Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 28, 2017

Dressed Like Amateurs, Mariners Play The Part

Blame it on the uniforms. Major League Baseball’s first annual Players Weekend is in the books, and despite the grumbling from old-school traditionalists the event appears to have passed without lasting damage to the Great Game. The concept, jointly announced earlier this month by MLB and the Players Association, was to enhance baseball’s appeal to young people during the weekend that coincided with the final games of the Little League World Series. That enhancement took the form of colorful uniforms, more typically seen at youth league games. All teams wore multi-toned pullover jerseys, multi-hued socks and special caps, and players were also allowed to wear custom-designed cleats and use colorful bats and gloves. One sleeve of the jersey had a patch on which the player could write the name of a mentor and, as a final touch, the back of each player’s jersey bore a nickname. This was in place of the usual last name on the jersey of most teams, or in the case of the New York Yankees traditionally no name at all.

The result was a visual spectacle quite different from what is usually on display from thirty teams at fifteen ballparks across the land on any other weekend of the longest season. In the Bronx, the visiting Seattle Mariners wore aqua jerseys with contrasting electric blue sleeves that matched their hats. The Yankees wore dark blue jerseys with the team name in script across the chest instead of the traditional interlocking NY. Their jerseys had contrasting gray sleeves that matched each player’s cap. Most jarring for long-time Yankee fans was the presence of anything other than a number on each player’s back. But from “Kraken” for Gary Sanchez to “All Rise” for Aaron Judge and everything in between, including “Gardner,” decidedly not a nickname for outfielder Brett Gardner, a vocal opponent of the whole idea, on this weekend the Yankees’ uniforms included names, at least of a sort.

The goal of Players Weekend was entirely worthy. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred worries quite publicly about finding ways to connect with a young generation growing up with their faces buried in smartphone screens and ever-faster entertainments. Still one needn’t be a hardened cynic to wonder just how much having teams play dress-up for three games is going to result in the formation of lifelong bonds with ten-year old’s. But what it did without question was create one more massive marketing opportunity for MLB, with everything from official jerseys at $200 down to caps at $35 and tee shirts for the bargain price of $30 available on-line and at team stores for every franchise.

Still with all parties rushing to declare Players Weekend a great success, the operative phrase in its description is “first annual.” Fans can surely look forward to this becoming a regular part of the Great Game’s calendar. Only time will tell if that means more games like the one that took place Sunday at The Stadium, where the Seattle Mariners, dressed like Little Leaguers or perhaps a bunch of beer-guzzling middle-aged softballers, played down to their appearance.

The Mariners actually led 1-0 when the Yankees came to the plate in the bottom of the 1st. In the top half of the inning Seattle batters had managed three straight hits off Masahiro Tanaka, who would settle down to throw seven innings without allowing another run. The home half of the 1st started innocently enough for Andrew Albers, making this third start of the year for Seattle, when he got Aaron Hicks to hit a soft popup to shortstop Jean Segura for the first out. It would be fifteen long minutes before Mariners’ defenders made another smooth play.

Starlin Castro doubled to right, and then Sanchez lined a single to left, where Ben Gamel moved in to play the ball on the first hop. But it bounced off his glove and rolled toward the outfield wall, allowing Castro to score and Sanchez to race to second. After Judge walked, Didi Gregorius lifted a routine pop fly to short left field, where Segura, Gamel and center fielder Guillermo Heredia all converged. But with no one taking control, the ball bounced off Segura’s glove for the second error of the inning, loading the bases. Then Chase Headley sent a grounder to third baseman Kyle Seager. The nickname on Seager’s back was “Corey’s Brother,” and in that moment he may have wished he could hide permanently in the shadow of his younger sibling, the Dodgers’ phenom. Seager bobbled the ball between glove and throwing hand, and by the time it fell harmlessly to the infield dirt a run had scored and everyone was safe.

The action, if it can be called that, paused while Seattle’s pitching coach paid a visit to the mound, and for a moment it looked like the trip might restore order. Albers fanned third baseman Todd Frazier on five pitches. But then Jacoby Ellsbury sent a drive into the gap in left center. As Yankees raced around the bases Gamel ran down the ball and threw to Segura, the cut-off man. The Seattle shortstop booted the throw for the fourth Mariners’ error, and after retrieving the ball threw wildly to home for their fifth miscue of the inning.

After Ronald Torreyes plated Ellsbury with a relatively routine infield single the Yankees led 6-1. Center fielder Heredia was finally able to execute a routine catch on a fly ball from Hicks for the third out, but New York was on the way to an easy 10-1 win.

The forgettable half-inning was the first time in three decades that a major league team had committed five errors in a single frame. Apparently unwilling to miss out on the frivolity, the Yankees managed a pair of their own fielding miscues before the score went final. New York manager Joe Girardi wisely got himself ejected in the 3rd inning to avoid having to witness any more of the spectacle. It was a game worthy of the Bad News Bears, though perhaps not the best marketing tool for those garish Players Weekend jerseys.

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