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caption: A group of fans takes a selfie after entering T-Mobile Park for the Seattle Mariners opening-day baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Seattle.
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A group of fans takes a selfie after entering T-Mobile Park for the Seattle Mariners opening-day baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Seattle.
Credit: (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

On opening day, with 9,000 fans in the stands, hope springs eternal

There are so many reasons to enjoy this time of year: more sunshine, flowers are blooming, and of course, there's baseball. The Seattle Mariners open their season tonight at T-Mobile Park against the San Francisco Giants.

The M’s are in year three now of their rebuilding effort. So, is this the year that the Mariners finally break through? Corey Brock covers the team for The Athletic. He spoke with KUOW’s Kim Malcom about his expectations for the season. He said the Mariners are trending in the right direction, and they have a bunch of talented young players.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Corey Brock: Of course, there are no promises, right? These young players’ prospects look wonderful on paper, but they have yet to do anything at the big league level. I think what 2021 is going to be is a continuation of 2020, where we saw a lot of young players get their feet wet.

They'll get extended looks. Instead of 60 games, we'll get 162 games. It will allow the franchise a bigger sample size to judge these players on, and just to get an idea of moving forward with this rebuild, who's going to be a part of it, and who isn't?

If you could expand on that, last year, it was just flat-out weird. 60 games. No minor league games. What kind of impact did that have on the rebuilding effort?

It definitely set it back, not just at the big league level. A lot of these young players, who they're counting on eventually to make an impact at the big league level, didn't have any games to play in. Some of these guys got some work at summer camp at T-Mobile Park, and some of them worked out in Tacoma at Cheney Stadium, the alternate site, but it was a lost year of development for them.

Let’s talk about some of these new faces that fans may not be that familiar with. Is there one player, in particular, you're really excited about?

It's a young outfielder named Jarred Kelenic. He's 21 years old. At The Athletic, we have him as the number four overall minor league prospect throughout baseball. He's a very talented left-handed batter. Again, he's only 21. He's only played actually in 21 games at the Double-A level. He's going to start off in the minor leagues, but I think we're going to see him in the big leagues. What we're going to see is a young, exciting player starting from ground zero, and we'll see him hopefully hit the ground running.

There's a young pitcher named Logan Gilbert who will be up with the big league team at some point this year. The team talks about bringing waves of talent to the big leagues year after year. In order to build a sustainable winner, that's what you have to do. So yes, the organization is going through the growing pains of this rebuild, but I think they're a lot closer to the summit than they've ever been before.

It's not just the players, of course, who are going to be excited about being there. There are going to be real people in the stands at just about every major league stadium this season. Here in Seattle, that means about 9,000 fans will be allowed in, at least to start. How much did you miss that aspect of baseball last year?

A lot. There was zero vibe in the ballpark last year. The team did its best. They'd pipe in this artificial crowd noise and try and have it match up with certain moments, but it was never quite right. That's not their fault. There's just something beautiful about fans in the stadium, and things happening organically, and the cheering.

It's not just me. I've noticed the players have said this over and over again, and this isn't just lip service, they truly missed pitching in front of fans, because it changes the vibe in the entire ballpark. I think that the energy, the vibe, will be so much further along than when it was last year when there were just cardboard cutouts, propped up in their seats.

It's going to be nice to have some real fans in the ballpark. It's going to feel like normal. I think as we work through all of this, we're all searching for a little sliver of normalcy, or maybe a peek at that again. I think this is going to provide us that.

I have to ask, do you think the Mariners are finally going to make the playoffs this year?

I don't, but I think they are moving in the right direction. I say that knowing full well that this is the 20 year anniversary of the last playoff team. This is the longest-standing playoff drought of any North American professional team. I'm not just talking baseball. I’m talking about all the professional sports. But I think they are closing in on having the opportunity to compete for that.

What I mean is, they're playing games that are meaningful in September, games that mean something in the standings, and maybe you catch a break here or there, and something happens. Who knows? I think the major push is going to come in 2022.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.