SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Inside look at the Mariners clubhouse after season ends

Oct 17, 2022, 12:15 AM
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Julio Rodríguez reacts after grounding out in the 10th inning of Game 3 of the ALDS. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

A common sight in the waning days of most seasons is the large rectangular boxes in front of each locker in the Mariners’ clubhouse. With a known end date in sight, players would be afforded a few minutes pre- and post-game to start loading some of the contents of their lockers and cubbies above (shoes, lots of shoes) into the boxes to be sent home or stored for the next year.

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As these boxes took up residence in front of the lockers, another sight was the stream of players one by one into the manager’s office for end-of-the-year and offseason player-plan meetings. While the focus remained largely on the few remaining games, it was impossible to miss the preparation for what was next.

We did not see those sights this year as the end date was not known until Julio Rodríguez lofted a ball 325 feet into the glove of Astros center fielder Mauricio Dubón for the third and final out of the 18-inning, 6 hour and 22-minute grind that took place in front of 47,690 fans at T-Mobile Park on Saturday. As a reporter, those boxes were also put away, offseason planning put on hold. The focus was on what was happening in front of us, the biggest games of the past two decades for this franchise.

While some notes were stored away throughout the year, the full scope of what we witnessed the past seven months with this team will take a little while to process. In the coming weeks and months, we will certainly get into the nuts, bolts and numbers of defining this group. The postseason will play out, awards will be given, the hot stove will fire up in no time, and the focus will turn forward.

In the clubhouse Saturday night, it was clear nobody was ready to turn the page quite yet. After most games players have scattered to the showers or training room, meal room, weight room, any room but the actual main clubhouse, but on Saturday nearly every Mariners player was there. They along with coaches and front office members made the rounds from locker to locker, exchanging hugs with one and other.

Mitch Haniger and Adam Frazier sat at their lockers talking while Ty France stood nearby answering questions for reporters. Eugenio Suárez, whose locker is closest to the front entrance, spoke with a larger group of media, getting emotional as he answered questions about staying in the dugout long after the game ended and taking the time to step out and show his appreciation for the fans.

“I can’t believe everything that happened. It’s a lot. It’s a lot,” Suárez said as his voice broke up. “I just want to say thank you everybody for supporting us, supporting me. I’m just so happy to be a part of this team.”

On the other side of the clubhouse, Paul Sewald found Andrés Muñoz for an embrace and words expressing how proud he was of the young reliever.

Jerry Dipoto was seeking out another reliever. “Has anyone seen Penn Murfee?” he asked as he attempted to get to the player who surrendered the winning run.

Cal Raleigh, who caught a doubleheader’s worth of pitches over the previous six hours with a thumb that was barely attached to his hand, by all rights should have been on a training table or in an ice bath. Instead he was at his locker patiently answering questions about the state of said thumb – he is scheduled to see a specialist this week to determine if surgery is necessary (likely) or if it will heal with the aid of a splint – and what was learned this year.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “We tasted it this year. We got to the DS, we see what the postseason is like, we see what it takes now. Going into next year, that’s huge. We know what it takes and who we need to beat. It’s going to help us out a lot.”

Haniger was among the players who clearly was not going to put this game behind him anytime soon. Having stated every year that his goal was to win the World Series, and going so far as to write a Players Tribune article expressing his belief in this team and putting the rest of the league on notice a year ago, it wasn’t easy to look forward.

“It was fun getting here but ultimately a sour taste not winning the World Series because for me, for every guy in this clubhouse, that’s the ultimate goal,” he said. “We knew we could get in the playoffs, we could do some things. Unfortunately the season ended and we are not raising up the World Series trophy. For us, that’s a letdown. We knew we were capable of doing it and unfortunately we didn’t get it done.”

As Haniger spoke, a long, anguished, get-it-all out cry could be heard coming from the shower room. Whether it was Murfee or one of the Mariners hitters, who as a collective went 7 for 60 with 22 strikeouts and failed to come up with the one run that could have sent them home with another game to play Sunday, is not known. What is known is that player’s anguish is shared by the entire team because that’s what this group was all about from start to finish.

There is no metric for the extra this team possessed. They were easily one of the if not the tightest-knit teams I have ever seen. As a group, that was their superpower. Added to the talent and the development we saw, it was a part of their abrupt turnaround at the late date of June 21. It was a part of winning 14 straight, enduring the loss of 288 games by key players to injury. It was beating the Yankees 1-0 in 13 innings, and it certainly was part of being the group to embrace the burden of 20 seasons without a postseason and getting the job done.

It is a heck of a checklist for this group, and what absolutely should not go unnoticed is they didn’t close ranks as they came together. Rather, they took ownership of being a Mariner and brought the fans along with them. There is no mistaking this team bonded with their fans and no questioning that the fans did their part. After decades of no postseason play, they showed up and knew what to do, supporting this group from start to finish. Traveling around baseball, it’s hard to think of a stadium where more fans are seen decked out in jerseys. They were loud, proud and supportive right to the end, chanting “Thank you, Mariners!” and “Let’s go Mariners!” as the Astros celebrated on their field.

It’s exciting to look forward, not just for what we could see from this team but also what we could see in Seattle as a baseball town. It looks different. While baseball struggles to pull in a younger audience, walking around the stadium, checking out social media, I think we see it here. That’s not to discount those who have known and loved the game for decades, rather, the joyous addition of a new generation of fans. Years from now they will talk about Julio and George’s rookie seasons, Muñoz throwing 105 mph (there has to be exaggeration, right?), Matt Brash’s nasty sliders, the impossible comeback against the Blue Jays, the marathon heartbreaker against the Astros, and of course Walter and the Big Dumper.

It’s a start. A tremendous start with so much heavy lifting having been done. Next spring this group will enter the clubhouse in Peoria with talk of the drought behind them, their identity established, and expectations raised. Until then, bring on the not-so-offseason.

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