BY Art Thiel 07:29AM 04/07/2011

Water Cooler Cool: The weekend scene

The big day is here for M’s fans, followed by the rest of the season.

Jason Vargas will start for the Marines in their Safeco Field opener Friday night against Cleveland / Getty Images

Each Thursday, Art Thiel checks out the weekend sports scene locally and offers more casual sports fans some observations that can get them in and out of conversations without anyone catching on to your, ahem, casualness.

Whether at the water cooler, bus, lunchroom, frat kegger or cocktail party, you can drop in a riposte, bon mot or bit o’ wit to start a conversational conflagration, or put one out. Then walk away.

FRIDAY/SATURDAY/SUNDAY

Mariners baseball: Cleveland at Seattle, Safeco Field,  7:10 p.m. Friday, 6:10 p.m. Saturday, 1:10 p.m. Sunday  (ROOT).

The annual home opener in baseball has a richness to it that surpasses any other sport, for a good reason: They play the same blasted game 161 more times, but there’s only one opener.

Pro football, in those years when it is played, has so few games that many have event status simply by infrequency. Same with college football, but pageantry — bands, alums, raccoon coats, tailgating, body painting, marijuana — attends each game until the Apple Cup, which then adds iceballs, Mace and handcuffs.

Pro basketball and hockey and hockey put emphasis on the other end of the calendar, the playoffs, which seem to last longer than the regular season as well the war in Iraq. College basketball too, puts all its confetti on the back end, most college teams preferring to open quietly against Newfoundland Baptist Tech.

Pro soccer seems to have everyone standing, chanting, yelling and drinking every moment all season, saving special exuberance for that special moment — a goal.

Only in baseball is there majestic reverence for the first game. It’s possible to read almost limitless prose devoted to the start of spring as well as baseball, the yearning for freshness, the celebration of youth and other twaddle.

In fact, because relatively few teams can count on a postseason and so many games make few special, the opener is the only guaranteed big party in a six-month season for many teams.

That is especially so in Seattle, where the competitive season tends to be extinguished by about Memorial Day, and only four times in 34 years have the Mariners been fortunate enough to play into mid-October. Which explains as much as anything why the Mariners are so so successful — 21-13 in opening days. If the Seattle baseball community is going to spread some love that extends to and inspires the players, there is but one chance to do it when the M’s are even with all others.

This year, however, they had the misfortune of being scheduled to begin the regular season on the road. That doesn’t happen too often, owing to the fact that because the Kingdome and its successor park, Safeco, had roofs to guarantee the games would be played despite whatever brutalities April weather offered, the Mariners were asked regularly to host. This also provided the advantage of forcing the opponent, already sick of six weeks of spring training,  to fly a long way to begin the season in South Alaska.

This time, the M’s were asked to extend their away time by a week, with three games in Oakland and three in Texas. They are already 2-4, so the magic of 0-0 is gone for Friday’s home opener. That will take the edge off the walk-up crowd, as well as everyone else.

But traditionalists will still love the pre-game awards presentations, the fake smoke, red-carpet introductions and this year’s sentimental salute to beloved broadcaster Dave Niehaus, who died in November.

A favor would seem to have been done to the locals by scheduling the Cleveland Indians, except the visitors are 3-2 and have two former Mariners, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-soo Choo, in starring roles.

So the set-up is not ideal for the home start. But this is baseball, not a romance novel.  The novice fan, invited to this ritual, can can demonstrate a crustiness beyond his or her years by saying, “Opening Night for baseball is like drinking heavily on New Year’s Eve — strictly a stunt for amateurs.

“Show up for a midweek, school-night game in next week against the Blue Jays, and I’ll strike a match off my own chin and light your cigar. But then you’ll get kicked out for smoking.

“You’re welcome.”

SATURDAY

Sounders soccer: Chicago at Seattle, Qwest Field, 1 p.m. (KING) — The Sounders have played four games without a win (including two draws) so are approaching desperation. Lineup changes have been made, with more imminent, as coach Sigi Schmid searches for answers that don’t include the panic button.

But there remains plenty time for the Sounders to right themselves in a season that starts before and ends after baseball. If you are a casual fan, you will be more intrigued by the opponent and a gimmick.

The Chicago Fire (1-0-1) announced the signing his week of the winner of its open tryout in January. The man who beat out 210 players from 19 different nations for a roster spot is a 22-year-old Greek named  Paraskevas Pantazopoulos.

Should he enter the game, nod knowingly and say, “In Athens, they call him Bud.”

The Rotation’s weekly schedule:

  • Monday: That Was The Week That Was — A snarky, day-by-day review of the week just ended.
  • Tuesday: Wayback Machine — Sports historian David Eskenazi’s deep dive into local sports history, replete with photo eye candy.
  • Wednesday: Nobody Asks But Us — We ask, and answer, fun and quirky questions nobody else is asking.
  • Thursday: Water Cooler Cool – Art Thiel takes on the weekend for the benefit of the more casual fan.
  • Friday: Top 5 List — The alpha and omega of Northwest sports, at least as far as we’re concerned.

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