Mariners will be on top of the A.L. West

The words were barely out of my mouth before I felt a few tears start to well up in my eyes.

I was on the phone with my mom and she asked me how the Mariners were projected to do this year. I told her most favor them to win the division, and many like their chances at getting to the World Series.

“Really?” she said, shocked.

That’s when it hit me. What it would be like to play baseball in Seattle in October. I thought of Edgar Martinez’ double in the 1995 ALDS, a play I’ve seen two-million-and-one times. I thought of the image of Ken Griffey Junior sliding into home plate to win the series and I heard Dave Niehaus’ voice yelling, “The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship, I don’t believe it, my oh my.”

I reminded my mom that the team was one game away from the playoffs last year, and they signed the best hitter available in free agency during the winter.

Despite losing the Super Bowl this year, the Seahawks are still the toast of the town, and I don’t think there’s anything the Mariners can do to change that. However, I do think a World Series from the Mariners would mean more to the city. With the exception of a few seasons, the Seahawks have competed for the division year in and year out since Mike Holmgren came to town in 1999.

The Mariners haven’t been to the playoffs in 13 years, really not even coming close until last year. 2004 was the last year there was really any excitement from the fan base — anyone telling you they thought the team could compete between then and last year is kidding themselves. They haven’t won 90 games since 2003. No single person has driven a fan base to total apathy the way General Manager Bill Bavasi did during his tenure from 2003-2008.

But that apathy is turning back into excitement. It’s been a long, slow, tedious process, but for the first time since 2003, the Seattle Mariners are going into the season as legitimate contenders. Everyone knows about their pitching, and now they may be one or two offensive pieces away from a dynasty.

Those pieces might even already been in the organization. Much has been made over the last few months about how the team finally has a good middle of the order with Cano, Cruz, and Seager, but shortcomings in other places have also been noted.

The addition of Rickie Weeks is eerily similar to that of Mark McLemore in 2000. A veteran second baseman with a proven track record of some success to come in and be a utility guy. Justin Ruggiano’s name is of the same flavor of Logan Morrison — a talented prospect who wasn’t able to break out because of injuries and lack of opportunity. Last season, we saw what Morrison can do when healthy. Hopefully Ruggiano can do the same.

Then there’s the talent already in the organization that’s developing nicely. Already extremely good on defense and at handling a pitching staff, Mike Zunino can be that wildcard power hitter like Mike Cameron was at the turn of the century for the Mariners. His average shouldn’t be expected to be anywhere above .250, and he’ll see his share of strikeouts, but 25 home runs and 75 RBI isn’t at all out of the question.

Down the road, prospects D.J. Peterson, Patrick Kivlehan, and Gabby Guerrero have already shown flashes just five games into spring training.

Perhaps most importantly, this coaching staff seems to have what it takes to manage and develop young players. Lloyd McClendon showed last year he can push the right buttons at the right times and put players in positions to succeed. Outfielders coach Andy Van Slyke is recognized as one of the best teachers in the game. This season, he’ll be working with two converted second basemen in left field in Weeks and Dustin Ackley.

In a series of head-scratching moves, the Oakland A’s traded themselves out of playoff consideration. Josh Hamilton’s relapse and potential suspension leaves the Angels with holes in their lineup. And did anybody really take Texas seriously, even when they were good?

Are the Houston Astros even fielding a team this year? I heard there was a low turnout at open try outs.

For once, the A.L. West doesn’t seem intimidating, and after six years of building, Jack Zduriencik has the Mariners poised to take it.