Welcome back, baseball

Seattle Mariners open season 7:10 p.m. Thursday in Seattle



J.P. Crawford is a leader for the Mariners and helps the infielders dance after each win.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

The crack of the bat as it meets the ball, the smell of a freshly cut lawn (about one month out for those in the Pacific Northwest) and the feeling of pure elation when one swing changes the entire course of a game, a season, a franchise.

These are some of my favorite things about baseball.

One swing is what it took to create a fantastic memory for M’s fans everywhere. Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh took a 3-2 pitch deep to right field to beat the Oakland Athletics 2-1 and clinch the Mariner’s first postseason berth in 21 years.

The 2022 Seattle Mariners did what people my age have literally waited their entire lives for. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

The 2001 Mariners won 116 games behind an incredible rookie of the year and MVP season from Ichiro Suzuki and career-best contributions from Mike Cameron, Bret Boone and WSU great John Olerud.

The 2022 squad contained a Rookie of the Year season from Julio Rodríguez and career strides for the Mariners’ young lineup including Gold Glove shortstop J.P. Crawford, All-Star first baseman Ty France, home run-hitting third baseman Eugenio Suárez and catcher Cal Raleigh — a folk hero forged through one legendary swing Sept. 30, 2022, at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.

This season, the Mariners created a competitive lineup, bringing in veteran outfielder Teoscar Hernández who sports a career batting average of .262, and two-time Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong.

The Mariner’s pitching rotation was rounded out by the addition of ace Luis Castillo, who propelled the Mariners through two crucial wins over the Yankees and a deceive playoff start in the Wild Card round in which he pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and no walks in the Mariners 4-0 win over the Blue Jays in their first postseason game since 2001.

The 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray is back for year two with the M’s and has unfinished business after a traumatizing pitch in Game one of the ALDS in which he allowed the Astros’ Yordan Álvarez to hit a walk-off home run to beat the Mariners 8-7 in Houston.

Mariners aces-in-training Logan Gilbert and George Kirby are ready to take the next step and the Mariners bullpen–comprised entirely of right-handed pitchers on Opening Day shows promise behind the triple-digit heat of Andrés Muñoz, clutch reliever Matt Brash and the trusted veteran Paul Sewald.

Julio alone makes this team irresistible to root for. I can’t help but adopt cautious optimism when talking about this team because as Mariners fans, we have been in a similar position before.

The difference and reason for optimism this year? Recent results. The playoffs are not a far-off dream. They were real. The Mariners were in the playoffs.

Expectations are higher than they have ever been (save for maybe 2002, but I digress).

In fact, some writers such as The Seattle Times’ Larry Stone have begged the question: Could the Mariners win the World Series in 2023?”

My faith is high in this team but more than anything, I am just so excited for Mariners baseball.

Whether it’s gathered around the TV with friends and family, hearing Rick Rizzs vividly paint each pitch over the radio or breathing in the midsummer Seattle air at T-Mobile Park, Mariners baseball is here.

The late, great Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus perfectly captured the thrill of Opening Day in a monologue that the Mariners pump out in one form or another every year.

“Someone once said, ‘You don’t grip a baseball; a baseball grips you.’ It fills our days and brightens our nights over the course of a season and the span of a lifetime,” Niehaus said.

“Welcome back baseball, welcome back.”