.405 batting average. 4 home runs. 10 RBIs. 3 stolen bases.
That was Seattle Mariners left fielder Jarred Kelenic’s dominant Spring Training stat line. You’d think a lot of credit would be given to Kelenic’s maturity, the ability to find his swing against breaking balls, or even the Mariners coaching staff and being part of a young and hungry team. But if you went online, all thanks are directed toward one person: Gina.
Gina Wynbrandt, that is. Earlier this year, the Chicago-based cartoonist and contributor to the Believer and the Best American Comics took a swing at some Jarred Kelenic fan fiction and it has caught on in a big way. Throughout the various baseball social media enclaves and subreddits, several panels of the comic have been reposted hundreds of times, lines of dialogue are used as knowing references between fans, and—due to Kelenic’s emergence as a potential power player and the comic’s hysterical boldness—Wynbrandt (both the character and the artist) has garnered near-folk hero status.
We talked about Gina’s newfound baseball fandom and how it feels to become memefied. What better way to ring in the beginning of Major League Baseball’s 2023 season?
RJ CASEY: When did you become a die-hard Mariners fan?
GINA WYNBRANDT: I started kind of paying attention a little bit while dating my boyfriend and we’ve been dating for four-and-a-half years. He started getting back into the team and believing in them at the end of 2021. That’s when I really started paying attention and started watching games. Once I started knowing all the players, I was completely invested in how they were doing.
Does his Mariners fandom match yours at this point or are you far and above?
He’s still the bigger fan, but in some ways not as much. I work less than him, so I’ll know breaking news. “Oh, yeah, yeah yeah! He had an oblique strain. I knew that already.” [Laughter] He acknowledges that I’m a big fan and doesn’t feel that I’ve encroached too much.
Were you a fan of baseball previously before going all in on the Mariners?
I’ve always really liked going to baseball games but have never followed baseball outside of that. I lived close to Wrigley and would go to a lot of games there. But I’ve never followed it like I do now.
Well, let’s talk about the comic itself then. “How Jarred Kelenic Got His Groove Back”.
This was originally made for an issue of Bubbles? Was it for the baseball themed issue?
It wasn’t for the baseball issue. It was just for a regular issue [issue #15]. I was asked to make a comic about anything that I wanted. I knew if there would be anyone who’d be appreciative of a baseball comic it would be Brian [Baynes, the editor of Bubbles].
Why this player? Why make Jarred Kelenic the specific focal point of this comic?
There’s a lot of sexy guys on the Mariners that I was interested in. [Laughter] I was like, who could I reverse engineer a reason that I could be involved with them? But I felt like Jarred had the most tragic story. There was another player I was thinking about—Adam Frazier—who’s also underperforming, but everyone had such high expectations for Jarred to be like the next greatest prodigy. It was a lot more of a tragic story, and endearing.
It seems like Kelenic hasn’t been able to maintain a solid batting average and has been bouncing back and forth between the team and the minor leagues.
Yeah. He’ll be there opening day though. It’s his spot to lose right now. I hope he really steps up.
When the pages were originally published in Bubbles, was there any feedback at all?
That didn’t really start until I put it online. [Laughs]
Let’s talk about that. How long did you wait from when Bubbles was published until you shared it on social media?
I think I waited about a month.
You put it on your personal Twitter account and where else?
Baseball Reddit. Then someone who’s big on Mariners Twitter shared it and it got much, much more popular than my actual tweets. There were a lot of… funny responses to it. [Laughter] I think people were interested in it because there are not a lot of comics about MLB baseball. There was a lot of, “What the heck is this?” The novelty of the situation had a lot of people writing things like, “Someone sat down and made this?”
I went in and read a lot of these comments and some of them are so strange. There’s an almost puritanical incredulousness to a lot of them. “Why would she even think this?”
The “How dare she?” sort of thing is really bizarre to me.
It was funny to see those replies. It felt like they thought I was invading their space. You had your own little fantasy with your favorite players and I’m ruining your fantasy with mine.
It’s probably the first comic a lot of people have read since Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes, I assume. I want to circle back a little - after you put your comic on baseball Reddit, how soon did Mariners Twitter get a hold of it?
It was the same day, I think. It was pretty soon. People started cropping the panels and reusing them almost immediately after. It was very entertaining.
Those panels are now all over Mariners Twitter and Reddit and mentioned in podcasts.
Yeah, on a Mariners podcast the hosts brought up my comic with a reporter from the Seattle Times. [Laughter] They were just like, “It’s so weird! I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
The main question I really wanted to ask you is how does it feel to create a meme? I mean, it’s out of your hands at this point.
It’s crazy. It’s very funny. I feel a little bad for Jarred maybe. He might have to be confronted with these images.
I think it’s 100% at this point that he and his teammates have seen your comic.
That’s what I’m guessing. [Laughter] It’s weird that people on Reddit refer to me by my first name in the context of Jarred and the Mariners. But it’s great! I hope he has a good season. That’s all I care about.
There are so many comments like, “Thanks Gina!” People quote the, “One beer, please” panel all the time too.
Yes. I don’t know why people latched on to that one, but they like it.
Does it feel to you at all like it’s gotten out of your control? You can’t really wrangle the genie back in the bottle now.
I knew that something like this might-- that just happens when you post something on Reddit. I wanted it to take off in that way. This is the best-case scenario. I didn’t think it would get to this place with quite this warm of a reception. I’m pleased.
Do you interact with any of the people who use your art as a meme?
Sometimes I’ll reply. I had already been posting on Mariners Reddit before I made the comic, but no one knew me or cared about what I was saying. I was writing stuff like, “Julio [Rodriguez] looks real good today.” [Casey laughs] I had a post history. But now when I post stuff they know I’m the one who made the Jarred comic. I’m leaning into it and milking it.
Has anyone involved with the team reached out to you at all?
No. [Laughs] Someone that was a Mariner many years ago and played a few major league games shared the comic and said, “Well done!” But he’s no longer affiliated with the team.
A few weeks ago you mentioned that someone contacted you - he works in finance and has some possible connections to Mariners upper management. What was that about?
He’s like a venture capital guy and he was like, “If you want to do more Mariners comics, I might be able to help you with funding.” I was like, “What? What do you mean?” He said, “Let’s just have a chat.” He showed me a picture of him with the owner of the team. I don’t know how he actually knows him.
What became of that chat?
In my head, I was like, “OK, he’s a VC, but maybe he just wants to give me money and it won’t be about NFTs.” But it was about NFTs.
I was like, “I’m good. I don’t want to be involved with that.” Sometimes he’ll still message me to show me when he uses my comic as a reaction image. We have a good relationship still. [Laughter] We support each other. What I’m doing I feel like could get shut down by MLB or the Mariners.
Is that a legitimate concern? Are you afraid this whole thing could fall apart because some MLB suit wants to put a stop to it?
I’m trying to walk a line - I feel like I’m still under parody protection.
You could always go with the classic spin of “I’m being censored.”
That could get me more support.
“Too hot for Major League Baseball!”
I know when someone’s art becomes a meme it’s hard to track down the original creator, but have you been able to gain any new fans or followers from all this?
I think so. There have been some Mariners fans who started following me and are interested in what I do. I post about baseball in my Instagram stories a lot. I was having dinner with one of my oldest friends recently and he was telling me that my social media was becoming difficult for him to enjoy. [Laughter]
Have you received that feedback from anyone else who were fans of your comics before you leaned into baseball fandom?
Not directly, but I understand that people don’t want this all the time. But the baseball fans that started following me love it. I do need to dial it back slightly.
You have some other baseball-related projects coming soon though, right?
Yes, I’m finishing another baseball comic right now about the new rule changes. It will be about the real rule changes and then some fake rules changes I think would be funny. I also made a Mariners season schedule that’s being printed right now. They are my muse. I just have this urge that I must express. I’m passionate about these young men. [Laughter.]
Someone online wrote that you were “the single greatest Mariner fan of all-time.”
Yeah, truly what a great compliment for someone who just became a fan last year. But I do love them and that clearly came through in the comic.
Someone also wrote, “If the Mariners win the World Series this year, Gina deserves a ring, if not a statue outside the stadium.”
Well, I’m not going to argue with them.