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10 reasons why we’re excited for the start of Mariners baseball

The Seattle Mariners celebrate a three-run home run by Evan White #12 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 4-0 lead in the seventh inning against the Houston Astros at T-Mobile Park on September 21, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners’ 2021 regular season kicks off this week, and the MyNorthwest team is ready. After more than a year without being able to attend any local major league sports games, it seems fair to say that the Mariners have an added excitement factor this year being the first to welcome back fans.

In addition to the ever-present hope of a postseason run, and this-could-be-our-year attitude from die-hard Mariners fans, opening night feels like a sign that spring is here. With COVID-19 cases still present, but vaccinations ramping up, it also feels like we finally have some hope after a long, tough year — but we don’t want to put too much pressure on it.

Here are the top 10 things we’re looking forward to with the Mariners’ return:

1. There’s actually an Opening Day, and it’s on time

In March 2020, MLB announced that the regular season would be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rest of spring training was cancelled. After a restriction on events with more than 50 people from the CDC, and stay-at-home orders already in place in Washington, the season was pushed indefinitely. It turned into a 60-game season, with opening day in July. The Mariners finished 27-33.

2. Seeing real fans in the stands on TV

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans were allowed in the ballpark. To bring some fun (and faces) into T-Mobile Park, the Mariners offered fans a chance to purchase a cardboard cut-out with their photo on it, which were then placed in the empty seats. Fans of all ages, Seattle celebrities, and even pet dogs and cats filled the stadium to cheer on the home team. When watching from home on TV, you could try to spot your own face in the crowd, but it’s just not the same as watching real fans in the seats, enjoying some garlic fries behind home plate.

3. Being in the ballpark, in person

Not only will we be able to people watch from home, but fans can actually attend the games in person this year. There are plenty of new COVID-19 related restrictions in place, and only 9,000 fans will be in attendance for the first few homestands, but it’s still live sports and we’ll take it. If cases continue to decline, and vaccinations continue to increase, the Mariners do expect that some rules (and the capacity limit) could change as the season progresses.

What to expect at T-Mobile Park for the start of the 2021 season

4. Haniger and Paxton return

Two fan favorites — Mitch Haniger and James Paxton — are back this year. Haniger was with the Mariners last year, but he didn’t play a single game in the shortened season due to injury. Paxton rejoined the Mariners this offseason on a one-year contract after a two-year stint with the New York Yankees.

Check out who 710 ESPN Seattle’s hosts Jake Heaps and Stacy Rost think is most likely to have a bounce back season in 2021.

5. The promise of ending the postseason drought.

The Mariners are still faced with the specter of having their postseason drought, already the longest in any major American sport going into this season, reach 20 straight seasons. But, as with the start of every new season, there’s no sure way to know what’s ahead.

Groz is hoping they contend into May, the front office makes some moves, and it becomes a magical baseball summer. A guy can hope, can’t he? And so can we!

6. There’s a big trade from last year that could pay off

710 ESPN’s Brandon Gustafson provided insight into Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto’s more recent trades, which very well could wind up close to the level of the Jarred Kelenic deal.

One major trade was made last year just ahead of the Aug. 31 trade deadline, which saw the Mariners sending catcher Austin Nola and relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla to the San Diego Padres for four young players: infielder Ty France, catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Andrés Muñoz and outfielder Taylor Trammell. Three of those four players will be on the Mariners’ opening day roster and all figure to have big roles in Seattle’s plans going forward.

7. Listening to Rick Rizzs and Dave Sims on 710 ESPN Seattle

Listening to Rick Rizzs, the voice of the Mariners, calling the game is certainly worthy of a spot on our highlights list. He’s been with the broadcast team for more than 35 years, surpassing Dave Niehaus as the longest-tenured broadcaster in club history. Rizzs is joined by Dave Sims, who is in his 14th season with the Mariners broadcast team.

8. Learning more about the players from Shannon, Brandon, and Brent

Mariners Insider Shannon Drayer hosts the pregame and postgame shows, as well as the Hot Stove and Cactus League Report shows on 710 ESPN Seattle, and she has covered the Mariners since 1999. Find her writing on 710Sports.com, as well as more player insights and game analysis from writers Brent Stecker and Brandon Gustafson.

9. Ballpark food

We didn’t forget about the food. Part of the fun of watching a Mariners game in person includes enjoying all the delicious food options, including some new — sometimes adventurous — offerings (recall the grasshoppers), as well as the famous garlic fries. For the first few games of the season at least, fans are not allowed to bring in outside food. Concession stands will be open, though with fewer locations, and with a focus on individually packaged items to reduce contact points. Find a map of top eats here.

10. The possibility of Bark at the Park

The Mariners haven’t released a schedule of promotions yet because they probably have other things to worry about first — like getting 9,000 fans in the door safely for game one. We’re just hoping that the season includes Bark at the Park again, where fans get to bring their furry loved ones for a night out at T-Mobile Park. The pictures from these evenings with pups decked out in Mariners gear are just too cute.

Opening night for the Mariners is April 1 at 7:10 p.m. versus the San Francisco Giants. Play ball!

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