Mariners building on success

Seattle Mariners look to build on 2022 playoff push

Callaghan Bluechel, staff writer

T-Mobile Park on opening day. (Courtesy of Adam Haagenson)

The Seattle Mariners enter the 2023 Major League Baseball season in an unfamiliar position. After having missed the playoffs for 21 straight years, the 2022 Seattle Mariners broke that drought in dramatic fashion, with Cal Raleigh’s walk-off home run that sealed their 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics and the Mariners’ first playoff berth since 2001. Now, for the first time in a generation, the Mariners have some success to build on.

But they do not yet have the ultimate success of a World Series championship or even an appearance in a World Series, the latter of which is a dubious honor that no other major league team shares. The 2022 Mariners playoff appearance was no different: they were swept in the divisional round by the Houston Astros.

Alec Green, a sophomore physiology major at Seattle Pacific University, says that the end of the season left him with a mixed taste in his mouth.

“I was really disappointed, but I was still glad that we actually got there this time,” Green said.

But perhaps there is more joy in the journey than there is in the destination. Nathaniel Gale, a freshman political science major at SPU, enjoyed the atmosphere of the 2022 season.

“The vibes were electric. [T-Mobile Park] is called the Electric Factory for a reason, and I think they lived up to that name,” Gale said.

And now, in 2023, the Mariners are looking at a chance to finally have a World Series triumph in the seven hills of Seattle. By and large, the team resembles last year’s squad, but the addition of hard-hitting right fielder Teoscar Hernandez and second-base journeyman Kolten Wong could shore up an offense that often struggled to produce in 2022. Although they are underdogs in the American League West compared to the Astros’ Death Star, they still look on the young season with a chance at history.

“I think they can make a deep run into the playoffs, and, honestly, win the World Series,” Gale said.

But there are also doubts that they can even replicate the success they had in 2022. There is still a black hole in left field, with the team seeming to count on an unlikely burst of production from once top prospect Jarred Kelenic and the departure of last year’s smooth journeyman pickup, Carlos Santana, leaving the DH position a rotating slot for whatever extra utility players the Mariners might have. The pitching staff, which was lucky not to have any major injuries last year, will need to continue their healthy streak, and the bullpen, which lost a key member in Erik Swanson, might not be able to reproduce its lockdown efficiency from 2022.

The 2023 performance of the Mariners will also affect SPU’s baseball atmosphere. Baseball spirit rose dramatically with last year’s epic drought-busting saga.

Liam Massey, a junior at SPU who went to the playoff-clinching game at the end of the 2022 season, said that the Mariners’ reversal of fortunes has brought more support from SPU students.

“I’d say it has gotten a lot more energetic over the last year with the team’s success. I see a lot of people on game days wearing jerseys and T-shirts,” he noted. “And during the playoff run last year … I saw a lot of people showing team spirit around campus, and it was nice to see.”

But the energy that has swept over campus is not quite a fever. Green says that excitement over Seattle baseball is confined to students who are from the Seattle area.

“I feel like there are the people who are local-ish who care a lot, and there are a lot of people that aren’t from the city that maybe are vaguely aware of them from baseball in general, or they come here, and they know that it’s the baseball team,” he stated. “But I think most people are just kind of indifferent.”

The difference between locals and out-of-towners over connection to their sports teams is to be expected, as the excitement of hometown spirit bred by a team’s success is only going to spread so far among people from other places. But the growth in campus support of the Mariners is a sea-change from just four years ago when a campus survey showed that roughly seventy percent of students did not care about the MLB playoffs.

Much of the growth in interest in the Mariners may be fair-weather. Decades spent in the doldrums have sunk much of the goodwill the city previously had for the franchise. But miracle seasons have a way of bringing the fans roaring back.

After all, the Mariners began their existence with 18 years of mediocrity. But then, they attracted legions of fans with one miraculous Refuse to Lose season in 1995 to save the team itself. It was, in the words of Bill Nye, when Seattle became a baseball town.

And Seattle is still a baseball town. Just seconds after Astros center fielder Mauricio Dubón caught the final out of the 18-inning, seven-hour marathon game three of the 2022 Divisional Series, the last game of the Mariners’ season, the exhausted Mariners fans who filled T-Mobile Park’s stands erupted into chants of team support even as they streamed out of the ballpark for the final time that year.

The winds of fate will decide where the Mariners sail in 2023. Many fans at SPU will be ardently watching.
“I’m just excited,” Massey said.