John McGrath: With the last football snap comes the gift of baseball – The News Tribune (blog)
As the 2016 football season was winding down Sunday, I did what I annually do. I turned a page on my sports calendar to the 2017 baseball season.
It’s not a precise transition. The Mariners’ opener April 3, for instance, poses a scheduling conflict with the Final Four showdown for the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Between now and then, we’ll have a chance to watch 648,000 college basketball games on television, along with the usual offerings of hockey, golf, soccer and auto racing.
There’s miles to go before baseball games count, and yet the last football snap makes me think the first pitch is imminent.
I am reminded of a Super Bowl I covered 11 years ago, when the Seahawks were beaten by Pittsburgh in what amounted to a road game played at a neutral site. The trip home from Detroit required a layover in Denver, which meant going to the airport gift shop and stocking up on a week’s worth of reading material.
A detective novel, a biography of a flawed president, three different newspapers: When you’re flying from Detroit to Seattle via Denver, you can finish them all and still be restless enough to pick up the airline magazine on the back of the very reclined seat in front of you.
While waiting at the departure gate in Detroit that morning, I bought a couple of paperbacks and a magazine previewing the 2006 baseball season. I never made it to the paperbacks.
My brain had been in an all-football, all-the-time mode, and catching up on baseball stats and rosters and projected lineups was chicken soup for the soul, only stronger.
The preview magazine gave me the world’s cheapest therapy session, eight hours for $5.99. I woke up grumpy on a cold winter day in Detroit. By the time I got home to a cold winter night in Tacoma, I wasn’t grumpy.
I had my mind on the 2006 baseball season.
The season, it turned out, provided a case study of all that’s fascinating — and, yes, maddening — about baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series. The Cards finished with a regular-season record of 83-78 and a minimally positive run differential: They scored 781 times. Their opponents scored 762.
The Mariners, meanwhile, ended up in last place, with a 78-84 record and a minimally negative run differential. They scored 758 times. Their opponents scored 792.
The world-champion Cardinals were not conspicuously better than the last-place Mariners in 2006. St. Louis won five more games, which approximately translates to this: One victory per month.
But the Cards held on to prevail in a weak division, and the Mariners were stymied by a weird-vibe mix of productive veterans and promising rookies.
Raul Ibanez, at the age of 34, drove in 123 runs. Richie Sexson drove in 107. He would go on to collect 96 more RBIs before calling it quits in 2008.
Catcher Kenji Johjima, imported from Japan, hit .291, with 18 homers. A superstar in the midst, it appeared, and then his production dwindled to the point he realized he was homesick.
The Mariners starting rotation in 2006 included Felix Hernandez and Jamie Moyer, two of the top five pitchers in franchise history. Hernandez went 12-14. Moyer went 6-12 before departing in an August trade with the Phillies that brought the immortal pitching duo of Andrew Baldwin and Andy Barb to Seattle.
Nothing clicked for the Mariners that season, and yet I have fond memories of how it began in a gift shop at the Detroit airport. The Seahawks had just lost, to an inferior team, in a clunker made clunkier by an inept officiating crew.
I’d been dreading the long day’s journey home, and then I opened up the baseball preview magazine that assured me another spring, rich with possibilities, was awaiting.