To say it all started with Felix Hernandez’s perfect game on August 15 would be to overlook decades of Seattle Mariners fan support, which has waned and been painful to maintain during the past decade. But on Tuesday something magical happened at Safeco Field, the kind of event, sports fans, that gives credence to baseball still being alive and well in the hearts of those residing in the Emerald City.
For it was on Tuesday that a crowd of 39,204 people came to Safeco, a venue that holds around 47,000 for baseball games—only the 11th time in the last 62 home games more than 30,000 spectators have watched the M's play (via ESPN.com).
That day, instead of being dressed in a combination of navy blue, northwest green and silver, Safeco was flooded in a sea of yellow. About 34,000 yellow shirts and “K" cards were handed out, on which was written the phrase, “King of Perfection.”
Hernandez didn’t throw another perfect game that evening, but even falling short of repeated perfection, he had the crowd behind his every move.
Regarding the honor and fan support, M’s pitcher Hernandez had this to say (via MLB.com):
That's unbelievable, that's some crazy stuff right there. That's the best game I ever pitched in Safeco Field. In front of these guys, the crowd, it's unbelievable. They yelled, 'Felix, Felix.' I mean, that's something special.
Seattle's win over the Cleveland Indians was the team’s seventh in a row, giving the Mariners a 60-64 record this season, which still amounts to a last-place standing in the AL West, 12 games behind Texas.
In regard to staying in Seattle, Hernandez, whose contract goes through the 2014 season, recently told Sports Radio KJR-950’s Mike Levy, “I’m not going anywhere. I promise” (h/t Seattle PI).
As the team’s success in the 90s and its American League-record 116 wins in 2001 turn to distant memories, the M’s pitcher is one of the few remaining rays of hope breaking through the clouds hovering over Seattle.
Only this summer the M’s traded one of the greatest, albeit aging, active players in baseball, Ichiro Suzuki, to the New York Yankees. For a lot of Mariners fans, the trade resulted in the response that at least maybe it would allow Ichiro the chance to finally do what seemed an impossible feat for him in Seattle—win a World Series.
Seattle fans stick by their players, a fact that was evident with Tuesday’s display of appreciation for Hernandez. And perhaps now is finally the time for the team’s ownership to recognize this and return the support.
It’s widely known that the Mariners’ majority owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi, has never seen a game in person. The Japanese businessman, who sold his stake to Nintendo (for estate purposes) in 2004, failed to show up to a game even when the M’s opened the major league season in Tokyo this year.
The reason for his absence has never been made clear, although Yamauchi is 84 and his wife died just last month.
Whatever the reason, for M’s fans, for a while it has felt like time for a change. A change through which the ownership at least appears to care about the franchise and invests in it. The Mariners franchise was recently valued at $641 million, although Mariners Chairmen Howard Lincoln called any speculation on the club considering a sale “absolute nonsense” (via Seattle local news site KING5.com).
With the M's recent win streak, it’s no longer inconceivable that the Mariners could end the season with a winning record. Hernandez’s perfect game has the player in the talks for a second Cy Young Award. And if the M’s keep winning, who knows? With two wild-card spots open, Seattle could pull off a miracle end to the season with a spot in the playoffs.
Having said that, it is still not fair to expect a fanbase that has supported and continues to support its team to be content with small, fleeting moments of hope.
Instead the franchise should take note of the King and strive for perfection.
A near decade of obscurity should no longer be viewed as acceptable.
This doesn’t mean that every season will be a like—or be expected to be like—a perfect game, but for a team that has been around since the '70s not to have an AL pennant, let alone a World Series championship, and to have last won the AL West title in 2001, something has to change. It has gotten to the point where there is almost nowhere to go but up.
Since the historic 116-win 2001 season, the Mariners have finished last in the AL West more times than finishing at any other position in that timeframe combined. What is the solution to the problem(s)?
There are a few obvious answers, and it’s time for those in charge to acknowledge them and work things out.
If yesterday's event was any indication, given enough hope, Seattle fans will continue to strongly support their team, even during moments of imperfection.