It Could Happen

Warning: Fannish ramblings ahead. If you don’t care for the baseball posts, now’s your last chance to bail out.

First, a moment of sympathetic silence for Vanderbilt, who failed in their attempt to win the College World Series two years in a row. Had they pulled it off, it would have been the first such feat in living memory–if one defines living memory according to the apparent knowledge of ESPN’s commentators*. Sorry, Commodores, but remember: if you can win it all in alternate years, you’re still allowed to call it a dynasty.

* I hope they’re actually aware that South Carolina did it in 2010/2011 and Oregon State did it in 2006/2007. You sure couldn’t tell from their comments during the broadcast.

More seriously, my congratulations to Virginia, who overcame a major mid-season slump, gloried in their underdog status, and now have their first-ever national baseball championship.

I watched most* of last night’s deciding game, and believe me, it was a hell of a lot more entertaining than the show the Mariners put on.

* I missed the top half of the first inning. Shameful neglect on my part, I realize.

The Mariners once again fell victim to “One Inning Syndrome”. That’s a frustrating condition in which a largely competent performance is undone by one bad inning. In this case, had the Mariners not given up seven runs in the fourth, they would have won 2-1.

It’s not that simple, of course. This is the Mariners, after all. If they had gotten through the fourth unscathed, they would undoubtedly have found another way to lose. This year’s team isn’t quite as good at losing as, say, 2010’s 101-loss team (they’d need to go 28-61 the rest of the way–possible, but improbable).

The 2015 team specializes in showing a sign of life and then going unresponsive again. Case in point: before last night’s stinker, they scored seven runs Tuesday while rookie Mike Montgomery pitched a four-hit complete game shutout.

The Ms can’t lose today–they have the day off–but if Oakland beats Texas, the Mariners will be in last place in the division. Not so great for a team that was widely chosen to cruise into the playoffs.

But that’s why the championship isn’t determined by statistics, projections, or simulations.

They could still turn it around. Even now, they’re only 8 1/2 games behind the (I can’t believe I’m writing this) division-leading Astros. Even if they can’t pull it together long enough to make the playoffs, a couple of short winning streaks could get them back over .500.

After more than a decade of disappointment, Mariners fans keep coming back. Heck, after more than half a century of disappointment, Cubs fans keep coming back. For one reason.

It could happen. And wouldn’t you feel stupid if it happened and you weren’t there?

Well, That Was Expected

Yes, I watched the Super Bowl. I could claim it was for the ads, but that would be stretching the truth. As I’ve said elsewhere, as a Seattleite-in-exile, I was contractually obligated to watch.

Living hundreds of miles away from one’s home city can increase your attachment to things that remind you of home, sometimes to irrational levels. All part of the mind’s way of maintaining a connection to the people and places you love.

So, yeah. I watched. And I was disappointed, although not as much as my nephew, who declared that Sunday was “the worst day of my life.” (Keep in mind that he’s five years old. When your baseline is that short, any day can easily be your worst day ever.)

Simon is the victim of his expectations, which were warped by last year’s Seahawks triumph. Those of us who have more experience with Seattle’s sports tradition weren’t surprised. To some extent, we expected something to go seriously awry. The closer the clock got to zero, the closer our anticipation of disaster approached infinity.

Don’t believe me? Consider Seattle’s record when it comes to championships in the four major sports.

  • The Seahawks, as we were reminded many times in the past couple of weeks, have one NFL championship–and two Super Bowl losses–to show for their fourteen playoff appearances.
  • The Seattle SuperSonics had a good run in the late ’70s and ’80s. Their clashes with the Washington Bullets produced the enduring piece of Americana, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” but only one championship. Another run in the ’90s resulted in multiple playoff appearances, but no championships. In 2008, the Sonics moved to Oklahoma, leaving behind a pile of lawsuits.
  • The Metropolitans lasted nine seasons, from 1915 to 1924. In that short span, they won their league title five times, and made the playoffs seven times. They reached the the Stanley Cup final (hockey’s equivalent of the World Series or Super Bowl) three times, racking up what has to be the oddest championship record in all of professional sports: one win, one loss, and one “no decision”–the 1919 Stanley Cup was cut short by a flu epidemic with the series tied at 2-2-1. In 1924, the team drew an average of 1000 spectators per game, lost in the first round of the playoffs, failed to renew their lease, and folded, taking the league down with them.
  • The Pilots. How many non-Seattleites even remember that the Mariners are Seattle’s second major league team? They lasted one season, producing a 64-98 record, before leaving town under a cloud of lawsuits and bankruptcy filings. Their primary legacy is a civic grudge against MLB Commissioner-Emeritus, Bud Selig that makes Oakland’s vanish into triviality.
  • The Mariners. Ah, the Mariners. Their thirty-seven seasons so far have produced four trips to the playoffs, a MLB record for most wins in a season–and no World Series appearances, let alone a championship.

With a history like that, is it any wonder that Seattleites don’t expect to win championships? History suggests that Simon will have no shortage of “worst days ever” in his future–and that if the Seahawks ever put together another Super Bowl winning season, the Cosmic Balance will be upset, causing Mount Rainier to erupt. An intrepid band of offensive linemen will have to fight an epic battle against lava, ash, and melted glaciers so that Russell Wilson can make his way to the crater, throw his Super Bowl ring in, and save the Pacific Northwest from total destruction.