and cosmic, didnt finish in the lineup, playing only 73 games and hitting .205.
That sort of churn would seem mandatory, given that the offense was the worst production device since the adobe hydroelectric dam.
But in the off-season, the bosses didnt seem to hire anyone noteworthy to reduce the pathos.
What they did do is hire some relatively average major leaguers to go with some of the average guys already here.
While that is not the sort of clarion call that arouses the masses, neither should it be overlooked.
Is it asking too much of veteran major leaguers still in their playing primes to hit to the back of their baseball cards?
The Mariners are not starting an offense riddled with youngsters. First baseman Justin Smoak is the only guy among the Opening Day regulars without substantive major league experience.
If we leave Smoak off the list for his youth, as well as centerfield, because the health of Franklin Gutierrez leaves the position unsettled, and Ichiro because he has already retired the trophy for consistent excellence, heres the six remaining starters and their career batting averages and OPS (on-base plus slugging) averages entering the season:
Chone Figgins .287 average/.737 OPS
Milton Bradley .272/.807
Jack Cust .245/.829
Miguel Olivo .247/.711
Brendan Ryan .258/.656
Jack Wilson .267/.681
Collectively, thats about .263 and .737, a bit below the marks for an average major league hitter.
Thats not terrible, although light on the long ball. Its average, mediocre, in the middle. When its added to an above average starting rotation and an average bullpen, an expectation of 77-84 wins is reasonable.
Given the lack of a bench, there is little room for injuries, but they cant be forecasted anyway.
All that the beleaguered Mariners fan asks of these six guys in 2011 is to hit the Seattle standard: Be average. Be yourselves. Dont worry about having career years; know that you already did your worst last year, and this will be better.
Take a walk. Take a base when its there. Catch a ball when its there.
Lose one in the sun? Happens to everyone. Thats normal.
Aspire to average.
Dare to be OK.
Mariners, be all that you once were.
It in a city whose weather forecasts include the phrases partly sunny and partly cloudy, and everyone seems to understand, you will find acceptance, and polite applause.