Among long-time Mariners fans, news Tuesday of the return of MLB’s All-Star Game to Seattle, this one for 2023, evokes some grand memories about what might be called the pinnacle non-Griffey episode in franchise history.
The Seattle All-Star Game in 2001 was a rollicking salute to a bad franchise gone good.
For those new to town, the game featured eight Mariners — most from a single team in 41 years — who would become part of the astounding 116-win season that set the American League record. It was also a coming-out party of sorts for the then-new ballpark as well as global sports phenom Ichiro, who would go on to win the AL rookie of the year and MVP awards.
So much was so spectacular about that season and that weekend, including the weather and the parties, that it seems impossible for the next version — an official announcement will be made by Commissioner Rob Manfred at the Space Needle Thursday — to come close to replicating the feeling.
Then again, who knows what the Mariners might be doing in the summer of 2023?
No one expected in 2000 the team that remained after superstars Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez departed would create one of the greatest single-season feats in North American team sports history.
No one expected in 2021 that the successor team two decades later would be locked in a mid-September fight with the Boston Red Sox for a playoff berth.
No one expected that 2001 would be the only Mariners visit to the post-season in the century thus far.
So, yeah . . . expectations.
In 2001 at then-Safeco Field, the All-Star Game arrived to help celebrate a new stadium that would draw an MLB-leading 3.5 million fans, new revenues, a big cable-TV distribution and a collection of quality players led by one of the game’s eminent managers. Opportunities seemed limitless.
The July 10 game featured four Seattle starters: RF Ichiro, DH Edgar Martinez, 1B John Olerud and 2B Bret Boone. CF Mike Cameron was a reserve. Pitchers were Freddy Garcia, Kazu Sasaki and Jeff Nelson.
Here’s how one columnist in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described the time:
The American League roster for Tuesday will be pickled with Mariners, generating howls around the country of the sort often reserved for excesses by the Yankees.
For the rest of a summer that has already flirted with 100-year records, a universally praised stadium is virtually sold out as fans anticipate the team’s fourth playoff appearance in seven years.
The team and yard are generating revenue that will put the franchise in the company of Atlanta and Cleveland in ability to sustain field success beyond a single season, as well as providing for investment in a farm system that will help assure steady contention.
The confluence is remarkable. It’s almost as if the despair, fear, inadequacy and apathy that soured the franchise’s first 20 or so years exhausted the karmic well of baseball badness. Now the pump pours sweetness.
I missed it by thaat much.
Turned out the sweetness was tapped out in a year. After 2001 began a languid meander into mediocrity, until 2018, when it became deliberate. General manager Jerry Dipoto began a controversial step back from further futile attempts at short-term contention.
The longer term build-out with youth was agonizing.
Until this season.
Now it’s possible to see outlines of long-term contention.
Perhaps an All-Star Game in Seattle is, every quarter-century or so, a talisman of imminent prosperity.