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The Mariners will only repay your hope with sadness

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You may be inclined to start believing in the Mariners after their 7-1 start. Please don’t.

‘Oh stay, O pride of Greece! Ulysses, stay!
Oh cease thy course, and listen to our lay!
Blest is the man ordain’d our voice to hear,
The song instructs the soul, and charms the ear.
Approach! thy soul shall into raptures rise!
Approach! and learn new wisdom from the wise!
We know whate’er the kings of mighty name
Achieved at Ilion in the field of fame;
Whate’er beneath the sun’s bright journey lies.
Oh stay, and learn new wisdom from the wise!’

Months after ditching all but two of their best competent players in the offseason, the Seattle Mariners are 7-1. That’s the best start in franchise history, and it comes off of beating the crap out of the Oakland Athletics, the Boston Red Sox, and, most recently, the Los Angeles Mikes Trout of Los Angeles, or whatever the hell I’m supposed to be calling them.

Tim Beckham is the reigning AL Player of the Week. Marco Gonzales has more wins than half of the teams in baseball. Felix Hernandez has looked ... well, to suggest he looks like his old self would be a dangerous lunacy, but in his first start of the season he did not seem to be entirely toast, so that’s a pleasant surprise.

Granted, the bullpen is shaky — that 1 was due, in large part, to Hunter Strickland attempting to close out a game through a right lat strain — the defense seems hell-bent on outdoing its comedic stylings night after night, and it’s impossible to imagine the offense continuing to hit at earth-shattering rates. But for now the Mariners are good, they are watchable, and they are fun. General manager Jerry Dipoto has suggested his plan for the team is to compete in 2021, but from how the first eight games of the season have gone, fans might be forgiven for giving into hope on an accelerated timetable.

If you are one of the aforementioned Mariners fans, I am issuing a public service announcement. Hope is a trap.

The Seattle Mariners are a disaster of a franchise. They are in possession of the longest active playoff drought in American sports. Fans have endured rebuilds, retools, big free agent splashes, four changes of leadership, some of the most ludicrously lopsided trades in baseball history, draft busts, runs of pseudo-contention, and Scott Spiezio.

Dipoto’s plan of going big early in his tenure resulted in his mortgaging the farm to push the Mariners into the postseason; his plan of rebuilding the farm now the initial scheme has failed is, in that light, somewhat short of commendable. But ultimately, his plans won’t matter. The nature of the franchise is for plans to fail. Having achieved remarkable, unlikely success in 2001, the Mariners have since turned into a Rube Goldberg machine for hurting their fans.

They have done so by inducing ennui, which, in fairness, is the normal state of baseball fans. Sustained losing is painful, but after a while relatively easy to get used to. Cut the Mariners out of one’s life and they have a hard time stabbing you in the back. But the Mariners don’t just suck. Having exhausted the potential in more straightforward losing, the team has become expert in confounding expectations.

On July 5 last year, Fangraphs had the Mariners with a 88.3 percent (the decimal place adds a pleasing illusion of accuracy) chance of making the playoffs. The Seattle Mariners did not make the playoffs. They did not even come close to making the playoffs, dropping out of the Wild Card race by early September and ultimately finishing eight games behind Oakland.

2018 was supposed to be the last throw of the dice for an aging core featuring Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. 2019 is different. Two of that three were ditched during the offseason, and Seager managed to tear a tendon in his left wrist during spring training. Fans have been told to expect a “step-back year,” which is Dipotoese for not trying very hard to win, and even if that non-goal had not been clearly communicated, one look at the Opening Day roster would have sufficed.

Given that the Mariners are carefully engineered to upset their fans, the fact of their hot start should be obvious. When there are no expectations, there’s no chance of heartache; the only thing to do at that point is to confound the apathy, draw fans in, and then crush their collective hopes later in the season (preferably after making a few of the mortgage-the-future-to-no-real-purpose trades in which Dipoto specializes).

With their blistering start, the Mariners have done their part. But friends, you don’t have to do yours. By all means, enjoy the wins, the bat flips, the screen-consuming bigness of Domingo Santana, and the sheer blessed joy that is Daniel Vogelbach rounding the bases. But Mariners fans should know better than to live in anything but the delirious present. Ignore those rogue, disturbing visions of a happier future. Remain tethered to the clear truth: sooner or later, the wheels will fall off. Our hope, no matter how sweet, is repaid with tears.

“Thus the sweet charmers warbled o’er the main;
My soul takes wing to meet the heavenly strain;
I give the sign, and struggle to be free;
Swift row my mates, and shoot along the sea;
New chains they add, and rapid urge the way,
Till, dying off, the distant sounds decay;
Then scudding swiftly from the dangerous ground,
The deafen’d ear unlock’d, the chains unbound.