FanFest: hoopla in the land of lollipops and rainbows

There are some things the Seattle Mariners do very well.  I’ve attended three of the Mariners Hall of Fame inductions, and they are super at hosting these big events recognizing the glory of the Mariners brief golden age.  I’ve already made it known in Maison de Smyth that I’ll see Sweet Lou join that band of brothers on August 9th.  They are always fun and well-organized.  The fans are treated well, often with a special bobblehead, and the ceremonies are tasteful as we get to see and hear from those successful players we cherish from our rapidly receding memories when Seattle baseball was the exalted sport in town.  The games can be a different story.  In 2012, on Randy Johnson’s and Dan Wilson’s induction day, the M’s won a nail biter.  Last summer, when Junior got the call, the M’s were destroyed 10-0.  Always interesting to contrast the memories of past glory with the hard realities of the present.

Yesterday I went with a friend for my first Fan Fest at Safeco Field.  I had a morning commitment so I didn’t make it to the ballpark quite as early as I hoped, missed out on autograph vouchers, and most importantly Jack Zdurencik’s Dugout Dialogue.  These mini-events are held each half hour on top of the home dugout, hosted by a local media type like Brad Adams of Root Sports (or whatever it will be called) or Rick Rizzs.  There are lots of other things to do for those so inclined including clubhouse tours, autograph sessions and even a zipline event in the ballpark. It was a beautiful, crisp day, but the ballpark was crowded, or at least seemed crowded with lots of veteran fans and families who took advantage of the very reasonable $10 admission and enjoy the festivities.

Though ziplining sounds fun, I break easily and passed on that.  More than anything it was just fun to be in the ballpark with lots of other baseball enthusiasts, have a beer at Edgar’s in left field and talk baseball with my friend Dave.  We caught some of the Dialogues on closed-circuit television including Tom Wilhelmson, Michael Saunders, and Lloyd McLendon.  I’d promised my wife to try to get a Dan Wilson autograph and we made our way toward Section 123 and the seats near the Dialogues area.

As we headed through the concourse we ran across the ESPN 710 radio booth where Rizzs, Shannon Drayer who covers the Mariners for ESPN, and Matt Pittman were hosting a live version of Hot Stove League from the ballpark.  They were interviewing the very same Jack Zdurencik I missed in the morning and I promptly pulled out my iPhone to begin recording the conversation.  I caught the last 12 or so minutes of the interview.  Sadly, I didn’t hear anything I hadn’t heard already.  Zdurencik talked about competition for playing time in the outfield, competition between Nick Franklin and Brad Miller, and how the young players simply needed to rise to the occasion.  Unfortunately, I didn’t record properly, so I can’t provide exact quotes.  However I left that interviewing feeling more than ever that Zdurencik has no vision for this team, that they’re simply bits and pieces stuck together without any clue for a larger purpose.

Dave and I stayed until 3:30ish.  We heard Wilson talk about his experiences as a Mariners catcher as well as his new responsibilities as Mariners minor league catching coordinator. Catcher Mike Zunino and shortstop Brad Miller spoke and took questions from the audience, followed by future stars, first baseman D.J. Peterson and shortstop Chris Taylor.  These were well orchestrated and fun, though I did not get Lorri’s Dan Wilson autograph.  To do so would have required trampling several dozen children and I just didn’t have the guts to do that.

FanFest was a great experience, another one of those opportunities the M’s try to take to connect the daily dwindling fan base with the team and the organization.  There are lots of things I missed, including Robinson Cano flown in from the Dominican Republic, shivering in a stocking cap, but it’s a great event to wet your whistle for the big show that will soon begin in Arizona.  If I had the time, head back up for day two today. It’s a sign that baseball will begin again soon, and that hey it’s January and who knows, anything can happen.

But after listening to Zdurencik, knowing the holes this team has on it-in the outfield, in the rotation, in the bullpen-FanFest reminds me of Robinson Cano’s signing: mostly window dressing on a deeply flawed team that has little hope of contending without significant upgrades.  While the organization’s  celebration and fans’ passion is fun and nice to be a part of, it’s all illusion, covering for what is likely to be a very difficult year

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