Anonymous Mariners Continue to Play for Pride in Long Lost Season
By Jordan Nailon / firstname.lastname@example.org
SEATTLE — The outcome wasn’t entirely decided by the time Matt Carasiti was summoned from the Mariners bullpen on Tuesday but it’s fair to say that most of the drama had already leaked out of the game like helium from an old birthday balloon.
The Rangers held a 6-2 advantage, and all the momentum, in what would wind up being a 7-2 victory when Carasiti got the call to start the seventh inning. Fittingly, the appearance served as a present of sorts as it was Carasiti’s 28th birthday and he’d never pitched in a big league game on his birthday before. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Carasiti promptly set the top of Rangers lineup down in order before heading to the clubhouse to ice his arm and think about the future.
“I come up here and pitch whenever they want me to throw. That’s my job. That’s what I’m here for. Obviously, it’s physically taxing but I think also the mental aspect of the game, getting ready every single day to play a game against the best players in the world,” Carasiti said after the game. “In the bullpen I’m telling myself to get mentally prepared saying, ‘I could pitch today,’ so over the course of the year you can get mentally drained. But other than that, we all just try to take care of ourselves and be ready to be on the field every day but I think people don’t see a lot of the stuff that goes into being a big leaguer.”
Carasiti, a 6’3”, 210 pound right handed pitcher, was drafted by the Rangers in 2009 but didn’t debut in the Major Leagues until 2016 with the Rockies. He’s only been with the big league club in Seattle for about a month now but he’s well aware of the sentiment that many Mariners fans harbor toward this year’s ballclub as they remain mired in what has been dubbed a “step back year” by the brass upstairs.
After starting the season with an inexplicable 13-2 record, the Mariners now sit in last place in the American League West with a record of 41-63 as of Tuesday. Most of their top tier players were jettisoned over the offseason and those that remained on the opening day roster have subsequently been shipped to other teams in exchange for players who might be more useful in the coming decade. The uncertainty of the Mariners season, coupled with the general unfamiliarity of their current players to the casual fan, have combined to further nullify the excitement of a fan base that’s already suffered through 17 (soon to be 18) straight seasons since the M’s last playoff appearance.
The Mariners have a cache of players like Carasiti who are constantly competing to extend their stint in Major League Baseball. To fringe major leaguers and up and coming prospects trying to find their way the last 17 years, or even the last 17 games, don’t play into their approach on the mound or at the plate. They are simply working as hard as they can to prove that they belong on the big stage with the big club in order to hold off a demotion back to the minor leagues for at least one more day.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 to nothing or one to nothing. When I go into a game, I’m pitching against the same big league hitters that I would be if it was one to nothing or if it was 10 to nothing. They’re still trying to get their hits. They’re still trying to hit their homers and they get paid the same way we do as pitchers. Obviously some days you’re going to get them and some days they’re going to get you but I try to keep an even keel mindset just because I know this game can have its big ups and huge downs. I’ve been there before so I just try to stay even keel,” explained Carasiti as he dressed in front of his well adorned locker.
The comforts, and paychecks, certainly aren’t as plush in Tacoma or any of the other disparate depots of minor league baseball. It’s a reality that Carasiti is all too familiar with after bouncing around for ten seasons from the lower tiers of the Rangers organization, to the Rockies, the Cubs, and finally the Mariners.
“You just learn that as you go. In the lower minor leagues it’s more structured as to who’s going to pitch on what day. You get your rest and you’re not going to throw back-to-back whereas here I could throw in any situation at any moment,” said Carasiti.
Occasionally, like all relief pitchers, Carasiti has to deal with the misfortune of being called upon to warm up in the bullpen before being unceremoniously set down again without making an actual appearance. He says it’s all a part of learning to carve out a career in the big leagues.
“You get used to it. I’ve learned how many pitches I need to throw to be ready to go in the game,” said Carasiti, who typically tosses about 15 pitches in total before the umpire settles in behind the dish. “That takes awhile to get used to and figure out your own routine. I’d say most of the guys in the big leagues, almost all of them, are very routine oriented. Every day you have a routine to go through to get ready to go into the game to play.”
Even on a team that sometimes appears to be spinning its wheels while their opponents burn rubber in the playoff race, Carasiti insists that everyone in blue and teal is engaged and working hard to point the organization in the right direction.
“Obviously the vibe around here is nobody is cashing it in. We’re going out there and trying to win every day but this year, there’s just a lot of injuries for the team, a lot of turnover pitching wise and position player wise. But overall, I think there’s a lot of bright spots,” Carasiti said. “I’m new here so I don’t know a ton about the organization but from what I’ve seen and what I’ve been a part of just in the month that I’ve been up here, there are a lot of names that have bright futures and can take the team back to the playoffs.”
Carasiti placed some of the blame for the team’s lackluster performance on a bevvy of injuries that started to pile up almost as soon as the season started. On Wednesday, the Mariners had nearly a dozen players on the Injured List and sported only two bonafide outfielders on their active roster. Mariner’s manager Scott Servais relayed a similar sentiment in his postgame press conference.
“It is challenging. It certainly gives younger guys an opportunity but when you’re playing younger guys or inexperienced guys you have to be patient and you go through the growing pains, the little things that you have to get accustomed to at this level,” Servais said. “Most importantly it’s the speed of the game at this level that’s a big difference from what you’ll see at the minor league level, certainly the AAA level. The pitching. The defensive plays that are made out there. The consistency of the players. That’s why it’s the Major Leagues. Only the best play. But we’ll be patient with our guys and continue to work with them. We’ve seen some bright spots throughout the second half, or certainly the biggest chunk of the season, but the main thing is to be patient with guys and keep working with them.”
Carasiti said he hopes that Mariners fans can embrace a similar mindset founded on patience and hope for the future. He also made sure to pour water all over any creeping sentiment in the ranks of Mariners fans who might assume that the players are simply mailing it in until the season comes to a merciful end.
“Oh, God no. You’ve got to think none of the guys in this room would ever cash it in because there’s always somebody coming up behind you who’s coming for your job so you’ve got to perform,” Carasiti said. “People who think that can sometimes be oblivious to what’s going on. They’re not in the locker room, they’re not here every day grinding with the team so it can be very confusing to just a regular fan, someone who’s not a diehard and always reading up on what’s going on. But I understand how it can be frustrating. I mean I grew up a Mets fan so my whole life has been frustrating.”