It’s Thanksgiving, and Mariners have a lot to be grateful for this year – starting with a season that was worth watching, a team that that had and spread fun on the field.
Feel free to share your thoughts, but here are five Thanksgiving Day appreciations:
1. Franklin Gutierrez.
For 15 years in Seattle, the Mariners trotted out either Ken Griffey Jr. or Mike Cameron in center field, and no team in baseball had a better run of defense at the position.
Gutierrrez is cut in their mold, defensively, a combination of speed, reflexes and fearlessness that’s a joy to watch. Especially if you’re a Seattle pitcher.
OK, he can drive you a little crazy with his post-game explanations, his reluctance to run on the bases … and yet he has been and remains a force of nature in the game.
The infield hits, the threat his arm poses to opposing runners, his consistency – nine consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits? Impossible. And now, with Griffey around, Ichiro smiles, too.
3. Jack Zduriencik and Don Wakamatsu.
When was the last time this team had a general manager and manager – at the same time – that gave you hope? Over the last 20 years, only one combination comes to mind: Pat Gillick and Lou Piniella.
One year doesn’t mean the Mariners have turned a corner or that a World Series is now a certainty. But Zduriencik’s love of a solid farm system, his willingness to take chances – think David Aardsma, Guiterrez, Russell Branyan – show a promise no GM has shown in Seattle since 2001.
And Wakamatsu and his staff made the most of the talent they were given, creating a renaissance in the clubhouse, excitement on the field and pride in the franchise.
4. Felix Hernandez.
He turned 19 as a Mariner pup, a hard-throwing kid with a big smile and an arsenal of big-league ready pitches. Over the next three years, there were flashes of brilliance – and moments that made Seattle fans shake their heads.
Grow up, Felix!
He did. He has. In 2009, Hernandez was a first-time All-Star, twice named the American League pitcher of the month, finished second in the voting for the Cy Young Award and won 19 games. Oh, and he’s now the club ace, on the mound and in the clubhouse.
5. Ken Griffey Jr.
No longer a center fielder – or a left fielder – Junior wasn’t much of a force on offense in his retun to the Mariners in ’09. He may be less of one in ’10.
What price can be put on the opportunity the season gave Mariners fans, who got to see Griffey in a Seattle uniform again? Animated, happy and willing to force his personality onto a moribund clubhouse, Griffey’s presence was felt from the stands at Safeco Field to the long team flights from the East Coast.
At the plate, he was 39-years-old, but no one wanted to miss one of his at-bats – and pitchers worked him with caution, walking him a team-high 63 times.
Before you pass the Turkey today, share a few of your own. Oh, and have a couple of morning links:
- Mariners rookie left fielder Michael Saunders is back from winter ball in Venezuela, and minor league guru Pedro Grifol tells Kirby Arnold the 23-year-old did well. In 85 at-bats there, Saunders batted .321 with three doubles, three triples and three home runs. That’s good news for Seattle fans.
- Former Mariners and Rainiers infielder Tug Hulet is on the move again, traded by Kansas City to Boston in a waiver deal. Hulett. Hulett was with Seattle last spring, but taken by the Royals in a waiver claim.
- Another former Seattle infielder – remember Wilson Valdez? – signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia and will be invited to spring training. Valdez, 31, spent last year with the Mets.
- The Phillies are targeting third baseman Adrian Beltre, but there’s a fly in the ointment: Scott Boras. Boras is believed to be asking for a four-year deal.