The Seattle Mariners are, objectively, one of the least successful franchises in Major League Baseball. They are one of two teams never to play in a World Series. Through 2014, they have the third lowest winning percentage among Major League franchises; trailing only the Rays and the Padres. And, perhaps most viscerally for Mariner fans, their 13 year postseason drought is the second longest in the sport.
At the same time, fan engagement in the Mariners is similarly stagnant. While the level of fan interest is harder to quantify, attendance figures have dwindled steadily over time as the team has struggled. And the numbers don’t tell the story of how many fans at the ballpark are there for the overall experience rather than to do all they can to help the team win. It is easy to mock fan excitement for gimmicks such as the Boat Races, the Hat Trick, or even the dancing grounds crew. But such gimmicks are enjoyed all over baseball. What is damning is not that those events are popular, but that the noise they generate is not consistently matched during game action.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks have enjoyed recent success unparalleled in its history, and in the history of all but a handful of teams. That success has coincided with what is generally understood to be the loudest fan base in football, and one of the best. It is accepted as fact that Seahawk fans not only root for their team’s success; they are an active part of achieving that success. Seahawks fans have come to be known as the “12th Man” or just “12’s”.
These facts beg the question: why are the fan bases of these two teams – next door neighbors – so different? One could simplistically posit that it is simply a function of success; the Seahawks are good, so the fans support them. The Mariners are not, so the fans do not.
However, this explanation is at best unsatisfactory, and at worst circular. It is generally accepted that an engaged fan base can have a direct impact on a team’s success on the field. Of course, it is at most a fraction of the impact that is had by the players, coaches, and front office. Alas, sports fans have no control over any of those factors. Fans can only impact the results on the field in one way; their level of engagement.
As the Mariners begin the second half of the 2015 season, their performance is once again disappointing. The sports narrative focuses on the number of days until NFL training camp and where to cast blame for this season’s failures. As Mariner fans, we have the option of accepting this narrative, and thereby perpetuating the cycle of disappointment and failure that has permeated the team and its fans for the last decade.
But Mariner fans have another option. We can choose to increase our level of engagement to match our engagement in the Seahawks. We can choose to accept that we have an option to be a direct part of our baseball team’s fortunes every bit as much as those of our football team. Indeed, we can acknowledge that, in at least some small way, we already have played a direct part in its fortunes. The term “home field advantage” has been an oxymoron at Safeco Field. Divvy up that “blame pie” however you want; just make sure to leave a slice for you and your fellow fans.
I propose that we, the Mariner fans, choose to take the first step toward reversing the fortunes of our team. I propose that we, the fans, choose – one by one by one – to do all we can do to increase the chances that the Mariners win home games by virtue of our actions. That we model ourselves after the Seahawk fans who congregate down the street (many of them, of course, are us) and the fans of other baseball franchises whose engagement helps their teams succeed on the field.
To that end, I propose the following 6 direct actions that the fans begin implementing immediately, upon the team’s return to town on July 24. These are just one fan’s initial suggestions. They are intended to generate interest and discussion; not to dictate your actions. Hopefully refinements and completely new and better ideas follow.
- Begin identifying ourselves as “the 10th Man” or “the 10’s”. This is not a new idea; there is a Facebook page already devoted to the idea. There hasn’t been a post on it in two months. That’s telling.
- Impose the “two strike” clap for all of our pitchers; not just one of them.
- There is a baseball axiom that “momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher”. Mariner fans have a unique level of access to the opposing team’s starting pitcher before every home game. A metal fence and no more than five feet separates that pitcher’s pre-game preparation from fans free to engage with him in a direct way. There are numerous options for this. I am not proposing that fans be uncivil (we have a Code of Conduct, after all). But there is no reason why fans could engage in a pre-game ritual designed to distract him. We could engage in monk-like chanting. We could throw around a giant (fake) fish, like they do in Pike’s Place Market. Anything. It can’t be less effective than nothing.
- Yankee fans are known for their “roll call”. In the top of the 1st inning, the bleacher fans chant the name of every defensive player, along with the rhythmic clapping (you can close your eyes and imagine them saying “Der-ek Je-ter, CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP). While the clapping is and should remain theirs, there is no reason Mariner fans could not acknowledge of their players at the beginning of each game. Perhaps a simple 2-3 syllable chant (“SEE-ger…SEE-ger.”) Give the fans a moment of connection with each player.
- Commit to higher levels of noise during game action, designed to inspire our team and intimidate the opposition.
- Sign the Petition at seelysecurity.com/10thman to add your voice to the list of Mariner fans who are ready to do their part to bring greater success to their team.
Baseball players are human beings; human beings are affected by their environment. Anyone who claims that fans cannot have an impact on the game are not basing their beliefs on evidence or common sense.
Some might ask whether the team “deserves” this level of engagement. You are, of course, free to answer that question in the negative and go about your day. Arguably, sports as a whole receives far more attention than it deserves. But ultimately, we choose to be fans not for the teams we root for, but for ourselves.
It follows that choosing a higher level of engagement for the Mariners would be a gift not primarily to them, but to each other. Will it help? It won’t hurt. It will make the games far more fun for the people there and for the fans unable (or unwilling) to attend in person. And statistical probability dictates that, sooner or later, the Mariners will be good again. Do you want to be one of the fans who sat back with his arms folded until the winning came, or do you want to feel like you helped bring about the franchise’s change of direction? I would prefer the latter.
That’s why I’m signing first. And I’ll be at the game on July 24th in my home jersey with the number 10 on the back and the name “FAN” above it. Join me.
Brian Muchinsky is a lifelong baseball fan. He is an attorney in Bellevue and the co-author of Cyber Fraud: The Web of Lies, available on Amazon.