Canzano: Inside baseball with the Seattle Mariners beat reporter
Ryan Divish is going to hate this column.
Ryan Divish works for The Seattle Times. He covers the Mariners as a beat reporter. He’s going to hate this column. Too bad. I’m writing it anyway.
I read every word the guy writes.
It’s his turn.
I don’t read Divish because I love the Mariners. The Giants are my team. I read him because I love baseball and Divish is a gifted reporter and writer. Also because, for a long while, I was curious how much losing one human being could take.
Divish has been on the Mariners’ beat since 2008. Since then, the baseball club has lost 1,217 regular-season games. In his first full-time season on the job, Divish went to spring training with hope in his heart.
The Mariners finished 61-101.
“It was the biggest collection of jerks and malcontents I’ve ever been around,” Divish told me this week. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to make it through this season, what have I gotten myself into?’”
Two seasons later, the Mariners lost 101 games again.
“People ask me, ‘Why aren’t you a fan?’ I’m not a fan,” Divish said. “If I was a fan of this team and trying to write about it, it probably would have killed me a long time ago. But I have friends in the organization that care deeply about the Mariners. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2006, I have good friends out here that live and die with this team.
“I understand what they’re going through.”
When Cal Raleigh clubbed that unforgettable pinch-hit, walk-off home run a couple of weeks ago, Divish grasped the gravity of the moment. The home run didn’t just beat the A’s, it lifted a city. The Mariners — 21 straight seasons without a playoff berth — clinched an American League wildcard berth that day.
“Your biggest fear in some of these games is doing a moment justice,” Divish said. “You’re trying to paint the picture and provide everything people don’t see. You’re there to provide the perspective, not just the score. How do you encompass 21 years into one story? When Cal Raleigh hit that walk-off homer, I’d been thinking about that lead for a few days.”
On deadline, amid the chaos and catharsis, the beat reporter who had been there for all those losses, delivered a winning story. The first few paragraphs spoke for a generation of Seattle baseball fans:
Aching left thumb?
Flailing at a slider?
Hit It Here Cafe?
Divish sees the little stuff — and the little stuff, often matters.
The beat reporter grew up in Havre, a small town in Montana. It sits 22 miles from the Canadian border. He owns a black lab, his preferred cocktail is Crown Royal, and his first job out of college was as the sports editor at The Havre Daily News.
In the offseason, Divish retreats to his hometown, where it sometimes reaches 30-35 degrees below with the wind-chill. He doesn’t mind the cold. He likes the escape.
“It’s small-town Montana for certain,” he said. “We have McDonald’s and we have all that. But I can get across town in five minutes. From my parents house, I can walk out past down the block and be in a field where there isn’t a house or a person for miles. I take my lab out there and just walk.”
Divish, now 47, played catcher at Dickinson State University, a small college in North Dakota. He’s a baseball guy. Maybe that helps him in the clubhouse, where players, coaches, and managers respect and trust him. Also, Divish has a reputation for being no-nonsense, with little tolerance for bulls**t.
Adam Jude, a fellow reporter at The Seattle Times, said: “No one works a clubhouse like he does.”
I spoke with Divish this week. I asked him what it has been like to watch the Mariners finally break through. He’s been there over the years… in the press box… in the clubhouse… on planes… in rental cars… and hotel rooms… covering a franchise that didn’t feel hopeful a lot of the time.
I’ve vowed to take you places you haven’t been before with this new writing endeavor. You’ve seen lots of games and teams. You know what they look like. But I doubt some of you know why Ryan Divish loves covering baseball games and teams.
“The access,” he said.
His colleague, Jude, for example, was allowed to go behind the scenes at the end of the regular season in the Mariners’ clubhouse to report on the “clubbies” who were preparing for the postseason-clinching champagne celebration.
“Chip Kelly would never let you do that,” Divish said. “Dan Lanning isn’t going to let you stand in one of his meetings. I can’t imagine going back to cover college sports. I’m spoiled by the access.”
For years, I’ve believed that lots of journalists can turn a decent non-deadline story on a low-stakes game. The biggest separation in this business occurs on deadline, with rising stakes, amid a pile of historical context. It’s a spot Divish has been excellent in this season.
“Spell everybody’s name right, get the score right, and don’t screw it up too much,” he said. “I’m very visual in how I write and cognizant of the moment.”
This season must feel remarkably different for Mariners fans. The team went 90-72 in the regular season. It made the playoffs. And Divish has been there to tell the story, introducing a growing audience of readers to the journey they’ve joined.
“Everybody wants to be read,” he said. “Either be really bad or really good. Don’t be in the middle. Don’t be lukewarm because then you’re irrelevant. I’ve spent a lot of summers where nobody’s reading and I get the tweets, ‘Hey, it’s football season, who cares?’”
People care right now. The Mariners swept the Blue Jays in their American League wildcard series, including a thrilling come-from-behind win to seal it. But the team now finds itself trailing the Astros 2-0 in the Division Series.
Houston broke the Mariners’ backs with a devastating walk-off home run in Game 1, then beat Seattle’s best starting pitcher on Thursday in Game 2.
Divish responded like he always does, by filing a great story. Then, he jumped on the first flight out of Houston on Friday morning, barreling toward Game 3 — the Mariners’ first home playoff baseball game in more than two decades.
Ryan Divish won’t like this column. He likes to tell the story, not be the story. Too bad. I wrote it anyway.
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Good to see Ryan Divish get some recognization. He’s a great beat writer who captures moments in a game really well.
Great piece, JC. I've been to Havre - it's as small as a town can be. And the M's? Trying to keep things in perspective. This team is really good, baseball is really hard and there is no doubt they've arrived. Lots of young tallent and the best players are signed to long term deals. They will be relevent for awhile.