With in-game flair, Mariners relievers 'put out the fires'

'Los Bomberos' nickname paired with dramatic stadium presentation

September 8th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Like countless toddlers, Andrés Muñoz wanted to be a fireman when he grew up. He had the toy truck, the plastic helmet and the hose attached to his childhood home in Los Mochis, Mexico. And also like countless toddlers, he eventually grew out of that ambition.

With an arm that teammate Paul Sewald joked can “throw a thousand miles per hour,” Muñoz’s destiny was always to pitch. But he still has a fancy and respect for firemen and their primary function in the most simplistic way: to save others in peril. And in a parallel, albeit perhaps a stretch, that’s his primary function as Seattle’s highest-leverage reliever.

So, when the Mariners’ social media team last month solicited nickname ideas from fans for the bullpen, as one unit, the Spanish-speaking Muñoz got to thinking -- and then it hit him one day in a powwow with the rest of the relievers:

“Los Bomberos,” he said in an aha! moment, the Spanish translation for “Firemen.”

“We put out the fires,” Muñoz said.

A nickname both creative and all-inclusive, taking into account Muñoz and Diego Castillo, who also speaks Spanish as his primary language, coupled with a bullpen that has statistically lived up to the moniker, called for a grander presentation. And the first look last month was epic for its shock and display.

As Muñoz emerged with two outs in the seventh inning, an alarm wailed, the overhead lights went out and the field went pitch black. Other than the behind-the-scenes stadium staff, no one knew what was happening. Did someone pull an alarm? (It’s happened before, but not to this level). Power outage? Panic?

No, it was the debut of a hype-infused, in-game show.

“That was electric,” said Robbie Ray, who’d just been pulled from the eventual win. “That was really cool. Yeah, I was in the dugout and the lights were flickering. And I'm like, ‘What's going on? Is there a fire drill right now?’ And then sure enough, there comes a fireman right there.”

Mitch Haniger, standing in right field during the commotion, added while laughing: “I was really caught off guard.”

That was the intended effect of the debut of "Los Bomberos." Now, it’s become more mainstream, but that’s also the point. The Mariners want to fire up fans and create a competitive, home-field advantage -- especially as games become more important.

“It is so impactful,” said Mariners game entertainment manager Tyler Thompson. “It feels like an arena sport and we think, 'How do we do things like this to make the ballpark feel like it’s an arena, it’s an experience?' And the bullpen is perfect because it’s already dark towards the back-end of the game.”

Mariners social media director Tim Walsh and his staff put together creative graphics, the players promoted them and everything was in the works. But then Thompson came in with a last-minute finishing touch: “I was like, ‘Wait a second. We have to do something with the lights for this.’” That’s where the idea to black out the field came in, accompanied by a single-chase lighting effect, which in turn, “makes it feel like the ballpark is turning into an emergency firehouse when a reliever is coming in.”

Much went into both the creativity and presentation. The ribbon boards, Mariners Vision, roof lights and even the field lights, capped with a circular effect going around the playing surface, are completely engaged. In Thompson’s five seasons, he says that the Mariners “haven’t done anything like that.”

Such presentations are becoming more mainstream in MLB. The most notable example is the Braves, who did so last year with their bullpen, nicknamed "‘The Night Shift."

But, like the The Night Shift -- which was a huge catalyst in winning the World Series -- for this type of dramatic presentation to work, the essence behind it has to precede its reputation. And the Mariners’ bullpen has been one of MLB’s most elite, especially as they turned their season around mid-summer.

Since June 21, when the club entered play 10 games under .500, Seattle has an AL-best 48-21 record. In that span, its bullpen leads MLB in WAR, per FanGraphs (4.1), ERA (2.32), opposing batting average (.190), OPS (.590), hits-per-nine innings (six) and inherited runners scored percentage (18.2%).

“We had an instant theme,” Thompson said. “So we started with the siren. What’s the calling card to the ‘pen? One of the top presentation moments you can have in baseball is a closer moment. Mariano Rivera entering to ‘Sandman,’ we had it here with J.J. Putz coming into ‘Thunderstruck.’ Now, we have this whole stable of guys that seem to be in that closer-type role because everyone has been nails all year.”

It’s all about context, too. The Mariners aren’t going to win every home game, and not every pitching change is going to necessitate an epic display. Thompson’s staff will pick and choose the proper moments. The highest-leverage situations will get the full treatment, but some of the mid-to-low level sequences will have less. The debut was a prime example.

“We have Robbie Ray after a fantastic performance coming out, you've got the whole crowd already on their feet,” Thompson said. “You have this engaged crowd and you've got a dude who throws 103 [mph] coming in. It was like, ‘We're about to drop Los Bomberos right here.’”

And as the stakes grow higher and the calendar gets deeper into fall, "Los Bomberos" -- both the relievers themselves and the epic display -- should provide a regular home-field advantage.