Mariners baseball: Believe big...someday

I hate to say it but it looks like the Mariners aren't going to win the World Series this year - or even this decade.

The firing of manager Don Wakamatsu was the final admission that the feel-good season of 2009 was nothing but an aberration, a fleeting summer daydream in the woeful lifetime of one of baseball's worst teams.

Now the M's are right back where they were at the end of the epically awful 2008 season: trying to figure out how to build a winning team around Ichiro and "King" Felix Hernandez while simultaneously maintaining a large enough profit margin to keep their corporate owners (Nintendo of America) happy.

At least now with Wakamatsu gone, Ken Griffey Jr. will come back one day next season to have his number retired in front of a sold-out crowd while the giant scoreboard screen shows his iconic '95 playoff-series-winning slide against the New York Yankees one more time.

Will Mariners fans ever enjoy the feeling of winning a World Series?

Early disappointment
I admit my first memories of the Mariners involve disappointment.
You see, I grew up 3,000 miles away in Connecticut as a New York Mets fan, which I still am and which can be just as disappointing as being an M's fan, if not more so. (At least we'll always have '86!)

My first contact with the Mariners was in the late 1970s, when my grandfather would buy me packs and packs of baseball cards.

I would rapidly scan through each new pack, searching for the best players, like Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose and Mets superstar Lee Mazzilli. But it seemed like every pack was full of Mariners.

"Darn, another Mariner!" I would think, as another face I didn't recognize slid under my thumb. Back east, the only time they were ever on television was when they would play the Yankees at 10 o'clock at night, past my bedtime.
In fact, the only time I ever saw the M's in action was if a Mariner made a great play - or, more likely, a great blooper - on "This Week in Baseball."

Of course, Junior began to change all that when he came up in '89. And then the M's gained national attention in that '95 series. Watching those games, I couldn't believe the power numbers Griffey, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and Tino Martinez put up that season.

As a Mets fan, I rooted for them against the hated Yankees and was happy when the M's won. I moved here in '99, a couple weeks after Safeco Field opened up, right in the middle of the Mariners' golden age. In '00 and '01, the M's came within smelling distance of the World Series, but since then, it's been back to their perpetual spot at the bottom of the American League West.
At least the taxpayers built them a truly beautiful stadium.

Future glory?
So how are Mariners fans supposed to show their frustration? Stop attending games? Stop watching games on television? Stop buying Ryan Roland-Smith jerseys?

Unfortunately, the unconditional love between a fan and a sports team usually requires more heartache and patience than joy and reward. No team can reach or win a championship every year - not even the Yankees.

To win a World Series requires a combination of several key factors: motivated ownership, competent management, quality coaches who will keep the team focused, two or three superstars, some wily veterans, a couple solid role players, a few talented youngsters and, most importantly, luck. In their 33 seasons, the Mariners have never found the right combination to win, let alone reach, the World Series.

Long droughts before winning a World Series are nothing new to Major League Baseball. In fact, some losing teams acquire a certain charm. The Boston Red Sox went 86 seasons until the team ended its curse in 2004, and the next year, the Chicago White Sox ended its after 88 years. Chicago Cubs fans having been waiting more than a century since their team last won the World Series in 1908, and they're going to keep waiting after this season, too.

However, unlike the Mariners, those three teams won World Series in the past and at least reached it in the intervening years. The most comparable team to the M's futility is the Houston Astros. The team started in 1962 and made its one and only trip to the World Series in 2005, when it lost to the aforementioned White Sox.

All baseball teams go through cycles: Some years they're winners, and some years they're losers. One of the beauties of baseball is that every spring there is that chance - no matter how slim - that your team is going to win the World Series. To be a true fan is to never give up hope.

So embrace your lovable losers, Mariners fans, and keep hoping. And just wait till next[[In-content Ad]]