Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
April 13, 2009 9:00 AM
Posted by Geoff Baker
Don't forget Geoff Baker Live! coming up today at a different start time of 6 p.m. We'll talk all about the road trip, today's workout, with Ichiro, at Safeco Field and the week ahead.
Glad to be back in chilly Seattle. Looking forward to the next couple of days and what should be an energy-packed home opener tomorrow.
Starting the 2009 season on the road may have been the best thing that ever could have happened to the Mariners.
While some fans liked what they saw coming out of spring training, there were plenty of doubts about what this group could accomplish. The negativity of 2008 and not been fully erased, as witnessed by some sluggish ticket sales, even with the arrival of Ken Griffey Jr. But now, after a 5-2 road trip that came one strike away from going 6-1, the city is again buzzing about this team. It's been a remarkable one-week turnaround for the franchise. Of course, it didn't all start this past week. There was plenty of groundwork laid both in the clubhouse and on the field to get the team where it is today.
And there are also nearly six months of baseball still to play. It's important not to forget that. All this represents is a good opening week. But the Mariners have gotten themselves back on fan radar. I asked GM Jack Zduriencik after yesterday's game whether he was aware of the added buzz generated and whether this trip in fact was the best thing that could have happened to the club -- as far as creating excitement and generating some added ticket sales for the team.
"Those are things that I can't really be focused on, but the important thing is that you have a young group of guys together, you have some veteran guys in here, and I think whenever you're trying to put something together, the start that we've had certainly helps. It helps guys to believe in themselves and believe in each other.
"I think the thing we've talked about all along was trusting each other and being able to look at the guy in the locker next to you, or your teammate on the field next to you, and trust him. And I think we've seen a lot of that this week. So, I tip my hat to Don (Wakamatsu) and his staff, they've done a very, very nice job. And like I've said, I wouldn't underscore the leadership on this ballclub, and the energy level's been great, too. So, when you stand back as a general manager and watch what they've done on the field, you have to be pleased because the effort's there.
"It's only a week, it's only the beginning of the season,'' he added, ''but you do have to respect how they've played the game, how they've trusted each other and how they've looked to each other to pick each other up.''
Wakamatsu let it be known, once again, that this was not a one-week project.
"The belief system started in spring training,'' he said. "I think guys look around the clubhouse and realize we have good chemistry but we also have some talented players. The rest is just, we've said it all along, we're going to take every game and just go out and play good baseball, good fundamental baseball. There are still a lot of things we need to improve on, but I'm proud of these guys and the way we got out of the gate.''
It's called accountability. Not to the media, necessarily, though that's part of the whole package and the team's veterans have made sure players aren't hiding in the training lounge after games. They don't want one guy having to answer for everybody else's mistakes the way Raul Ibanez used to last year. But as I said, it's part of the overall package Zduriencik talked about. Players have to be accountable for their actions on the field and to the guy next to them. They have to pick up a teammate when they mess up and be counted upon to do the extra things when somebody else makes a mistake.
Wakamatsu called it chemistry. Zduriencik called it trust. In spring training, they both talked about character.
It all goes hand-in-hand with talent. Lots of teams have talent. Not all of them create the conditions that allow them to take advantage of that talent.
This has been priority No. 1 for the Mariners this spring. Taking care of off-field issues and building the right environment to maximize talent. As Zduriencik told the players at the start of camp, the good baseball teams have equally high measures of talent and character.
So far, the plan is working. But as I said -- and so have the Mariners -- there is still a long way to go in the 2009 season. Let's see how this first 10-game increment finishes off and talk after that.