Technically, Ryan Witter has seen his team in the playoffs once. He was 3 years old.
“I definitely cannot remember that,” he said.
Witter, 23 and a self-described die-hard Mariners fan, is part of a generation of Seattleites that has never even seen its team play in the playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres and the New York Jets currently hold the NHL and NFL drought records, having missed the postseason for the past 10 years. The Sacramento Kings own the same distinction in the NBA, going 15 seasons without a playoff appearance.
But the Mariners currently hold the longest active playoff drought among the four major North American professional sports, and many of their long suffering fans, who devoted themselves to the team as children, are starting to graduate from college. For fans like Witter, simply making the postseason, even a wild-card berth, would mean everything.
“It would be amazing,” he said. “It would be almost as exciting – and this sounds ridiculous – but for me personally, being in a playoff game or winning a playoff game would be almost as exciting as the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl in 2013-14.”
Witter isn’t alone in his expectations for an eventual playoff game. Peyton Rowe, known to most as Rally Kid, also has never seen the team make the postseason. Born almost 10 years after the 2001 season, he says watching Seattle in a playoff series would be an incredible experience.
“I can’t even imagine how it will feel,” he said in an email. “I would lose my mind in excitement and ask my parents to get us tickets to the games!”
Both Rowe and Witter chose to support the Mariners because they were the local team and because their parents also were huge fans of the team. Witter said growing up his family regaled him with tales of the magical 1995 season, the Mariners’ deepest playoff run in franchise history. He wishes he had postseason stories of his own.
But the playoffs wouldn’t just be special to fans like Witter and Rowe who’ve watched the Mariners their whole lives. Nellie Ratsamee, 26, was older than Witter when the Mariners last made the playoffs, but her family never watched baseball so they didn’t take in the team’s most recent postseason run.
She didn’t become a fan until 2012, when she took a job working concessions at T-Mobile Park. Being around the stadium introduced her to the sport, and she’s been hooked on the Mariners ever since.
“It’s just been so long,” she said. “I know I wasn’t a fan when they went in 2001, but I just want to see that energy brought from baseball. Whenever I tell people I like baseball, they say, ‘It’s so boring, how could you enjoy it?’ But to me, it’s not boring.”
So how do fans stay committed to a team without those historic postseason moments? Witter tries to embrace the things that make the Mariners unique. He mentioned the three-hour documentary on the history of the team made by Secret Base, which goes through some of the franchise’s strange and interesting moments, as something that’s helped him better appreciate the Mariners for what they are.
“There’s a quote from that YouTube series which I thought really captured the team perfectly,” he said. “They were like, ‘The Mariners are not winners. They’re protagonists.’ It’s a weird quote but I feel like it’s a pretty accurate description of the team.”
Witter and Ratsamee both mentioned they still have meaningful memories about the team, even if they aren’t from a playoff series. For Witter, it’s Ichiro’s walkoff home run against New York Yankee Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera in 2009, while Ratsamee vividly remembers Felix Hernandez’s 2012 perfect game. Though she doesn’t recall specifically where she was working that game – either the lemonade or Dip-n-Dots stand.
Despite the good memories, the Mariners’ lack of playoff appearances do impact their fans’ love of the team. Both Witter and Ratsamee said they believe more people would come watch the team if they actually made it beyond the 162-game regular season. Witter said that while he’ll always be a fan and is never serious when he says he won’t watch anymore, he feels his love of the team ebb slightly at times, noting the 2019 season as a particularly low point of his Mariners fandom.
It’s this desperation for a playoff appearance that makes fans question some of the decisions of the team’s front office.
Following the recent trade of relief pitcher Kendall Graveman to the Houston Astros, general manager Jerry Dipoto said he wouldn’t sacrifice the team’s long-term future for a short-term playoff appearance, even though the Mariners had just closed to a game of the Oakland A’s for the second wild-card spot.
Witter said he’s been able to rationalize the decision as a fan, but admitted his initial reactions to the trade were negative to say the least.
“After a few days it started to make a little more sense to me, and I do tend to see his logic more,” he said. “At the time, it seemed kind of gut-wrenching, but I think it was more than anything, it wasn’t a bad trade, the timing was tough.”
While it seems Witter, Ratsamee, Rowe and all the other Mariners fans who’ve never seen them in the playoffs will have to wait another season, the team sits 5½ games behind the second wild-card spot – and more perhaps importantly, they all believe a postseason appearance is close.Ratsamee said she hopes Seattle will have a chance to show other MLB fan bases just how great its playoff atmosphere can be and thinks the Mariners can draw crowds similar to the Seahawks, Storm and Sounders.
It’s undoubtedly been a long wait – literally a lifetime for many – but playoff droughts don’t last forever, and Witter said for those who’ve really waited, the payoff will be glorious.
“The one positive of them never having made the playoffs in my lifetime makes the idea of when they make it that much more exciting.”