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Seahawks lead the charge in infusing Seattle sports with young stars

Look out, decade.

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners
Maybe let’s not forget about Charles Cross, k?
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a good time to be a Seattle sports fan. Heck, it’s a great time. Is it about to become spectacular?

Yes. Yes it is.

Famously, the Seattle Seahawks smashed expectations in 2022, sneaking into the NFL playoffs with a little help from their besties, the Detroit Lions. You know this; still worth re-visiting; it’s a long wait until September; all we have is time. After the Seahawks eliminated the Lions in Week 18, but before Detroit upended Green Bay in the season finale to clinch things for Seattle, this gem hit the airwaves:

Which they did. BFFs, am I right? Go Lions, always and evermore, or until the divisional round next January when they come to town and a trip to the NFC title game is on the line.

What a ride the ‘22 Seahawks were. And yet, the NFL season was but a middle step in what increasingly smells like a renaissance of big-league Seattle sports. One of the lasting variety. Because three months earlier, the Seattle Mariners, who’d charitably had... a bit of a rough go for the last two decades, also reached the playoffs. And won a series! With a comeback for the ages, even. Miracles are real.

Watch it here, if you’re unfamiliar.

Then, three months later, out of the blue, out of the deep, deep blue, the Seattle Kraken threw their chips in the postseason pot. (Their pucks on the rink? Their tentacles round the ship. Yes, that one.) Not only did they qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in their second season, they dispatched the reigning champs in Round 1 before taking their second-round opponent to seven games.

The macro stories behind the Mariners and Kraken — longest playoff drought in major American sports shattered at last! Best second-season improvement in NHL history! — are of the definite feel-good variety. Who doesn’t like an underdog crashing the party every once in a while? Sports is at its best when it sportses exactly like so, injecting new chaotic energy into predictable ebbs of success and failure.

Zoom in a little, though, and one element binds all three surprise squads together. The best element there is: breakout young talent. Lots of it.

On offense, the 2022 Seahawks thrived in no small part thanks to immediate consistent NFL-caliber play from their rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, plus occasional moments of head-shaking brilliance from their rookie of the year runner-up, the slipperiest ball carrier you ever did meet, Ken Walker.

Cross, Lucas and Walker are a combined 68 years of age, 69 if you add the days too, which would be a nice touch.

On defense, all the ink pixels already spilled on dedicated to Tariq Woolen (24) could fill a room of servers. (What a sad analogy. Bring back newspapers, and ink, and all that shit.) So what did the Seahawks do? Only added the top CB in the draft, picked the first WR off the board too, and oh yeah the entire secondary is pretty well set with Coby Bryant at nickel. You know what all those guys are? South of 25.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (21), Devon Witherspoon (22), and Bryant (24) round out a youth-plus-talent movement scarcely seen in Seattle. The last time it happened like this, things happened.

If the next crop of rookies is anything like the Cross-Lucas-Woolen-Bryant-Walker class, the Seahawks will be a bona fide contender again, whose ceiling is not mere playoff appearances, but a legit threat to return to you-know-where — the game with all the ads.

Across the street from Lumen Field, at T-Mobile Park, simultaneously it’s the same story, slow start this year notwithstanding.

Julio Rodriguez, of course, last year’s ROY, is an improbable 22. Switch-hitting catcher Cal Raleigh is virtually old at 26. Jarred Kelenic has become The Guy at age 23, as evidenced by this blast against another lefty.

Kelenic’s OPS+ sits at 142 after two years of underperformance. (100 is league average.) Hey look, another reminder besides Geno Smith that the two first seasons of your career do not define or limit your professional future.

Paired with phenom pitchers

  • Logan Gilbert, 21 career wins, more K than IP at 365-358, age 26
  • George Kirby, 6th place in ROY voting, 2.45 ERA this year, plus a complete game even, age 25
  • and Bryce Miller, 4 ER allowed in his first four starts, age 24

the Mariners have copied off the Seahawks just like that slacker next to you in tenth-grade math. Look how they’ve assembled an exciting young nucleus perfectly balanced on offense and defense, at highly valuable positions, mostly getting paid cheap, which theoretically creates the type of payroll flexibility from which champions more easily emerge.

Whether or not the M’s will spend enough to take the last step toward true contendership is a subject of much discussion recently. Nevertheless, rich long-term contracts for Rodriguez and ace Luis Castillo are already done, and you have* to interpret those as good signs.

*not actually, but would it really hurt that bad to dream?

I don’t mean to keep leaving the Kraken for last, because in a moment of clarity at the sportsbook window in Vegas, I would wager on them to be the next Seattle team who brings a major championship home. During their recent run, they showed why, and it’s exactly what you guessed, but with a twist. Young talent, plus depth too.

A slow start has the Mariners needing to reproduce last year’s 18-7 July again, and the Seahawks’ last wild-card game illuminated just how big a divide still exists between them and the 49ers. Meanwhile, the men on ice went and acquitted themselves best of all in the playoffs. By “men,” I mean college-age kids who sometimes aren’t even old enough to drink legally. Except in Canada. What a country.

Shane Wright, the fourth overall pick last year? 19. Matty Beniers, who had seven points in the playoffs? 20. Tye Kartye led his minor league in scoring, rightfully earned a promotion to the big club, and just turned 22. Forget beers. Combined, this trio of young squids isn’t even old enough to collect Social Security. Dang. Of all the Seattle teams, the Kraken possess the youngest stars and the most depth. What a combination.

As recently as last May, the Seahawks were bottoming out with seven wins and no franchise quarterback; the Mariners’ playoff drought was still active, and the Kraken had just concluded an expansion year that saw them finish last in the Pacific, second-to-last in the entire conference.

Now, somehow, somenow, the decade is all theirs for the taking.