Between a 4:05 first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Friday afternoon, and a 5 p.m. kickoff at CenturyLink Field, the Mariners and Seahawks will be playing at the same for a few hours.
The baseball game is significant for the Mariners, who trail the Yankees in an American League wild-card race that seems destined for a photo finish. The football game means little to the Seahawks, more interested in keeping their starters healthy than beating a team similarly determined to keep its starters healthy.
Consequential baseball at 4:05, an irrelevant football exhibition at 5, what will sports fans around here choose to watch?
They’ll watch football. In a TV ratings matchup, Seahawks vs. Mariners figures to be more one-sided than some goofy duel pitting one of the most accomplished boxers in history against a kick-fighting brawler prevented from kicking.
The Hawks, assembled to advance to the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, have earned the right to dominate their neighbors over the airwaves. The former Super Bowl champions remain a volatile conversation topic, and sometimes the conversation dwells on actual games.
The Mariners? They haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2001, a 16-year drought that explains a prevailing apathy.
Definition of apathy: Restaurants with five television sets in the bar area showing the Little League World Series. This was the case the other night, when the Mariners were tied, 3-3, against the Braves. I sat down at a table and noticed the only sports on TV was a game between 14-year old players from Venezuela taking on 14-year old players from Mexico.
“Is there a chance you can show the Mariners game on one of these TV sets?” I asked. The response was swift and pleasant, and yet posed a question.
Why wasn’t anybody else wondering what the Mariners were up to in Atlanta?
I am a frequent customer of restaurants and sports bars. A typical request during my visit goes something like this: “Is there a chance you can show the Mariners game on one of these TV sets?”
I have to ask, as the channel invariably is showing five pensive dudes at a poker table, or a tape-delayed broadcast of golf tournament in Asia, or the always riveting sight of a sports-radio duo debating a subject discernible only to lip readers.
It would be one thing if the Mariners were dull, but the Mariners are not dull. They score lots of runs, give up lots runs. Their patchwork starting rotation generally provides a serviceable four-inning performance that goes awry in the fifth, and then it’s buckle-the-seatbelts for a bullpen occupied by relievers who are either on or off.
When the stars are aligned and the Mariners have a chance to win, the ball is put in the right hand of Edwin Diaz, whose record of extinguishing fires is complicated by his tendency to start them.
It would be one thing, too, if the Mariners lineup featured unsavory characters who induced wincing during the pregame introductions. But general manager Jerry Dipoto has put together a collection of good guys who get along with each other in a clubhouse where friendship and respect solves obvious language barriers, as well as potential rifts between established veterans and daily call-ups from the minors.
Manager Scott Servais is a gem, capable of accentuating the positive after the most miserable of defeats. Servais doesn’t have fire and ire of the beloved Lou Piniella, but his steady stewardship of a broken-down team – of his starting pitchers out of spring training, Yoevani Gallardo is sole survivor – has posited Servais an AL manager-of-the-year candidate.
Six road games are left on the most treacherous stretch of the schedule. The Mariners took two out of three at Tampa Bay, and two out of three at Atlanta, and now it’s crunch time in The City That Never Sleeps.
Will anybody watch? Does anybody care?
I love football, and the Seahawks are consistently compelling, but if you’re wired only into NFL preseason, you’re missing something special.
There’s a very good chance Edwin Diaz will take the mound Friday night, around the time the Hawks third-teamers are lining up against Kansas City’s third-teamers.
One game means a whole lot, the other means nothing much. Check out the Mariners.
I suspect there’s a September-stretch bandwagon in the works, and don’t sweat the late arrival. There’s plenty of room.