I LOVE April!

IMG_8755I have said for years that April and October are my two favorite months of the year. They just bring so much of what I love.

Sure I love Christmas and the whole Christmas season.

Snowy Renton Street

Snowy Renton Street

The parties and the love shared between people is like no other time. The busyness doesn’t bother me. It energizes me. But December doesn’t make my top list because of the weather. In the Puget Sound, where I live, temperatures in the 30s and 40s and a near constant drizzle or grey cloudy days are the norm. No. I want sun shine. Even if its cold, I want sun shine. So, sorry December you don’t make it.

July and August are very high on my list. It’s frequently sunny. I often enjoy BBQ parties with friends. Sunset at Birch Bay, WA And the baseball season is entering its second half, with pennant races looming. The good weather makes outdoor activities that I love more frequently possible. I love fishing. I love camping. I love driving in my convertible with the top down. It’s all good. But in terms of sports…baseball is the only thing going. I love baseball. But there is no college sports. NFL football is only in training camp and exhibition games that no longer interest me like they did when I was a kid. And basketball is fortunately only limited to the women’s game, which I only tacitly pay attention to. Sorry, all you Storm fans. I’m just not there. And sorry Sounders and MLS fans. I don’t hate Soccer like some who complain of its boring low scoring matches. But they have so many, boring low scoring matches. And I still don’t understand what games count, what trophies count, and how you can play in a tournament in the middle of a season that is completely unrelated to the league in which you play. So, July and August are close, very close. But they fall just a tiny bit short.

Green Bay Packers v Seattle SeahawksOctober is great because the weather at the start of the month is still pretty decent. We have FOOTBALL! Both college and NFL football are well underway, promising fun and excitement every weekend. And Major League baseball is conducting its playoffs and World Series with nearly daily intrigue. I can still go fishing. And, while I don’t do it much anymore…I can go hunting and enjoy a weekend with my dog. October also is the start of the NBA season. Since the Oklahoma Raiders stole my beloved Sonics from Seattle, the start of the NBA season means considerably less to me. In fact, it means almost nothing. I am still a bitter Sonics fan. But…I do love October.

And then…there is April. April is the first month since October or even September some years, when you can expect daily temperatures near 60-degrees. ! YEA! Warmth! I’m a fair weather fisherman, so April see’s me out on my canoe on local lakes.

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

And in terms of spectator sports for the sports nuts like me? It’s a plethora of enjoyment, a cacophony of choices, a riches of experiences. It all starts with the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball championship. And in years like this when a local team, Gonzaga, is playing deep into the March Madness tournament it’s even better. Baseball’s opening day dawns in the first week with every year promising championship dreams…even when those dreams are irreconcilably impossible. I seldom watch golf or play it. But The Master’s this week and every year is not so much golf as it is an event and tradition and history. It’s often high drama. And for others, as I’ve already mentioned this doesn’t really apply to me…much…their is the soccer season underway with the Sounders here in Seattle and there is the start of the marathon NBA playoffs, the only major sport that takes two months to finish the season after having finished the season. Seahawks logo Lastly, us NFL and Seahawks lovers are given the gift of the NFL Draft in April, with the promise of new stars coming to your team to help take you to the promised land by filling the wholes you perceive your team has.

And I haven’t even mentioned the blooming of flowers and their scents and colors, and the return of leaves to the trees and birds and little animals scurrying about after a winter in hibernation. Life begins again in April. I LOVE IT!

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Can the Mariners Become Relevant?

The Mariner Moose, mascot of the Seattle Mariners.

The Seattle Mariner‘s 2nd half to the 2013 Major League Baseball season commences this evening and the hope of the team becoming relevant still exists. And since my hope and prayer at the start of the season was that this long time cellar dweller would remain relevant until the time that the Seahawk season got underway, I remain hopeful.

Prior to this week’s MLB All-Star break the Mariner’s had their first 3-game series sweep of the season against the Los Angeles Angels, and had gone 8-5 over the previous 13 games against some tough competition including Boston, Texas, and Cincinnati; all playoff contending teams. What makes this short stretch of winning noteworthy is that it coincides directly with the recent call-ups of promising rookies, and improved performance from other young players. With the expected return of some valuable veteran pieces of the team in the next 1-3 weeks, and a much more favorable schedule than was the start of the season, Seattle has realistic hopes of a .500 season or as mentioned earlier…staying relevant before the NFL season completely wipes them from the consciousness of every Puget Sound sports fan.

Seattle Mariners

Seattle currently starts 3 pure rookies in the regular every-day lineup; all of whom have joined the team in the past 6 weeks. Nick Franklin first, followed by Mike Zunino, and finally Brad Miller have all made the team better in spite of their inexperience. It matters not if these three are or become All-Stars or perform up to the high expectations each one possesses. At least not at this point. What matter’s is they perform better than who preceded them in their positions and they make the team better. That they are doing…not that it was a high bar to leap.

Franklin took the place of Dustin Ackley at 2nd base. His solid defense has been comparable to Ackley, which surprises some. Not surprising is how Franklin’s bat has become a tremendous boost compared to the increasingly ineffective Ackley. Franklin, currently hitting .268, with 6 HRs and a .788 OPS (On base-plus-Slugging percentage), is a huge leap from where Ackley sat (.205, 1, .522 currently)  when he was sent to Triple A Tacoma to learn how to hit again in late May. Whether Franklin can continue is unknown. But he can almost assuredly do better than what his predecessor performed over the past 1 1/2 years.

Zunino is much the same. His numbers of .230 Avg., 1 HRs, and .575 OPS are not lighting the world on fire, but, again, they represent a significant improvement over what was being posted by the team of catchers who preceded him Jesus Montero, Kelley Shoppach, and Jesus Sucre. And the is no contest when assessing last year’s top draft pick versus Montero, Shoppach, and Sucre’s defense. He is a pleasure to watch behind the plate. He blocks balls in the dirt, moves to stop wild pitches, and is such a threat to throw out base stealers Seattle is already seeing a measurable decline in stolen bases and attempted steals.

Brad Miller has been with the team the least amount of time. But we’ve been calling for him or Carlos Truinfel or Franklin to replace the no-stick Brendan Ryan since this time last year. Ryan’s defense is outstanding. But his complete and utter lack of any kind of offensive is not a liability this team can stand when so many others in their line-up have proven nearly as inept. Miller has done well in the 16 games he has played and over the next year is expected to improve, as are Franklin and Zunino.

Franklin like Zunino is a former first round draft choice. Miller is a 2nd round pick. Second year player Kyle Seager is the teams most dependable offensive force and was a 3rd round pick. Ackley, who now mans Center Field and is displaying modest improvement at the plate is also a former 1st round draft pick, as is 1st baseman Justin Smoak; though Smoak was a Texas Ranger’s draft choice. All of these guys are young. All were high draft picks. And at least for a short period recently are performing up to or close to their expectations.

Right Fielder Michael Saunders is another young guy who has raised his batting average 15-points over the past 10 games and seems to have finally found the stroke that made last year so successful for him. While still only averaging .225, his on-base-percentage of .303, base-stealing capabilities and above-average defense make him at-least serviceable. And like we wrote, he’s on an upswing. We’ll see.

I’ve not even mentioned the solid performances of Kendry Morales and Raul Ibanez all season, or of Smoak in the past 2 months. All three, along with Seager, have OPS of .800 or higher. The team can also count on the return to productivity of OF Michael Morse soon. When healthy he is a stud. Franklin Gutierrez is still expected to contribute. He could return by August.

The team’s bullpen could get a needed boost from the return to health of Steven Pryor, who just began a rehab assignment. Felix Hernandez and Isashi Iwakuma were All Stars. Joe Saunders has been mostly solid as the third starter; though he has had a couple of big blooper blowouts. But what team’s #3 pitcher hasn’t. And after a horrible start to the season Aaron Harang is proving to be a pretty good #4 starter. Again, a blooper here and there isn’t welcome but is also not uncommon for a team’s 4th starter. It’s the #5 starting position that remains a concern. Jeremy Bonderman was let go and rookie Erasimo Ramirez was shelled his first time out. I am not confident in Ramirez. Though the Mariners are. So we’ll see.

We’ll see? That sums up the rest of the Mariner’s season. I’m not a complete dreamer. I don’t expect them to be playoff contenders. But I do think they can get back to a .500 season and wet our appetite for the 2014 season. And at bare minimum, they should have relevancy in the minds of diehards like me until the presumed Super Bowl season of the Seattle Seahawks gets under-way. I like being optimistic. It beats the alternative.

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.

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