Sports

No joy in Mudville or Seattle

This hurts.

It hurts like a break-up, like lingering acid reflux. Like a root canal without a local anesthetic.

I used to live and die Mariner blue.

In the mid-2000s, that passion turned into a simple passing interest.

Now I can barely watch them.

Truth be told, the sad tale of the 2010 ball club from Seattle has been coming for a couple of years. While many (if not most) pundits have the M's first or second in the American League West, that was based solely on last season's slightly-better-than-mediocre performance and two free agent signings.

But that 85-77 record still saw the Mariners get out-scored by 52 runs. If there was a team built for a letdown, this is the one.

I should have seen it coming.

I've seen some bad Seattle teams. I mean, real bad. I grew up in Bremerton in the mid-1980s and it was a common summer day for me to catch a ride to the ferry, race over to the Kingdome a few hours before the game to snag a few autographs (that was possible at the park then), then grab a seat and watch the hilarity ensue.

The teams were awful for sure, but there was some personality to that club. Mark Langston striking out everything that moved. Harold Reynolds earning his paycheck by making like a vacuum cleaner at second base, then leading the league in steals. Jim Presley whiffing at every pitch - until he parked one into the empty bleachers in left.

That weird Mariner ship rising out of the center field abyss and fire off a cannon upon the rare circumstance that the M's hit a home run or nabbed a rare victory.

That parking garage of a stadium and those laughably pathetic uniforms.

It was all easy to swallow - particularly if you're 10 and only paying $3.50 for deep center field bleacher seats, then sneaking into the nice seats.

And there was hope. Even when they were a .500-or-worse team, the Mariners that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s held plenty of promise. Jay Buhner's bald head and monster arm, southpaw Randy Johnson looking like he could kill someone with a fastball (he did once - a bird in 2001) and the emergence of Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest hitters of our generation.

And the magical Ken Griffey, Jr. was still in his baseball infancy.



Ugly baseball

Now, the Mariners are simply bad without the mystique or the personality or the promise.

The 2010 version boasts an offense built on speed and contact, although most of the players aren't particularly fast. And they're not on base to run anyway, since the team batting average is hovering around .234, dead last in the majors.

It's good pitching and lousy hitting, which makes for a lethargic and seemingly uninspired team.

It's one of the most beautiful ballparks in the majors, empty.

It's losing streaks and lopsided trades.

Coming out of spring training there was not a single bat home run threat in the lineup except Russell Branyan, whom we let go for nothing as a free agent, realized he could hit and had to trade to get him back. Ichiro, our best hitter, seems to an affinity only for singles. When starter Felix Hernandez and his cohorts do manage to hurl a few decent innings, a shaky-at-best bullpen throws away a lead.

I don't feel sorry for the players so much as I feel for the fans - the few who are left, anyway. How do you root for a team that's been shut out nine times this season, scored just one run another 19 times, scored two runs 22 times and is dead last the majors in run production (344 runs, a league-worst 3.2 runs per game)?

Sunday's performance - a 4-0 loss in which the M's managed just two hits, is just the most recent stinkers.

The cost of seeing a game in person only adds insult to injury. As a youth, I could spend $15 of my-hard-earned allowance on a game and ferry ride, and have change left over. Now I count the costs now in near triple digits: the transportation and parking from Sequim to Bainbridge Island; the $18-plus-surchage tickets (and those are the cheapies); the $9 hot dogs or fries or drinks; the stomachache following another 5-1 loss that takes its toll on more than the pocketbook.

I never thought I would long for the days of Scott Bradley and Rey Quinones, but I do.

Simply put, it's a bad product.

And it's a bitter pill for me to swallow, it truly is, because I love the Mariners. I did, anyway.

It's almost enough to make me want to follow professional soccer (more on that in a column later this month).



This night bites

I'm giving the Mariners another chance to woo me this Saturday. It's "Olympic Peninsula Appreciation Night."

Encouraged by the overwhelming popularity of the Twilight fiction series based in Forks, the fine public relations folks for the baseball club are inviting peninsula residents to come out to Safeco Field Aug. 7 for reduced tickets, a special pre-game Happy Hour for vampire fans only and a special "I Knew Where Forks Was Before Vampires" T-shirt.

Get tickets at www.mariners.com/Forks through Friday.

Despite the fact I haven't read a single line out of the Twilight books, I'm going.

I'm hoping for some supernatural luck will rub off on this team and resurrect the Mariners of old.



Michael Dashiell is a Sequim Gazette reporter. He can be reached at 683-3311 ext. 113 or via e-mail at miked@sequimgazette.com.

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