Dear Mariners Fans

Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I’m torn about what to write here.

On one hand, look, I won’t sugarcoat it. We didn’t get the job done. The goal every year is to end on a W — it’s to win a World Series. And to win the World Series, you need to make the playoffs. We didn’t make it. It’s that simple. Our season ended on an L…. and I’d be insulting all of you guys reading this if I tried to spin it off as anything else. You deserve better than that, and you deserve an honest assessment of things. And I’m at the point in my career where I don’t really feel like being anything other than honest. I respect you guys too much not to speak my mind. And what’s on my mind right now is mostly just: We lost. And that sucks.

But on the other hand, the reality is, it’s also not that simple. Because while it’s disappointing as hell to have lost that last game, and to have fallen just short of the playoffs…. one loss doesn’t tell the whole story of how I’m going to look back on this season. It couldn’t possibly.

This season has meant so much to me — in so many different ways.

Some of you probably know a little bit about how I got here, but for those of you who don’t: It’s been anything but easy, man. It’s been a grind. And I’d say the one lesson I’ve learned from that grind, more than any other, is that progress in baseball…. it doesn’t always happen in a straight line. Success in this game is usually a road full of twists and turns.

I remember back in 2015, I was in the Diamondbacks system playing Double-A in Mobile — and I just felt like my career was totally stalling out. I wasn’t getting the kind of playing time that I wanted. And I remember thinking to myself, like, It’s now or never. I don’t even care WHERE I play….. I just need to PLAY. So I did something that a lot of people probably would consider career suicide: I asked to be sent down. My agent and I talked with the team, and told them that I’d rather be getting regular at bats in A-ball than riding the bench and catching bullpens in Double-A.

They agreed, and sent me down to Visalia. Now the pressure was on me to prove myself. I started getting more reps…. and then I started hitting. And then I kept hitting. I kept hitting all the way to a big league call-up by the end of that next season.

And I think ever since then, really, I’ve just tried to believe in this idea of: Sometimes it can take one step back to take two steps forward. Whether it was after I got traded by the D-Backs, or while I was making changes to my swing, or when I took a 94-mph fastball to the face and had to miss time as a rookie, or whatever else has gotten thrown at me — I’ve just always tried to take that perspective to heart.

Unfortunately, in 2019, that perspective got seriously tested.

Mitch Haniger | Seattle Mariners | The Players’ Tribune
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

I was coming off my 2018 season, which was a big year — the kind of year that you dream about having. Played my first full season in the bigs, put up some numbers I was really proud of, made the All-Star team, even got MVP votes. I felt like I was establishing myself as part of our core on the Mariners — and I could not have been more pumped to build on everything in the season to come.

But then in June of 2019….. well…..

June of 2019, that was the beginning of a sh*t show.

June 6th, we’re playing the Astros at our place. I’m up to bat, routine pitch, and I foul it off my thigh. Not just my thigh, though. The ball also ends up clipping my testicle. Somehow I play three more innings through the pain — I just keep telling myself it’s going to be fine, focus on the game, nothing is wrong. Turns out.…. something is extremely wrong. “Ruptured testicle,” not words you ever want to hear. I have to have emergency surgery that night, then a follow-up surgery because of complications from the first one.

And from there, it’s just one setback after another. First it’s sharp groin pain on the second day I’m back running. Then it’s a bulging disk in my spine, caused by the groin injury, that ends my first rehab assignment. Then I get a second opinion on my back, and I’m told my entire season is over because a compromised groin will only further injure my bulging disk. Then, in January of 2020, after months of rehab and as I’m finally ramping up for the new season, I'm struck with unbearable pain. I go to a core specialist in Philly, get an MRI, and it turns out for the last six months I’ve had what’s called a “torn adductor attachment” in the bottom of my core/groin area. Devastating. So I have surgery in Philly. Then I start rehabbing that surgery…. only I’m having trouble doing any of the basic rehab stuff because my back is killing me, actually more than before. I get another MRI. They tell me that my herniated disk has gotten a lot worse over the last couple months, and I’m going to need back surgery as well. So now I’m looking at my 2020 season being over before it’s even gotten started — on top of the 2019 season I’ve already missed.

This one random injury just turned into a whole landslide of injuries.

And I won’t lie: those two seasons, all that time away, it was brutal. It was incredibly frustrating, and at times overwhelming. I kept thinking about how hard I’d worked to get to where I was as a baseball player — and then how it had been snatched away from me in a blink. One swing. One stupid foul ball. It was scary, too. You go through a series of injuries and surgeries and rehabs like that, and it’s hard not to let certain thoughts creep in. I remember these nights where I would just wake up in pain, feeling so defeated, and ask my wife, Amanda, “Is this ever going to end?? Am I ever going to get back to normal??” There were definitely moments of real doubt, as far as whether I’d be able to make it back, let alone make it back to the level I was at before all of this started. And for a baseball player, man, I’ll tell you what…. that’s a pretty low feeling.

In the end, I’d say there were three main things that helped me make it through.

One: family. ​Amanda, who’s my absolute rock. Our daughter, Karly, who’s having her first birthday in December. My parents…. my grandma…. and really everyone else in our family who’s been there for me, and been in my corner. I’m incredibly lucky.

Two: a genuine support system, even outside of my family. My agent, my physical therapists, my friends….. so many people have helped me out in such a big way over these last few years.

And last but of course not least: the Mariners community. From John Stanton at the top….. to everyone on the team who held down the fort while I was out injured…. to our fans…. truly, to all of you guys. Any time I had doubts, I would visualize myself back on the field, playing the game I love alongside my teammates, in front of you all.

And I’d think about the unfinished business that we have as a ballclub.

Mitch Haniger | Seattle Mariners | The Players’ Tribune
Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

But I told you I’m going to be honest here….. and I’m not going to pretend I saw a 90-win team walking around our locker room from Day One. 

I don’t think any of us did.

I mean, we all saw the preseason coverage. ESPN had us winning 70 games, and I’m pretty sure some places didn’t even have us winning that many. No one out there was giving us much of a chance. And I definitely felt like those predictions were missing parts of our story, and missing a bunch of the little things that were starting to come together to add up to something bigger — no question. I definitely felt like we were better than we were getting credit for. But even still, man. Ha. Like….. when I say I thought that we might surprise some people? I mean I thought that we could put it together and play .500 ball. I mean I thought that we could hang around.

We did a little more than hang around. Heading into the All-Star break, we were a full five games over .500. Still flying pretty far under the radar — but I think we knew to expect that. From a national perspective, I think it’s just always going to be that way, playing on the West Coast. And from a local perspective, you know…. who can blame anyone?? There’s no point in beating around the bush: We have the longest playoff drought in all of North American major league sports. Mariners fans have been through a lot of heartbreak over the years. We knew we weren’t entitled to their support, just based on a half season of good baseball. We knew we had to earn it.

I think the first time this season that I really let myself think out loud, you know, O.K., we’ve got something going here, it was around the middle of July. One thing you have to remember is — with Kyle coming up on free agency, and with the team not expected to contend, there’d been a lot of talk early on in the season that he could be getting moved at the deadline. And I’m a year away from my own free agency, but there’d definitely been talk that I could get moved as well. It wasn’t really something we’d ever bring up in conversation — you’re trying hard to stay in the moment as much as possible. It was “in the air,” though, you know what I’m saying?

But we just kept on winning. And then from there — I mean, it was so funny, man. One day Kyle and I are talking, and I just remember kind of blurting this out to him, like: “Dude….. there’s no way we get traded. Not anymore. We’ve gotta be adding pieces now. We could legit make the playoffs.”

And once the deadline passed, and Kyle was still here, that just kind of became this rallying cry. Playoffs, Cap!! This is the year, guys would tell Seager, and I really think that says a lot — both about Kyle and about this team. It tells you what an amazing and respected leader Seager is, for everyone to rally around him like that, and to want to send him to the playoffs. But it also tells you what kind of a team this is. Because it’s not like any of our young guys have been here for all 11 of Kyle’s seasons with the club, right? It’s not like that’s their history. But they still owned that history — and owned the mission to change it.

It’s the same thing with the drought. Like…. obviously no one on this team has been here since 2001. It’s not “our” drought, really. But it is our drought. We know that. We know it’s part of the deal. And I’m proud of the way that we’ve carried that weight.

Mitch Haniger | Seattle Mariners | The Players’ Tribune
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

And then at some point in there….. this season just got really, really fun.

It was kind of like — once we acknowledged out loud what we were playing for, and what we were capable of?? We just gained more and more confidence, and more and more purpose. Vets like Kyle, like Murph, like J.P., like Marco, they set the tone. Younger guys like Jarred, like Ty, like Jake, like Logan, they bought in. There was a level of accountability that we held ourselves to, all season, that I think was pretty special. And I don’t know, man….. we just got better and better. You know that scene in every sports movie where the players look at each other during the “winning streak” montage, and they’re like, Wait. What the heck is going ON here? We can’t lose!! It felt like that — but in real life.

And I hope this goes without saying.... but the run we went on flat-out does not happen without the energy that we got — night in and night out — from our fans. None of this happens without you guys, and the way that you showed up when we needed you most.

I remember after we lost in Kansas City a few weeks ago, just looking over at the standings, and then looking at our schedule….. and thinking to myself, Alright — we have like no margin left. We pretty much have to take care of business the rest of the way. And I swear it was like, in that moment, we all just got on this crazy wavelength together. Not only the team, but the fans as well. It was like we all understood the task at hand: win out, or come close….. and make some magic.

There were 14 games left at that point.

We went 11–3.

I’ll never forget that run.

Mitch Haniger | Seattle Mariners | The Players’ Tribune
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

But like I said at the top….. I’m torn about what to write here. I don’t want anyone thinking for a single minute that we feel even a little bit satisfied by how our season ended. We’re crushed, man. We’re pissed off. It kills me that we’re not out there, right now, in the playoffs, competing for a championship.

We lost when it mattered most. We fell short of our goal — period.

And I need every Mariners fan to know that.

But I also need them to know something else: This group is going to the playoffs. That’s not an if….. it’s a when. And that when is soon.

We’re going to end this f*cking drought.

And then we’re not stopping there. Because, yeah: This hurts. Yeah, it sucks to be taking this step back. It sucks to go from having 40,000-plus rocking T-Mobile Park, to go from having this city fired up beyond belief, to now being stuck at home watching these games from the couch. I HATE it. But that’s how you overcome adversity, and that’s how you persevere — in baseball, or in whatever else. You fail…. you take your step back….. then you regroup. You figure it out. And you take TWO steps forward.

And that’s what’s going to happen here in Seattle.

I hope the other teams in the league are all reading this, and they understand that we’re about to get after it in the offseason. And then we’re coming for one of those playoff spots — and more. 

I hope our front office is reading this, and they understand that it’s time to really go all-in. It’s time to make some impact moves, and put this group over the top. 

And I hope our fans are all reading this. I hope you guys understand that it may be the end of the season….. but it isn’t an ending. This is a damn start.

Thanks for sticking with us, and for the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field.

I hope y’all are excited about the Mariners again.

I’ll see you in the spring.

Mitch Haniger | Seattle Mariners | The Players’ Tribune