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Maurer a Mariner

This month promised to have lots of commitments outside of blogging, and it did not disappoint. Part of me hoped that the Mariners would make me feel better about this by silently waltzing through spring training in a bland, unassuming manner.

Early on the M's hitters were dinger-happy, and they are yet to stop. No Mariners team has hit more dingers in spring training than this one, for what it is worth.

Today the Mariners announced the juiciest news yet: Brandon Maurer made the starting rotation.

I haven't heard any of Maurer's starts on radio, or seen him pitch on TV (much less in person). I, like every blogger and most reporters, have no knowledge of all the work Maurer does behind the scenes too. I have no real good angle to provide insight on this decision - but I do have a blog about the Mariners, so there shall be an opinion.

Confessions of a Die Hard Fan

First off, I'd like to say that I am not Tim and I hope that doesn't disappoint you loyal readers. My knowledge of baseball—and most subjects—is inferior to his, but when Mr. Chalberg invited me to write for his beloved blog, I was honored. I've been reading SMM for a few years now, and as it's one of my most trustworthy and interesting sources of baseball-related information, I'm a bit nervous about seeing my own name among its posts. But enough of that. My flattery is probably embarrassing this blog's aforementioned creator, so I'll get on with it.

My name is Ben and I've been a Mariners' fan since the legendary 1995 season, when Seattle was ecstatic with the spirit of 'Refuse to Lose.' Like Tim, baseball and the Mariners have been of a part of my identity since I first heard names like Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner and Randy Johnson. I played baseball growing up on Bainbridge Island, Washington and spent many summers listening to the voices of Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs while sorting my thousands of baseball cards in countless three-ring binders. It was around this time I declared Field of Dreams my all-time favorite film—big surprise. I worked at a fledgling (and eventually, bankrupt) baseball statistical analysis company as a teenager, sold t-shirts at the Mariners Team Store during one summer in college, and even got to be a broadcaster for the PLU Lutes for a couple of seasons. Now, I work as a teacher in Hong Kong and have spent the last six months working with grade school kids on beginner baseball after school. I have my own blog all about my life out here, and it's called A Mariners Fan in Hong Kong. Ironically, after nearly two years, this will be the first post to appear there that mentions anything about the Seattle Mariners.

Tim asked me to write here after I posted on my own blog about wanting to branch out from my usual topics of travel, teaching and cultural observations. I wasn't sure what to write at first, and to be honest, I'm still not sure where this is going to go. Nonetheless, I feel I have a lot to say considering I haven't written much about the topic that consumes my brain on a daily basis. The biggest question regarding baseball for me personally is this: What is it about the sport that has made it so important to myself, Tim and millions of others?

I can't speak for Tim or the legions of baseball fans around the globe, but I can at least try to sum up why it's essentially the only part of my life that's just as present as it was eighteen years ago, excluding my family. As yet another season is two short weeks away, it seems appropriate to delve into the very bests parts about the game so dear to my heart.

Working with six-year-olds in my job, I've come to notice that they can be like goldfish, forgetting much of what happens to them on a daily basis. For example, "What did you do this weekend, Daniel?" "Ummm...I don't remember." So my vivid memories of Edgar Martinez' Double and the ensuing euphoria eighteen years ago become even more meaningful due to the young age I was at the time. This strong emotional connection to the game is part of what makes baseball so special. I've been nearly brought to tears watching old highlight movies of Cal Ripken's record breaking streak or Luis Gonzalez walk-off bloop single in 2001. These weren't even players on my favorite team but just watching them, and knowing the context of the moment, I can truly feel the power of the event.

Some may call this irrational but I prefer John Sexton's term, ineffable. He uses this word as a foundation of his recent book Baseball as a Road to God when finding similarities between religion and baseball. The word doesn't simply mean 'impossible to explain' or 'unknown'; it means, according to Sexton, something we do know profoundly but is just too overwhelming to properly define. To some, this is a copout to really digging deeply into the psychological draw to the game but I personally like this ineffable description. Or perhaps this quote from Tom Hanks' character in A League of Their Own can capture it. “Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.”

"America's Pastime" has been held on a pedestal by countless authors, moviemakers, journalists and musicians. This mythical nature is certainly a big part of the appeal. But part of the game's intrigue comes from the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of approaching ballparks as cathedrals, hosts to countless heroes and villains, one can take the game under a microscope. Study its intricacies like the living organism it is. If ineffable is the first word, the second word is: statistics.

Another memory I have of my earliest days of baseball fandom was asking my dad and other grownups to explain to me what 'AB', 'ERA', 'HR' and all these acronyms on the back of my baseball cards meant. I eventually found the answers and have been studying the numbers attached to them ever since. As I got older and started to become aware of the changes in the game, I embraced sabermetrics, though again, my knowledge is at a very basic, Moneyball-level. Bill James is my Charles Darwin, and the knowledge he's devoted his life to sharing is as revolutionary as it is provocative as it is complicated. Baseball has its division between old-school and new-school and while I fall into the latter category, I get annoyed by both sides at times. The old schoolers call the sabermetricians geeks who've never known what it's really like to play the game. The new schoolers sometimes reduce baseball's magical moments to intangible flukes that distract from the cold, hard facts and equations. For me, and I know Tim will agree, the grandeur and the statistics are not enemies, they are complementary. Like yin and yang. Or science and religion! After all, many of baseball's most hallowed moments come from statistical records being broken.

To try to reel this meandering Marlin in, let me segue into my third and final reason for my love of baseball. Though I can get frustrated by the people whose opinion is miles from mine, e.g. managers, reporters or even friends, these endless debates are an integral part of the fun. Who is the best second baseman of alltime? Should the All Star Game decide home field advantage in the World Series? Why did the Mariners trade John Jaso for Michael Morse? Should Edgar Martinez be in the Hall of Fame? Why have there been more perfect games pitched in recent years? Which team has the best uniform? And on and on and on. For many, these questions mean next to nothing. It's the way I feel when my English colleagues discuss European football: no attachment whatsoever. But to those of us who have had baseball as a contant in our lives since before we lost our first baby tooth, it's these debates and conversations that give us common ground, a community of sorts, for even though we disagree, we both care so much about the topic at hand.

Early spring is among the best times for baseball fans. Everyone can feel optimistic about the near future, no matter what their team might be. When the Mariners commence the season on April 1st, I'll be somewhere near Kunming, China on my spring vacation, trying yak butter or steam pot chicken. No one there will speak much English, let alone know anything about baseball, but it'll be another season nonetheless and once I find Wi-Fi, I'll be temporarily transported back to the world of the Bambino and UZR, knuckleballs and grand salamis. To slightly modify a song from the musical Shenandoah, "Baseball ain't a state like Maine or Virginia, baseball is a state of mind." And that is why I like, no, love, no, live for baseball.

2013 Mariners Commercials

The Mariners unveiled their 2013 commercials today, complete with a new slogan for the year - "True to the blue." The slogan is neither bad nor good in my book, but the commercials are worthy additions to the anthology of M's ads. In fact, do you want to know how big of a deal today's release was? The Catholic church elected a new pope in their wake. 'Nuff said.

Below are the new Mariners commercials, ranked in reverse order of how much I like them. See if you agree or disagree with me (although, quite frankly, there is no way to argue that my top two are the top two this year. They are head and shoulders above all the others.)

6. The Lineup

The most interesting thing to me about this commercial is that it probably goes down as the raciest ad to date in Mariners history. I wouldn't go as far as calling it inappropriate, but by Mariners standards it is past what I am used to seeing out of their image and brand.

5. One Wish

I feel as if this ad tries to punch a little fun at all the losses the past few years. I'm not sure why they cut the final wish off mid-sentence (avoid a jinx?) The ended with Raul is quite nice though. I feel like this ad could age disgracefully if the M's flounder, thanks to the ending.

4. Fan Mail

The creators/directors missed an opportunity in this commercial. Eric Wedge is a stealthy supporting actor. It's his responses to King Felix that made Larry Bernandez an all-time classic. His banter with Felix and "little Larry" last year also made that commercial work. Why didn't this ad have Wedge stop Ackley in the clubhouse hallway, and give him a chance to deliver his deadpan "you've got to be kidding me" line for the year? In fact, why couldn't Ackley and Wedge have some sort of contest where they see who can be more emotionless with their delivery of lines?

3. Focused & Relaxed

The silk pajamas are pretty awesome, although I think I would have cast someone different in Seager's role. The only problem is that just about anyone else in Seager's role would seem like the butt of the joke with all the terrible hitting we've seen in the past - oh, I guess decade or so at this point :( Now that I think of it, I feel like Morse's personality would have filled out the silk PJs better, and Seager could have worn the zen t-shirt.

2. Hottest Thing in Town

King Felix delivers another strong effort. Kudos to the M's for not running Larry Bernandez into the ground, and going in a different direction this year. My favorite part of the whole commercial is how shot after shot shows the San Diego Padres suffering. The Mariners and Padres will be better interleague rivals yet! My only qualm with this ad is that there is no Felixing. I am surprised and a bit disappointed that Felixing is nowhere to be found in any of the commercials this year.

1. The Wise Ol' Buffalo

I saw some photos of the buffalo hit Twitter as the Mariners filmed commercials, so I had high hopes for whichever commercial featured it. This one did not disappoint. The ad is random, clever, and somehow fits the personalities of Wilhelmsen and Ryan (at least how I imagine them as a fan with a Mariners blog).

Overall, I like this group of commercials. It seems like a few get played much more than the rest every year, and I know which ones I hope I see the most.

Spring Dingers Almost Meaningless

If you are an optimist, the word "almost" probably jumped out at you in the title.

The Mariners have hit more home runs than any other team in spring training so far. The Mariners made a concerted effort to beef up their offense with some power hitters, so the early onslaught seems like a promising sign.

I decided to see if spring training dingers have translated into regular season dingers in recent history. Below are team home run totals in spring training vs. team home run totals in the regular season for the past four seasons, 2009-2012. I stopped in 2009 for no great reason; it gave me over 100 data points and was also the season Jack Zduriencik took over the Mariners.

Here's the data (click for larger image):

Correlation coefficient: 0.18

The data points look more or less like a random blob with perhaps a slight upward trend. The correlation coefficient confirmed what is obvious to our eyes - there is a slight positive correlation (suggesting teams that hit more home runs in spring do hit more home runs in the regular season), but it's impossible to stress slight too much. Barely any of the variation in regular season home runs is explained by spring training home runs in theory.

I got to thinking about the Mariners situation though. They go from playing in the warm, dry air of Arizona to the cool, damp confines of the Pacific Northwest. I wondered if park factors were obscuring a more noticeable trend in the data.