Although the Mariners brass swears up and down that the procurement of Ichiro Suzuki was solely a pragmatic decision, the move reeks of nostalgia and has left many Mariners fans in a crisis of future success versus memory. The best case scenario is he’s meant to be a short-term solution for an outfield in need of a reliable player to sew up the holes until it regains its health. The worst is that this is the first sign the franchise is already throwing in the towel this season and focusing on nostalgia to hoodwink the fans, instead of signing a quality starting pitcher to please them. The third option is that there’s no plan, no cover-up, and no sinister movements taking place amongst the shadows. But, that’s a boring option, so we’ll suspend that most probable scenario for the sake of entertainment.
The use of nostalgia as a means to control the Mariners’ seasonal narrative is nothing new, especially when it’s a losing season, like most seasons this millennium have been (10/16 have been under .500). That being the case, Ichiro’s signing can easily be construed as the continuance of a PR tradition that’s deeply enmeshed within Mariners fandom. The Mariners marketing team for over a decade has nurtured and propagated fan nostalgia with promotional events celebrating past stars, “Turn Back the Clock” nights, and the relentless recycling of past game footage on Safeco’s huge telescreen. Television and radio add-breaks are clogged with the ancient echoes of sound and video from the franchise’s tiny treasure chest of memorable moments.
The barrage of media curated to trigger nostalgia in order to enliven the fan base works, but at a price; and the addition of Ichiro—no matter how sound the management’s reasons are—signals the waning of blind support for a team more interested in contending with the facts of the past, than its divisional rivals in the present.
It wasn’t Ichiro’s signing alone that caused this shift; the shift’s been a long time coming, with obvious roots planted in the years after Ichiro’s departure to the Yankees. A stretch of ineptitude so dismal that this will be the only time in the article where I’ll ask Mariners fans to look back and remember because I don’t want to write about it. For all of you that aren’t fans and want to know how bad it was just imagine being jilted at the altar of your wedding and while desperately scanning the pews for your true love, you instead spy a smiling Bill Murray among the congregation. You immediately realize that you’re just an extra in his Groundhog Day world and will have to relive this nightmare 161 more times before you can stop existing. And, when contented with your new-found absence of being/consciousness (I’m aware of the contradiction), you’re mercilessly reanimated to do it all over again, and with the same Bill Murray (Jack Z), but with a different fiancé (team). That was 2010-2013.
Dissatisfaction was at a high but in Seattle terms. Some fans in the bleachers were actually murmuring words of discontent. A small few, including myself and my buddy Mark, began to heckle the Dean of Disappointment, Dustin Ackley from Section 182. Surrounding fans silently agreed with us by giving us a nod or a smile, others openly laughed, but of course, there were a few who looked back at us in silent disapproval and scorned our attempts to threaten the family atmosphere of the Great American Past Time. With their 46’ trident caps, the agents of nostalgia shamed us for our lack of support, so we’d leave the bleachers and walk around the ballpark a couple times to let the air out the bag. While they danced the awkward steps of futility to get their moment on the big screen, we felt ashamed for wanting our baseball team to be good. We felt cool, like outlaws, but not cool, like baseball nuts. I think we actually just felt hungry.
The 2014 and 2015 season was a lot of this: masking disappointment and anger through witty puns directed at players and long park walks in search of the deep-fried stand that we could have sworn disappeared out of thin air. It wasn’t until Jack Z was sacked and replaced with GM Jerry Dipoto, that I was able to approach the idea of believing in belief again; and I was almost there in 2016 when I found the deep-fried stand on the 300 level.
But then, the plague of injuries and the insane ramp-up of Mariners memory lane crap made me nearly (and illogically) irate with Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar, as if they were the ones in the back of the clubhouse hitting our players with tire irons and infecting them with rare tropical diseases. The nostalgia wasn’t strong enough to burn-out the disappointment of the 2017 season, and I don’t think I’m alone. Based on the reaction coming from many fans online, notably on Twitter, Lookout Landing and Facebook, Ichiro’s signing has stirred up a fair amount of muted-optimism, happy-go-lucky pessimism, and coffee-fueled mid-afternoon office fatalism.
So, why isn’t the trusty team nostalgia button working?
Nostalgia wasn’t always heralded as a mere sentimental longing for the past but thought of as a disastrous psychological disease that could lose wars. When the “disease of the head” was given its name (Nostos, the Greek meaning “homecoming”, and Algos, the same, meaning “pain” or “ache”) by Johannes Hofer in 1688, soldiers were being buried alive to curb the virus from spreading to others. Bloodletting (of course), Leeches, and stomach purging were also performed to keep the dark out and from spreading. The French doctor, Jourdan Le Cointe said that nostalgia should be treated with pain and terror. In other words, a sufferer should be promised pain and suffering if they exhibited signs of nostalgia. Not a bad idea, Doc.
However, with the birth of Enlightenment social theory, the boundless advancements in modern science, and the advent of baseball, I counter your argument, way long and dead French Doctor, as I have proof being a Mariners fan that nostalgia is, in fact, the perfect psychological bandage to cover-up pain and terror in order to keep going, no matter how futile the road ahead is unlikely to lead to happiness. I prescribe to you, monsieur, one Ichiro bobblehead, one stadium dog, and a funnel cake, which you can find at the deep-fried stand of the 300 level of Safeco Field.
Joking aside, Ichiro’s signing comes at a time when I can’t dawn the blindfold of nostalgia because it would be a conscious decision to. That’s the meat of the matter: many of us fans have seen this before and have seen it again, and after an old and chubby Ken Griffey Jr. was caught sleeping in the clubhouse during a game, a part of us died, the shit-eating nostalgia part. Don’t get me wrong, I still have his bobbleheads, his rookie card, and chocolate bar, but that debacle was a wake-up call.
I’m happy to get to see Ichiro hit in Safeco again, but I hate myself for saying that, and I’m angry with Dipoto for putting me in this position to finally tear off my nostalgic bandage and be forced to potentially bleed out for an entire season.
The kicker of the deal is, I’m no longer nostalgic for the Mariners, but I am for baseball, and that’s not a bandage that can come off without unraveling my childhood. So, I’ll sit and wait until we become winners.
Please be good, Ichiro. Please be genuinely good.