12-3 embarrassment, complete with controversy, was a soul-crusher
For an outfit that lost 101 games twice in the last three seasons, the Mariners have a knack for celebration.
Imagine if they win something.
Tricked out with new stadium features and shiny trophies, weighed down with the loss of a dear friend, Safeco Field Friday night was awash in clearing skies and sentiments heartfelt and joyous.
Then the game started.
They lost to the Cleveland Indians, 12-3. The evening hit its emotional peak when Niehauss widow, Marilyn, unwittingly out-threw the Mariners staff with the ceremonial first pitch.
Dave Niehaus was missed, but he, and the 45,727 in attendance, certainly didnt miss anything they hadnt seen from the Mariners in recent years.
Although Niehaus might have enjoyed the strawberry crepes. They go well with white shoes.
The latest culinary addition is part of The Pen, a re-made part of the center field concourse that figures to be popular. The best part of the crepes stand was that fans appeared intimidated by the unfamiliar ballpark food, so there were no lines.
Then again, for a $6.50 item that included no meat or beer, fear may have been a secondary reason.
White shoes, a favored footwear of Niehaus, were worn by many fans in the sellout crowd as a way to salute the central figure of the franchises existence, who died in November.
A splendid fashion accessory, a gold championship ring, was not available to Niehaus, or anyone else in Seattle baseball. Nothing Friday night on the field indicated that fashion change was imminent.
Independent of the well-done opening festivities, the Mariners did something new pre-game Opening Night player/manager/general manager controversy.
About the time a ceremony outside the stadium re-named a portion of First Avenue South to Dave Niehaus Way, new manager Eric Wedge was holding forth inside the dugout with reporters about his disdain for an action by second baseman Jack Wilson.
Its unspeakable to me, a tight-lipped Wedge offered to surprised reporters, who were lolling in the platitudes of home-opener rhetoric until Wedge woke them with his bomblet.
Wilson Wednesday made errors on back-to-back plays, allowing two unearned runs, in a loss to Texas. After the game, Wedge explained Wilsons sudden departure from the lineup as being a little hazy.
But Wilson contradicted his manager in the clubhouse, saying he voluntarily took himself from the lineup because of his poor play. That had the effect of making a fibber out of Wedge, who acknowledged Friday that he had been covering for his players behavior.
So Wilson was replaced in the starting lineup Friday by Adam Kennedy, apparently for an undetermined time. Before the game, Wilson, who in spring training had been switched to second base for the first time in his Major League career, acknowledged he pulled himself from the lineup because he was hurting the team at second.
That might be considered a noble gesture except for the fact that he made the manager look bad and left the roster a man short for no discernible physical reason.
Meanwhile, general manager Jack Zduriencik knew nothing of Wedges utterances until he stopped by the dugout rail for a friendly chat with Sportspress Northwests John Hickey and me.
When asked about the unspeakable remark, Zduriencik froze. Searching for an answer for at least 10 seconds, he finally deferred, saying he hadnt talked to Wilson. The point, of course, was not whether he talked with Wilson, but that Wedge called out a player in public and on Opening Night, hosing considerably the the tra-la, tra-la factor.
Given Wedges seven-year history as manager in Cleveland, that cant have been a surprise. Cleveland reporters in town who covered him say Wedges public criticisms of players were almost always calculated for impact.
If true this time, it suggests that his criticism of Wilson was a team-wide message that former manager Don Wakamatsus Yoda act was long gone, and Wedge someday may say that he is Lukes father.
Which is fine, but baseball general managers during home openers are rarely fond of unpleasant surprises, apart from 12-3 losses.
After more reporters pestered him, Zduriencik checked with PR director Tim Hevly to confirm Wedges remarks, then returned to say he backed the manager. Then he spoke quietly to Wedge on the infield grass near the batting cage. Careful nods were exchanged, and the team went on to play the worst opener in its history.
In the tortured saga of Mariners managers, a vote of confidence in the home opener was believed to be a franchise first.
Understand, this all happened BEFORE the 12-3 defeat.
If Friday night were a two-act play, the first act was splendid, and the second act cleared the theater before intermission.
For a lot of sorry seasons, Niehaus helped carry the enterprise. The fervent, desperate plea from fans is that the franchise stops asking him to continue.