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Mariners’ Turn Ahead the Clock night is a direction baseball needs to head in

On Saturday night, the Mariners donned sleeveless jerseys, didn’t tuck them in, and wore their hats backwards. Their colors were maroon and silver – you know, like in the future.

It was different. It was an event. It was fun.

And it’s something baseball needs to take a cue from.

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Baseball has always been about tradition and reverence, which is why nearly every team has a Turn Back the Clock night on their home schedule. Sometimes the players embrace the idea, sometimes they go about their business. It can be fun, but it’s never all that memorable and doesn’t leave much room for interpretation.

With Saturday’s Turn Ahead the Clock promotion at Safeco Field, though, all of the Mariners bought in. Because the players weren’t having to pay tribute, they were able to express themselves, and the fans fed off of that.

Dee Gordon put his own spin on Ken Griffey Jr.’s style from the original Turn Ahead the Clock night 21 years ago. Nelson Cruz showed off his prodigious muscles with an impressive fully sleeveless look. Ben Gamel, former New York Yankees prospect, made sure to look as decidedly un-Yankees-like as possible. Félix Hernández even tried to start the game with a backwards hat on the mound – to no avail due to umpire interference.

Everybody was smiling. Maroon Mariners hats, shirts and jerseys were all over the stadium (even the next day – clearly there is a market for these sorts of things). The Mariners-Royals game was the talk of the league for the night, and it was an infectious kind of fun that will be remembered for years to come – just like the first time in 1997, a game that was replayed multiple times on ROOT Sports last week because of how amusing it was.

Saturday was a night that promoted individuality in a game that typically chastises such notions. Players put themselves at risk of getting hit by a pitch in their next at-bat if they celebrate a home run more than the opposing team deems necessary. A small message written on a hat or cleats is newsworthy. For every Dee Gordon, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of players who keep their postgame quotes short and would rather not be noticed (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Compare that to the NBA, where teams regularly take chances with new-fangled uniforms, the possibility of creativity has been opened up with shoe colors and players treat walking into the arena like it’s the red carpet.

The NBA looks forward more often than it does backwards, which lets its players establish their own identities. That’s a big reason why the popularity of basketball is on the rise not just in America but all over the world. Baseball, meanwhile, has superstar players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge that would have been gigantic celebrities back when baseball was truly America’s pastime, but in this day and age they have tons of untapped potential in that arena.

The MLB took a good step in creating a Player’s Weekend last year that brought in wacky uniforms and allowed players to pick nicknames to use on the backs of their jerseys. Hopefully the success of Saturday night in Seattle will get the league to search for more ways to embrace its future rather than trying to live in its past.

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