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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 11, 2008 10:08 PM

Great to be back

Posted by Geoff Baker

Mucho thanks to Jose Romero for filling in the past 12 days while I was in Hawaii. This isn't the easiest gig for someone walking in fresh and I think he did a fantastic job. Got to say, I missed doing this every day. But that's all about to change.

Many of you have written in for my take on some issues, most notably, Ichiro and Erik Bedard.

The Ichiro thing is easy. Don't want to know. Don't care that he's 0-for-21 in games that matter about as much as those Laval Little League contests I once participated in back in Quebec in the 1970s.

Casual fans might be concerned by this mini spring slump and that's OK. But I know you click in here for something more than the casual fan take. And the last I checked, Ichiro hit .351 and won an AL Silver Slugger Award in games that mattered last season. In the last seven years of games that mattered, he's amassed 1,592 hits. That's the most ever done over any seven-year span. No, Ichiro hasn't forgotten how to hit overnight. This slump means absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada. Talk to me if he starts the real season 0-for-30 or something.

Until then, just remember, spring training means almost nothing. It's a glorified marketing exercise designed mostly to loosen up the arms of pitchers. If the hitters were warming up in batting cages, you wouldn't care. The hitters don't care, trust me. Most of them don't start thinking about caring until the final two weeks or 10 days of the spring. So please, don't give it another thought. As Bedard might say: "Next question."

OK, speaking about Bedard...

I have yet to be there for any of his post-game sessions with reporters, so all I know is what I've heard second hand. Here's what I have to say about it:

If Bedard doesn't want to talk about his personal life, that's his business. I don't care. He's entitled to keep his private life private if that's what he wants. He's not entitled to tell people who they can call and who they can't if they want to seek information on his private life. That's fair game. He can suggest it, but has no way of enforcing anything. His friends and family are all free human beings (same in Canada as in the United States) and can hang up the phone any time.

But Bedard is free to not talk about his personal business. Why shouldn't he be? He's a private person and doesn't want to be an "out there" celebrity. His business, his potential endorsement losses, his life.

As a reporter, I don't need every player on a team to talk to me. If all 25 were to stop at once, it could be a challenge. But that never happens. Most ballplayers are talkative types and will speak to almost every reporter who approaches them.

I once went two years with Carlos Delgado refusing to talk to me for some obscure reason or another. Happened between 1999 and 2001, when he was at the top of his game. He eventually stopped talking to our baseball columnist and secondary beat writer as well. But if you're any good at this job, you learn to work around it. Even one night, when he hit three home runs in Texas, I wrote my game story in a way that nobody seemed to realize I hadn't quoted him.

By 2001, everyone realized the no-talk thing was getting somewhat funny, especially after I wrote a feature-length story on Delgado from Puerto Rico, quoting, among others, his Dad. "Nice story,'' Delgado told me the next day, the first words he'd sent my way in two years.

Later that season, in May, Delgado, me and our columnist (Richard Griffin), met in a Starbucks at the Westin Hotel in downtown Chicago to air out our differences. One hour later, we were all talking again. Funny thing is though, we'd gotten so used to not interviewing Delgado that Griffin and I quoted him only a handful of times the rest of that year. If I hadn't mentioned the no-talk thing in a blog item a few years later, no fans would have even realized we'd gone two years without talking. And Delgado was the star of that team.

By 2004, though, Delgado was talking to us more and more. I got one of the better baseball stories of my career from him when he told me why he was refusing to stand for the playing of God Bless America at games. And towards the end of his career in Toronto, when management was pushing him out, he knew he'd find an objective ear talking to either Griffin or me.

The point of the story? Some guys talk, some don't. Some just have to get to know you. Others never will.

Bottom line? If I could survive an MVP candidate like Delgado not talking to me at all, I can survive just about anyone on the Mariners trying to do the same.

So far, from what I can tell, Bedard is talking after games. And he should. Despite what some of you have suggested, I do believe it is Bedard's responsibility to stand up and talk after he pitches. Yes, I did say responsibility. If he only wants to talk about the game, then fine. As I said, that's his right as a human being.

But not talking, period, or being rude about it? Unacceptable. And juvenile, too, when you think about it. I'm glad he appears not to be going that route.

Look, I know not all the questions he's getting asked are the greatest ones. But hey, not all of the answers I've gotten from ballplayers over the years have been MENSA quality either.

I've interviewed two Canadian Prime Ministers (Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark), served drinks to a third (Paul Martin) as a young bartender in Montreal before he ran for office, and queried an American vice-presidential candidate (Jack Kemp) in-person as well. I've lunched with author W.P. Kinsella (whose book was turned into the Field of Dreams movie), as well as an escaped killer from Lorton Penitentiary outside Washington, D.C. in the mid-1990s (before the U.S. Marshall Service caught up to him). Talked to a gunman on the phone from jail just 48 hours after he'd killed a bunch of people at a university, chased a fraud artist out of Canada, then went down to Mexico and got him chased out of there. Had lunch another time with a Hells Angels lawyer and one of the gang's top associates -- a loan shark and killer -- who later threatened my life in a private office with no witnesses around after I'd suggested in print that he was behind the shooting of one of my top confidential sources. The same thug later got himself shot to death in a restaurant hit (I had nothing to do with it).

Those were all very interesting people in one way or another, some good, some horrible. But more interesting than a lot of the players I've had to talk to for my job. If we're going to start judging folks based on intelligence, or critiquing the brainworthiness of their questions, we can go that route, but I wouldn't advise it.

Plenty of the media folks doing the daily clubhouse questioning were, in fact, once at the top of their classes in school. Some are tops in their field, locally, regionally and nationally. Many have far more life experience than a ballplayer in his 20s, who's yet to taste real failure, or the collapse of childood dreams, or had to get up and go to work after a wrecked marriage, or during a midlife crisis. Some have, but most haven't.

Hey, you asked what I really think.

Some of the worst questions asked in these post-game scrums can be from television or radio reporters. But a lot of those folks don't get to cover teams on a daily basis. They may not be as well-versed in the finer details of baseball as some beat writers or columnists for newspapers are. So what? Where is it written that every broadcast outlet HAS to assign someone to cover a baseball team every day? At the expense of who? A high school basketball club? A group of parents at the local schoolboard?

Media outlets don't owe anything to pro sports teams, especially a guarantee of exclusive coverage. You take what you can get. Some leagues, like the NFL, seem to have forgotten this as they try to go it alone, making as if they really won't need any media coverage in the long-term. Maybe they'll be successful, maybe not. The NBA used to think it was bulletproof, but these things tend to run in cycles.

Baseball certainly needs any good press it can get. It wasn't too long ago that MLB was turning a blind eye to steroids use because it was so desperate to regain fan interest after the 1994 strike.

So, yes, it would behoove Bedard and any other ballplayer to answer questions about their performance for a couple of minutes after games. Most of them do, to their credit. From a personal standpoint, it's about accountability. I don't have much time for reporters or columnists who carve up a team one day, then aren't in the clubhouse to answer for it the next. Neither do the players.

But accountability works both ways. Even if reporters ask some dumb questions. Even if it's a beat writer asking dumb ones. It happens. Hey, if we all have to sit through watching Jeff Weaver pitch when he isn't at the top of his game, why shouldn't a player have to put up with a reporter who's a little off on his or hers? Is that three minutes of time out of a player's life really that crucial? Of course not.

Teammates also tend not to appreciate guys who duck post-game questions and leave it to others to do their answering for them. It's just not professional. Not as a ballplayer, or as a teammate.

As a professional, I try to help out anyone who asks for assistance. I've averaged an interview a day this spring on radio, television, with various blog sites and others as this blog gains popularity. The radio interviews can go on for a half-hour at a time. There are days when I simply don't have the time. Days when I'd rather get out of the park a half-hour early, or just close my eyes and sleep. But I try to put this aside and accomodate. I know this blog has fans in places like Spokane and when the local station there calls me up, I jump on it as soon as I can. I know their listeners appreciate it. You get what you give in this world.

Being a Canadian, I am conscious that there are none of us writing baseball for other U.S. newspapers and that some folks might be scrutinizing a little more closely. I try to set an example for other, aspiring Canadian writers. The last thing I want is anyone to be criticizing the "lazy" Canadian or the "rude" Canadian.

I'm not perfect, but I try not to be unpleasant.

Bedard doesn't have to follow that mantra if he doesn't want to, even if he is also a Canadian -- one of few stars from that country in this sport. But he should be aware that plenty of other folks from his homeland are tracking his every move. I'm sure he is aware of it. He'd be oblivious if he wasn't. How he chooses to handle this reality is his business.

But being polite, treating others with respect, and doing the minimum when it comes to acting professional and being accountable is a must. For $7 million a year, it isn't asking much. We all have bad days, or boring days and we all have to suck it up.

From the reports I got out of Tucson yesterday, that's exactly what Bedard was doing. If that's all he does the rest of the season, I'm fine with it. I don't need it to do my job. But it's the right thing for him to do. And yeah, the most important thing is for him to win on the mound. If he can do that, without causing a weekly distraction the minute he steps off it, Mariners fans and Bedard's teammates will be more than pleased.






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