PEORIA, Ariz. — The King sounds an awful lot like a “12.”
“The Seahawks, the organization, they are really good, man,” Felix Hernandez said Thursday. “Unbelievable. I love watching those games. Really cool.”
James Gillheeney, a young Mariners pitcher in his first major-league camp, watched the Super Bowl from a unique perspective, having been a college baseball teammate of Russell Wilson for two seasons at North Carolina State.
“It was so surreal,” Gilheeney said. “Seeing him on the sideline, in the huddle, being in the Super Bowl, one of the biggest stages in professional sports, and to think a few years back he was coming over to my house, getting haircuts, hanging out and watching TV with us like he was just another guy.”
Yes, Seahawks mania has worked its way to the desert, where coincidentally Steve Largent was a guest in Mariners’ camp Thursday.
It resided comfortably in the office of manager Lloyd McClendon, a former high-school running back who moseyed over to the Seahawks practice facility to meet Pete Carroll just before he left for the Super Bowl. In fact, McClendon said the Seahawks coach accurately predicted some of what went down in the game, a resounding Seattle victory, in case that has slipped your mind.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for Coach Carroll and what he accomplished and what he got those young men to do,” McClendon said. “It was just tremendous. And it just goes to show you, there’s no substitute for passion, preparation, and belief. I’m all in, and I want my players to be all in as well.”
Mixed in with the declarations of Seahawks’ love throughout the Mariner organization — and they’ve jumped en masse on the bandwagon — is a tinge of unspoken wistfulness. The football team owns the town. The Mariners are at best at afterthought, at worst the whipping boys of a frustrated fan base.
The best-case scenario is that the Seahawks’ success provides a nudge, or even a shove, to the Mariners, ratcheting up the urgency to put their losing stretch behind them. The alternative is that they keep struggling and continue to pale in comparison to their football brethren.
Certainly, the signing of Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240-million contract was a strong and tangible statement by Mariners management. (I’d like Seattle back it up by adding an arm like Ervin Santana and/or a bat like Kendrys Morales; Nelson Cruz, on the other hand, has way too many red flags to justify the likely pricetag).
Michael Saunders believes the Mariners are on the verge of catching the same wave that just swept the Seahawks into fans’ hearts. Saunders now lives in enemy territory — Denver — and said that the frenzy in Seattle, which he experienced when he showed up for Fan Fest and the Winter Caravan just before the Super Bowl, blew away anything he saw in Colorado.
“I’m not saying the city of Denver was not behind the Broncos, but Seattle was all in,” Saunders said. “It was a lot of fun to see buildings lit up with 12, and the colors at night, glowing in Seahawks colors. It was fun to be around during that time.”
And what would it take to transfer that mania to Safeco Field, to turn Mariner fans into what Hernandez called “10s”? The answer is as obvious as it has been elusive for an organization that, in stark contrast to the astute Seahawks, keeps compounding personnel misjudgments.
“Win, to be honest,” Saunders said. “We want to jump on the train. The Sounders have a great following, play good soccer. What the Seahawks have done speaks for itself. We want to become a winning organization again.
“I think we’ve paid our dues and are ready to start winning some ballgames and put together some winning seasons and bring the excitement back to the Pacific Northwest. We want to be like the Mariners used to be.”
No one knows better about how the Mariners used to be than infielder Willie Bloomquist, back in Seattle after a five-year absence. He saw one incarnation of Mariner mania in 1995 as a youngster in Port Orchard.
“I was one of those kids at the stadium then,” he said.
A grown-up Bloomquist made his major-league debut with Seattle in 2002, one year removed from a season in which the Mariners won a record -tying116 games. They led the majors in attendance that year at 3.5 million — a total that has been halved in the interim.
“Ten years ago, I’d say it was flip-flopped,” Bloomquist said, reflecting on the current case of Seahawks’ fever. “It’s the same fans; they were just crazy about baseball at the time.”
“Hopefully, we as a baseball team can ride that Seahawks momentum, and hopefully, the fans can keep the excitement going. And, hopefully, we give them something to be excited about. We know they’re there, and we know they’ll come out when you win. So we’ve just got to win. It’s up to us.”