Mariners 95

Pandemonium breaks out as Ken Griffey Jr. slides safely home to score the winning run in the fifth and decisive game with the Yankees on Oct. 9, 1995.

It has been 24 years since the Mariners’ magical 1995 run, which highlights two inescapable facts.

One, of course, is that time marches on, relentlessly, even ruthlessly. Blink your eyes, turn away for a second, and nearly a quarter century has somehow passed. It can’t be true, can it? Oh, but it is. And I have the gray hair (and missing hair) to prove it.

The second takeaway is that in the ensuing two-plus decades, which has encompassed four presidential administrations, the Mariners are still seeking magic of commensurate stature.

Now that may well be an impossible task, a feeling reinforced by watching the outstanding documentary Sunday on MLB Network entitled, “The 1995 Mariners: Saving Baseball in Seattle.”

This was, truly, a once-in-a-lifetime season. I defy anyone to watch and not be stirred, anew, by the sheer improbability of that campaign, and the high drama that marked the entire season.

As I’ve said before, it had a cinematic arc. The backdrop was the threat of the team moving to Tampa Bay, and ownership’s decision to stake everything on a successful season that would garner support for the vitally needed new stadium. What followed was a devastating early-season injury to Ken Griffey Jr., a seemingly insurmountable deficit to the Angels, and then the miraculous comeback that galvanized an entire fan base, replete with a riveting one-game playoff for the division title and a series for the ages against the Yankees.

Throw in the high drama of Randy Johnson coming in from the bullpen on one day’s rest in the decisive Game 5 of the Division Series, and Edgar Martinez’s career-defining double that ended it, and you have a story too good to make up.

There was even the requisite Hollywood ending — the against-all-odds passage of a funding package for what would become Safeco Field.

But it’s equally impossible to watch all that unfold — with insightful commentary by the participants — without feeling a sense of melancholy, of wistfulness. That Mariners’ team, with three Hall of Famers and a Cooperstown-caliber manager in Lou Piniella, couldn’t quite make it to the World Series. Not in ‘95, nor two years later in ‘97 when they won the division again with Griffey, Johnson and Martinez in peak form, and another superstar, Alex Rodriguez, rounding into form.

The Mariners would have two more ill-fated playoff forays, including the 116-win season of 2001, a joyride that was muted by the devastation of 9-11. And now we are in the 18th season without Seattle in the postseason, a drought that both deepens the accomplishment of 1995, and begs for a sequel.

Simply put, the Mariners are in desperate need of a new electrifying season, a companion piece to 1995 with its own dramas and story lines. More than anything, watching the documentary was a poignant reminder of just how mesmerizing and plain old fun it is to have a breathless pennant race and postseason. It was hard not to get chills or even tears while reliving the lows and highs of 1995.

This comes at a time when the buzz around the Mariners might be at a nadir. It’s a self-inflicted situation based on a strategy of sacrificing the present for a (theoretically) more prosperous future.

If it works — which is no guarantee — there’s a fighting chance that the Mariners will finally present us with the 1995 reprise. If it flops, the juice from so long ago (with the clock ever-ticking) will have to keep sustaining their fans, whose frustration would only grow.

It’s a case of diminishing returns, I’m afraid. The sense of 1995 fatigue in some quarters is very real. There’s a definite feeling among some fans that the organization, and media, has milked that story line dry, and there’s a corresponding backlash whenever 1995 is dragged out. I’ve felt the slings and arrows myself.

Hey, it’s a story that deserves to be told, and re-told, if for nothing else than to pass it on to an entire generation that wasn’t born yet. Babies in 1995 are now in their mid-20s, and I’m sure that the entire saga has the feel of a folk tale (or a tall tale) to them. They deserve a gander at the spectacle — and they also have a right to wonder when they get their turn.

I feel like I’m about as close to the 1995 season as anyone who didn’t witness it first-hand could be. I didn’t move to Seattle until the next year, but I’ve dissected ‘95 in-depth on multiple occasions with every key participant over the years, and recently dived in once more in the process of writing a book with Edgar Martinez.

Everyone who lived through it from the inside is intensely proud, and deservedly so, of what they accomplished, which was saving baseball in Seattle. It’s a monumental feat.

They virtually all feel, however, that they let even greater glory slip away, and that tugs poignantly at their heartstrings.

There is a definite sense of regret I have sensed from the former Mariners I’ve talked to that their immense collection of talent didn’t lead to a World Series title, or even an appearance.

There’s also a yearning from them to have the Mariners recapture the zeitgeist of 1995. Rather than selfishly clinging to the unique distinction of being Seattle’s sainted baseball team, they want the next generation to experience the same joyride.

Having had our appetite whetted again with this documentary, providing another reminder of just how tasty it was, I’ve got to say: It’s past time.

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