Having my priorities right, I was of course present for the first Seattle Mariners spring workout Thursday in Peoria, Arizona. Only pitchers, catchers, and a few early reporting position players were there. The rest of the squad reports next week.
It was only the first day of professional sports' longest season, but already it was clear that this year's Mariners team has a chance to be special. I have attended the team's spring training, at least briefly, for each of the past 10 years and before that attended the old Washington Senators' training camp. Several small things Thursday caught my attention.
- The players were quietly serious, tending to business, and generally in good physical condition.
- Pitchers Cliff Lee, coming off minor foot surgery, and Erik Bedard, still recovering from serious shoulder surgery, were in uniform and participating in appropriate drills. Lee, still a stranger to most of the other players, was blending in well. Bedard, criticized in the past for being aloof, was laughing, joking, and jostling with the other pitchers. He was sticking close to Felix Hernandez (who, by the way, appears to be in wonderful shape).
- Manager Don Wakamatsu used first-day drills to set a businesslike if amiable tone. Wakamatsu, for instance, called all seven catchers in camp together and let them know exactly what was expected of them — including fewer passed balls (they were frequent last year) and close attention to pitchers' development. I noticed that detailed charts already were being kept during pitchers' warmups — they already were throwing hard — and in batting drills for the catchers. In the afternoon he and his coaches began meeting, one on one, with each player in camp. Every player, star or marginal, is being treated with respect and seriousness. This will pay off bigtime down the road.
- Among the warming-up pitchers, Hernandez already was throwing bullets. Ian Snell, previously uneven in his major-league career, got particular encouragement and shoulder pats from Wakamatsu. He appears to need them. He responded by throwing hard and showing enthusiasm.
Baseball's season is long and any team's success depends on avoidance of injury to key players. But, entering their second season, Wakamatsu and his coaches and camp instructors are doing all the right things. They are paying attention to detail, running brisk drills, and sending signals that professional performance will be rewarded. Their approach is playing well in Peoria and should do so when the team heads north at the end of March.