The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
As we near the end of our little experiment, we're glad to hear that so many of you are enjoying the ride. Up next is our new friend David Martin.
1. "The Safe": While it hasn't hosted any World Series games since it opened in 1999, Safeco Field remains a symbol of baseball's success in Seattle and a jewel in the crown of major league parks. Views of the city skyline? Check. Asymmetrical field dimensions? Check. But the Safe is so much more than your average retro-modern stadium. With its retractable "umbrella" roof, it offers protection from the elements when necessary while retaining the feel of outdoor ball. Sounder trains chugging by on tracks adjacent to the field blow their whistle, adding to the overall experience. There's really no place M's fans would rather be.
2. Ichiro & the Japan Connection: As evidenced by their recent trip to Tokyo, the Mariners have strong ties to Japan. How strong, you ask? What, you didn't ask? Well, here goes anyway. Their majority owner is Hiroshi Yamauchi, the Kyoto-born former president of Nintendo. Though his record of attendance at M's games is somewhat spotty, Yamauchi has presided over the most successful period in franchise history. Of course, it's also been hard to ignore the Mariners' Japan connection whenever the team has taken the field for the past twelve years, thanks to a diminutive All-Star in right field by the name of Ichiro Suzuki. The M's currently have three players from the Land of the Rising Sun on the active roster — in addition to Ichiro, infield utility man Munenori Kawasaki and long reliever Hishahi Iwakuma are getting their first taste of MLB action in 2012. Others preceded Ichiro's arrival, and there is no reason to believe that No 51 won't be followed by others from his homeland once he decides to hang 'em up. Until that day though, Mariner fans will continue to enjoy watching one of the greats, whose arrival on American soil was not only a momentous event in the history of the franchise, but also in baseball.
4. '01: The last of those playoff appearances (and the team's most recent trip to the post-season) came in 2001. This time, the M's got past the Indians but couldn't repeat their 1995 heroics against the Yanks to take the pennant. Heartbreak, once again. However, it was the Mariners' regular season that had everyone talking that year. The Lou Piniella-led squad ran roughshod over the AL, to the tune of a 116-46 record. That still looks like a typo — but it isn't, no siree. 2001 was Ichiro's MVP debut. It was the midsummer classic at the Safe, with four Mariner starters. But above all else, it was the most convincing regular-season performance in team history. The club was either tied for or alone in first place wire to wire, and led the majors in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed. It was, my friends, was a juggernaut. Sadly for M's fans, 2001 marked both the beginning and the end of this dynasty, as identical 93-69 finishes in '02 and '03 left us out of the playoffs. But we'll always be able to conjure up the feeling of invincibility created by that one magical season.
6. The Three-Headed Monster: Speaking of the future, three young starting pitchers currently at Double-A Jackson are going to be a big part of what it holds for Seattle. Danny Hultzen (No. 16), Taijuan Walker (No. 18) and James Paxton (No. 77) are all among the top 100 prospects listed by MLB.com and are being groomed to slide in behind Felix Hernandez in the Mariners' rotation as soon as next year. These three future studs, coupled with continued dominance from the 2010 AL Cy Young winner (who's still only 26), could very well create the kind of hitters' nightmare currently welcoming visitors to parks such as Citizens Bank or AT&T. With Safeco's known tendency to favor pitchers (just ask A-Rod), opposing hitters could soon be tempted to call in dead whenever the M's are across the diamond. There were those who questioned the Mariners' decision to trade Michael Pineda during the off-season. But these three are the main reason they could afford such a luxury.
7. Being in the AL West: Most would consider being in the AL West along with the Texas Rangers and L.A. Angels a bad thing. The star-studded lineups of both those teams heading into 2012 might be enough to make other teams in the division, including the M's, want to stay home and redecorate or take up basket weaving. However, one doesn't have to look far to find a silver lining in the Pacific Northwest sky. Having two such powerhouses in our division raises the stakes. Above average isn't good enough, and even with an extra AL team making the post-season, the M's will likely have to approach elite status to hope for a playoff berth (38 total games against the Rangers and Angels will do that). And at the end of the day, even if we don't catch some breaks and squeak into the playoff picture this year, there's always next year, when Houston will join the AL West club … padding our win column in the process.
8. Mariners commercials: The Mariners are among the best-marketed teams in baseball, the commercials produced by the team during spring training being a fine example. To this M's fan, the baseball season truly starts not when pitchers and catchers report or when the first Cactus League pitch is delivered, but when the team puts out its commercials. This annual tradition provides a glimpse into the players' personalities, and is a big part of making the team "ours". The commercials offer an opportunity to feel connected to the names & numbers on the jerseys, all while making us laugh (sometimes 'til we cry). Nominated for best commercial ever is last year's Larry Bernandez spot, which even spawned its own bobblehead giveaway.
9. Dave Niehaus: We may have lost Dave, the Mariners' announcer from the team's inception through the 2010 season, but his voice forever rings in our ears. Considered by many to be the heart and soul of the franchise, the strongest connection the team had to its fanbase, Dave Niehaus lived and breathed Mariners baseball. Since his passing, a commemorative patch worn during the entire 2011 season, a bronze statue at Safeco unveiled last September, a musical tribute and a number of other initiatives have served to honor the man who embodied the team's spirit. "My, oh my!", how we miss him.
10. Rally Fries: Ah, Rally Fries. Warm, starch-riddled goodness. There are many culinary options to choose from at Safeco, but first-timers are urged to make the stop at Ivar's for this garlicky delight. Along with the dancing grounds crew and signing of "Louie Louie" during the seventh-inning stretch, Rally Fries are an integral part of M's baseball culture. Sure, there are garlic fries available in San Fran (and elsewhere, I'm sure). However, in addition to supplying at least a few innings' worth of rooting energy, the simple act of eating Rally Fries just might (might) spark the come-from-behind win that their name suggests. Can anyone else's fries do that? I think not. So, put some ninth-inning magic in your belly and take credit when the home team pulls it out at the end! Let's go M's!
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What are your favorite things about being a Mariners fan?
Previous "10 Best Things": Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants,Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers