New York Yankees

It's July 23, Seattle Mariner fans -- and you're tied for first place today!

It's July 23, Seattle Mariner fans -- and you're tied for first place today!

Yes, those two sweet words will be heard later today: “Play Ball!”

And for a good many of us, that doesn’t mean football, basketball or soccer. It’s baseball … and it’s finally here. It's opening day!

In a strange sort of way.

The sport has a habit, in the last few years, of shooting itself in the foot and it certainly did that this summer. It could have had the sports spotlight all to itself for at least a month by settling its silly labor dispute.

But enough of moaning about what could have happened, the good thing is that we will have some games to watch. The pandemic has robbed us of minor-league baseball and that’s a shame, but the big leagues are playing.

I’m not sure exactly what the limited schedule is going to do to this season but we’re making adjustments in all parts of our life because of COVID-19 and this is certainly not one of the important things we need to fret about.

But did I say strange? Yes. Consider:

  • Playing 60 games instead of 162 is a big advantage to less-talented teams. Flukes happen in all sports and a few mediocre teams will probably be able to put together a playoff-worthy 60-game run.

  • The mega-talented teams -- basically, as it’s been for most of my long life -- are the Dodgers and Yankees and they could pay a price for a short season. The more games teams -- and players -- play, the more opportunity there is for the laws of average to play out. A small sample size can mean crazy samples.

  • And speaking of that, there is a possibility of seeing someone hit .400. Not a great chance, but a whole heck of a lot better in 60 games than over 162.

  • Players will get sick with the virus, I'm afraid, just as they probably will in the NBA and NHL. The numbers say it’s bound to happen, but I think Major League Baseball is at the biggest risk of not being able to finish its season because it didn’t go to a bubble concept.

  • If there won’t be fans in the stands, there is no real reason to travel all over the country with your players risking contact with virus carriers. The sport should have put one league in Florida, one in Arizona and played in spring-training venues.

  • I’m not a big fan of putting a runner at second base to begin extra innings, as is going to be done. Long extra-inning games aren’t a big problem -- but pace of play is. And that’s what should be dealt with in these games. Let’s get in the box and on the mound and PLAY!

  • No spitting, which sounds great but I will have to see it to believe it. Well, actually, I don’t want to see it.

  • It has a chance to be a very wacky season, but consider this, fans of the Seattle Mariners: It’s July 23 and you are in the pennant race! In fact, you are tied for first place!

  • Well, you are also tied for last place, but who cares? Play Ball! 

Batter up: Russell Wilson will return to Yankees spring training

USA Today Images

Batter up: Russell Wilson will return to Yankees spring training

It’s time for Russell Wilson to dust off those baseball cleats: the Seattle Seahawks quarterback is stealing second base again.

Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, told the MLB Network Radio this week that the Super Bowl champion quarterback will report to spring training for the second-straight year in a New York Yankees uniform.

Russell Wilson plays…baseball?

Prior to being selected by the Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Wilson played second base at North Carolina State before being drafted by the Colorado Rockies, where he spent two seasons.

From 2010-11, Wilson logged 379 total plate appearances in the Class A Advanced level, logging a .229 average, five home runs, and 19 stolen bases, according to

He was acquired from the Rockies by the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 draft, and traded to the New York in 2018, where he finally fulfilled his dream of wearing a Yankees uniform.

During his first spring training at-bat, Wilson struck out on a left-hander from Braves pitcher Max Fried.

Staying connected to baseball

While Wilson has become a star on the gridiron, he has stayed involved with the baseball community. Recently, he became an investor in the Portland Diamond Project, a group committed to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to the Rose City. 

The project settled on the Terminal 2 site as the future home for Major League Baseball in Portland last month, but the movement is still stuck on first base.

The group will need to lure a franchise to the City of Roses or Major League Baseball will need to grant the city an expansion team in order for Portland to join the 32-team league.

Weekend wrap: Seahawks lose their marbles -- but haven't we all?

Weekend wrap: Seahawks lose their marbles -- but haven't we all?

WEEKEND WRAP-UP -- A summary of what I had my eye on for the last couple of days.

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  • ARMY-NAVY FOOTBALL : Fun game. Love seeing those kids caring so much about who they are and what they're doing. And what they're doing is preparing to protect us for a good portion of their lives.
  • YANKEES MAKE TRADE FOR GIANCARLO STANTON: Derek Jeter sent his former team a very nice Christmas present. Obvious bottom line to that deal was the group Jeter represents did not have enough money to buy and operate the Miami Marlins. When you have to come in and practically give away your best player and one of the biggest gate attractions in baseball -- along with laying off some very long-tenured people in the front office -- you probably shouldn't have made the purchase in the first place. And oh yes -- I am NOT one of those people who think baseball's better when the Yankees are great again. Just the opposite for me. I grew up watching them dominate the game and am still sick of it.
  • THE SEAHAWKS LOST A GAME SUNDAY -- AND THEN LOST THEIR MARBLES: Michael Bennett deserves a suspension for seemingly trying to hurt another player. And, confidential to pro players, I don't care if fans are throwing beer at you (and they obviously shouldn't be doing that) just keep walking to the locker room. Do you think you can climb into the stands and beat somebody up? Does that really sound like a good idea? You can't win by doing that. Go tell a security guard and keep moving. It's harder to hit a moving target.
  • THAT GOT ME THINKING:  I think everyone has lost their marbles these days. Literally. I haven't seen a marble in decades. Do they still exist outside of grandpa's attic?
  • ALAN TRAMMELL AND JACK MORRIS GO INTO THE HALL OF FAME courtesy of the Modern Era Committee. I would have voted for Trammel but not Morris. I would've voted for Dale Murphy, too -- but you already knew that. Murph being left out again proves that you can keep people out of the Hall for reasons of character and/or integrity, but those qualities won't help you get into the Hall.
  • BAKER MAYFIELD WINS THE HEISMAN TROPHY:  I had a vote again this year and Mayfield got it. Was really impressed with his accuracy, especially on the deep ball. I had Bryce Love second and that's where he finished. I voted San Diego State's Rashaad Penny third and he finished fifth. If you never saw him play, you missed out. He's a very exciting running back. And by the way, I'm still one of the stubborn guys holding to the rules of Heisman voting -- not revealing my vote until after the winner is announced.
  • CARSON WENTZ OUT FOR THE SEASON WITH A TORN ACL:  NFL quarterbacks just have to figure it out -- stop with the unnecessary running. Know who you are. Instead of dropping your head and trying to power for an extra yard, hook slide. Duck and cover. Marcus Mariota, in the midst of his worst season as a pro, has been playing through injuries all season due to his penchant for running.  Just sit back and throw the ball until you're in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, guys.

Oh, that memory of Ken Griffey Jr. sticking his head out of that pile at home plate

Oh, that memory of Ken Griffey Jr. sticking his head out of that pile at home plate

As Ken Griffey Jr. takes his rightful place in baseball's Hall of Fame this weekend, I can't help but think back to the Seattle Mariners' 1995 season -- the year when the entire Pacific Northwest went bonkers for the Mariners.

Yes. even Portland set aside its usual distaste for all things Seattle to pull for a team that just wouldn't quit. It was a team that emerged from years of mediocrity to capture the hearts and minds of baseball fans everywhere. It was a lovable bunch on the field, playing with joy and abandon, constructing big comebacks for miracle late-season wins.

But it wasn't very lovable in their clubhouse, I can tell you. I was dispatched by The Oregonian to cover the M's brilliant late-season run that August and September, the most time I've ever spent following a big-league team around. Griffey was, at least at that time, difficult to cover. He could be temperamental and hard to approach. Randy Johnson, who would win the Cy Young Award that year after going an overpowering 18-2, was intimidating and impossible to approach. But the rest were easy to talk with and cooperative.

On Aug. 24 of that season the Mariners were 11 1/2 games behind the division-leading California Angels and a game under the .500 mark. Griffey had been out of the lineup with a broken wrist through much of the season and even the torrid hitting of Edgar Martinez couldn't keep Seattle close. But the team caught fire and the emotion began to build, the way it can do in baseball, where the season-long soap operas can grow in intensity with each game.

Eventually, the M's caught the Angels and faced them in a one-game playoff in the ancient Kingdome, where Seattle -- behind Johnson -- pummeled California 9-1.

Next up, the playoffs -- a foreign place for the Mariner franchise -- and a battle with the New York Yankees. Seattle Manager Lou Piniella vs. one of his former teams. The Yanks handled Mariner pitching with ease in the first two games in Yankee Stadium, winning 9-6 and 7-5. About all I remember from covering those games was talking to Jay Buhner afterward about New York fans throwing batteries at him in right field.

Things turned around in Seattle, though, as Mariner fans turned the Kingdome into a cauldron of noise. Let's cut to the chase, the best-of-five series went to a fifth game and it turned into an incredible battle. The Yankees, behind David Cone, held a 4-2 lead before the Mariners tied it in the eighth. Then, in the ninth, New York mounted a rally -- getting two on with none out,.

But then the emotion of the game went from 10 out of 10 to about 15 out of 10. Out of the Seattle bullpen came Johnson, the Big Unit, charging to the mound as if he owned it. He had rested just one day since winning Game 3 but was ready for this challenge. He fanned Wade Boggs and got Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill on popups.

And in my estimation, there's never been a louder sports arena anywhere than the Kingdome was on that night -- a combination of fan loyalty, panic and hope. In the pressbox, I couldn't hear the person next to me even though he was screaming at me. I was getting hand signs from a baseball-scout friend of mine sitting down the third-base line, who was wide-eyed as he signaled me that Johnson was hitting near 100 on the radar gun on one day's rest.

I will admit, for the first time, in that cement-mixer of a domed stadium with all that excitement, the hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention. This was craziness.

The Mariners couldn't score in the bottom of the ninth and then Johnson struck out the side in the 10th. Again the M's failed to score in their half of the inning. By this time, I'm pretty sure everyone in that stadium was dealing with a massive stress headache.

The Yankees finally broke through against Johnson in the 11th, getting a run to take a 5-4 lead. At that point, though, nobody in that stadium figured the home team as being finished. It just wasn't that type of season and not that type of team.

Joey Cora beat out a bunt single (barely) to lead off the bottom of the 11th and Griffey slammed a hard grounder into right-center field for a single to move Cora to third. Martinez followed -- and you probably know this part -- with a line-drive double down the left-field line. Cora scored easily, of course, to tie the game and Griffey -- not fast but a brilliant baserunner -- glided all the way from first to slide safely into home with the winning run.

You can watch that entire bottom of the 11th here.

It was an amazing finish and the lasting image is Griffey's head poking out of the big pigpile at the plate with a broad smile on his face as the entire Pacific Northwest celebrated another Mariner comeback. That moment was and IS STILL magic.

For me, Griffey's successful dash to the plate was a symbol of his career -- daring, bold, confident, skillful and smart. He was a great fielder, terrific home-run hitter and could seemingly do whatever was necessary to win games.

When I think about the Seattle Mariners, I think of Griffey -- the face of the franchise for so many years. And I always see that face, poking its way out of the bottom of the pile, flashing that magnetic smile of success.

Congrats, Junior. And thanks for the memories.