SEATTLE – This is the uplifting story of Geno, who began his Seattle season as an afterthought and segued into a huge contributor to unexpected success.
Both Genos, that is.
I’m talking third baseman Eugenio Suarez, known affectionately in the Mariners’ clubhouse as Geno, who came to Seattle in March as a throw-in in the Jesse Winker trade. It was Winker’s bat that was going to be the difference maker, but to get Winker you had to take Suarez and his high salary, which the Cincinnati Reds were looking to shed. And Geno morphed into so much more – one of their most productive players all season, and the North Star in the clubhouse around whom their positive culture flowed.
And I’m talking Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, who was supposed to be shunted aside for Drew Lock once coach Pete Carroll gave him a symbolic glance as the No. 1 starter in training camp, more out of respect for his seniority than anything else. Or, in the best-case scenario, Smith would be a lackluster placeholder until they could find their REAL quarterback down the road. Instead, Smith has been a revelation, shockingly outplaying his predecessor, Russell Wilson. Through six games, he is performing on a par with the NFL’s upper-echelon QBs and leading the Seahawks to the top of an admittedly mediocre NFC West.
This is the tale of two Genos. This is a good-vibes-only confluence of a shared first name, and a shared trajectory.
Suarez gradually became one of the most popular Mariners players, turning those low expectations on their ear until, by the end of the season, he had 31 homers and a slew of clutch moments. Upon his acquisition, the Mariners pointed out that Suarez had led the majors in home runs since 2018. But it was easy to peruse his .198 batting average in 2021 and conclude that he was on a rapid decline. By the time the Mariners season charged into the postseason that had eluded them for 21 years, it was impossible to imagine their success without him.
Smith, who once had been a high second-round draft pick by the Jets until his career fizzled in New York and beyond, seized control of the starting job in camp and never let go. There was much second-guessing of Carroll for not conducting a fair quarterback battle, and much eye-rolling when he countered that not only was the competition fair, but the outcome undeniable. There was mockery when Carroll went further to insist that the Seahawks could win with Smith at the helm. He has led them to three wins – two fewer than Las Vegas projected for the entire season.
When I arrived at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 1987 to cover the Bay Area sports teams, there was an odd coincidence of the Giants and 49ers having vital members named Roger Craig. The Giants’ version was the lovable old manager who had inherited a 100-loss team and through the dint of his folksy, positive manner (and an influx of young talent) quickly turned them into a division champion and eventually a pennant winner. The 49ers’ version was a sturdy, reliable and hugely productive running back who became the first in NFL history to exceed 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in the same season. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were the 49ers’ household names, but this Roger Craig had a substantial role in three Super Bowl titles.
I did a fun story on the shared legacy of the two Roger Craigs – how they occasionally got each other’s mail, how each admired the other’s achievements. But I discovered that beyond the oddball happenstance was an almost mystical shared sensibility. It was crazy, but two men of the same name, three decades apart in age, were essential figures on wildly successful teams and had a similar outlook on sports and life.
I’m not saying that’s happening in Seattle, but I’m not saying it’s not. Both Genos appear to be endearing, team-first guys who are hard to root against.
In the Mariners’ clubhouse after their agonizing, season-ending loss to the Astros in 18 innings Saturday, Suarez held court by his locker. At one point, he poignantly thanked teammate J.P. Crawford for making baseball fun again. With red, watery eyes, he detailed his connection to Seattle.
“It’s a lot of emotion for me right now,” he said. “I’m so proud, and so grateful to the general manager for bringing me here, and so happy to be here. … This is my first year here, and I just want to say thank you to everybody for supporting us. I’m so happy to be part of this team.
“We’ve got a really good group. … To make a really special team, it’s not just me, or (Luis) Castillo, or (Carlos) Santana. It’s the Seattle Mariners. That’s why I say I’m so proud of this team, and next year is going to be more fun than this year.”
And more, reacting to the fans starting a “Let’s Go Mariners” chant immediately after the game: “I’ll have that on my mind for the rest of my career. For the rest of my life. They cheered us from the beginning of the season, and today they never left the stands. They stayed all of the game, and I just give them a little bit of my heart. I give it to them because they really deserve it.”
When Smith led the Seahawks to their season-opening win over Russell Wilson and the Broncos, he was asked about being written off after going six full seasons as a backup. His impromptu response was memorable enough to be trademarked: “They wrote me off, but I didn’t write back.”
When Smith was named NFC Player of the Week following a nearly flawless game against Detroit, he gently pushed back against those who were surprised by his emergence: “If you are surprised, it’s because you have never seen me throw.”
We’ve seen enough of the Genos to know something special is happening. Maybe it’s a good reminder for us all to have an open mind when it comes to judging players.
Maybe there’s no mystical connection between Geno Smith and Geno Suarez, no shared sensibility. Maybe they’re just two guys trying to take their team to new heights (or in the Seahawks’ case, back to old heights).
Maybe that’s enough. In any case, here’s to Geno.
Both of them.
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