EDITOR'S COLUMN: Mariners are finally falling apart

The Seattle Mariners should be commended for reverting to tradition as July 4, 2004 nears. Until 1995, the Mariners were generally out of the pennant race by July 4 and our thoughts started turning to Seahawks football. That hasn’t happened in 10 seasons, but now it looks like the Mariners have trimmed their sails, hauled their keel, lost their compass and are hurtling back to the good old days when the word “Mariners” was synonymous with bad trades, poor play, retread ballplayers and losing in general. I’ve been waiting anxiously for those days to return.

I was the only Northwest baseball fan who liked the Kingdome, where ground balls bounced crazily off the cheap Astroturf, pop flys caromed off speakers, and easy fly balls sailed over the fence where they knocked inattentive fans on the head, assuming they missed all the empty seats.

There are so many Mariners names that will live on in futility, such as Bill Caudill, Renee Lachmann, Todd Cruz, Jim Presley, Julio Cruz, Eddie Vander Berg, Rupert Jones, etc., etc. Players came through the system for 20 years without ever making the playoffs, let alone the league championship series or, heaven forbid, the World Series. The dream then was to be playing near .500 ball by the All-Star Break, after which the fade would start as the Seahawks went to training camp. That was all we heard from the Mariners, unless they made a bonehead trade late in the season.

What I liked best about those Mariners was the empty seats in the stadium. There were parking spaces in the Kingdome lot at game time if you wanted to splurge, or you could park just outside the gate and walk a block to the ticket window. With only 10,000 fans, there were 54,000 empty seats surrounding us, so you could change seats every inning. There were no morons chanting “Edgaaaar” all game long, and the Star Spangled Banner was the only patriotic song we sang. You could buy a hotdog without spending three innings in line, and the restrooms were express, even for the women. People sat and watched the game. No standing up when a Mariners pitcher was going for a strikeout in the first inning.

I’ve missed those days since 1995 when the Mariners miraculously made their first successful run at the playoffs. Since then, I’ve been waiting for the inevitable deconstruction of the team. It can’t be done overnight, getting rid of the likes of Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and other star players. But with the trading of Freddy Garcia on Sunday, the process is virtually complete. The remaining Mariners of 2004 remind me of the Mariners of 1984, and their win-loss record proves it.

But we’re not there yet. Last weekend’s series against San Diego attracted more than 100,000 paying customers to Safeco Field. That’s because of the backlog of season ticket holders who think this is still 2002. They haven’t heard that Lou Piniella is gone. But they’ll figure it out by next season, when a three-game series will be lucky to draw 45,000.

Then, I’ll return to the ballpark. The thought of a half-filled Safeco is tantalizing. After all, it’s still Big League baseball and it’s still fun to watch. But give me plentiful easy parking, plenty of elbow room, short food lines, and easy post-game exits. Next year, I’ll have it all. Meanwhile, I’m thinking the Seahawks will be pretty good this year.

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