Some reflections on Camp Wak
The Mariners break camp today following their noon game against the Padres and here are some of my refelections from almost seven weeks of Spring Training in Peoria, which actually went pretty fast.
1. The one-on-one instruction the players received from manager Don Wakamatsu and his attention-to-detail coaching staff is something that I believe will pay off down the road. Players know what is expected of them, beginning with the T-E-A-M concept. The Mariners must manufacture runs via solid situtional hitting — which I will call The Wak Way — to be successful this season.
2. The return of Ken Griffey Jr., and arrival of Mike Sweeney, has given the clubhouse a totally different atmosphere. There was comaraderie in this camp, thanks largely to Sweeney and Griffey going out their way to mingle with players of all nationalities. Hopefully, the cliques that existed last season are a thing of the past. I made the comment last year that if the Mariners had a “team dinner” it had held at four different restaurants.
3. Camp coordinator (and bench coach) Ty Van Burkleo ran a smooth camp that seemed to go off without a hitch, when it came to the fundamental drills. It helped that for first time in memory, which for me goes way back to the really early ’70s, there was not one day of camp interrupted by rain. The Valley of the Sun lived up to its reputation.
4. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt had a 22-pitch game and the game didn’gt even go 15 or 16 innings! That many pitches in one day might be the most astonishing stat of the spring. Did he have any walks? Well, he had one free pass (and struck out just twice) going into today’s game, but he seems to be learning the importance of making a pitcher work hard during every at-bat.
5. You have to feel bad for Chris Shelton. He had a great spring and was leading the team in hitting (.460) when he was re-assigned to the Minor Leagues on Wednesday. That’s the price a player has to pay when he’s not on the 40-man roster. I hope Shelton goes to Tacoma, continues to work hard and hit well. Remember, the same 25 players that start the season rarely end the season. He’ll be back. Perhaps the same fate awaits outfielder Mike Wilson. He was released early in camp, 29 other MLB clubs passed on him, so he re-signed with Seattle. As of today, he leads the team in home runs (8) and RBIs (19). The eight dingers is a club record for Spring Training, and he still might not be on the 25-man Opening Day roster.
6. I’m also surprised another team, especially one from the National League, didn’t claim Mike Morse off the waiver wire. He’s a terrific hitter and would be a solid reserve for a NL team, which use its bench a lot more than AL teams. I could see Morse being a right-handed version of Phillies sub (and ex-Mariner) Greg Dobbs.
7. The biggest camp surprises were pitchers Chris Jakubauskas and Shawn Kelley. They spent the final week of camp on what Jak called “Survivor Island”, the row of lockers usually occupied by sure-fire camp cuts. They stuck around from start to finish and kudos to them.
8. Most improved: Third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo could start for many Major League teams right now, but as long as Adrian Beltre is ahead of him on the depth chart, Tui must fine-tune his game and wait for September.
9. Oh, that pitching. Granted, the playing conditions in Arizona in the spring-time favor the hitters. But a team ERA of close to seven runs a game? Yikes!
10. When camp opened, one of the big questions was who would replace J.J. Putz as the closer. As camp ends, one of the big questions is who will replace J.J. Putz as the closer.
The next stop for the team is Las Vegas for two games against the Rockies. Then it’s on to Minneapolis for the regular-season opener on Monday night, the first game in the final season of the Metrodome, a facility built for football.
The bad news is snow is in the forecast with temperatures dipping into the mid-20s at night and climbing into the 40s during the day. As you know, the Metrodome has a roof, so inclement weather is not a big deal. But it certainly will be a big deal next season — and beyond. The Twins’ new ballpark, which will open in April 2010, will be an open-air facility without a roof. What were they thinking?
May I make a suggestion — have Opening Day next year also be Earmuff/Wool blanket/Handwarmer/Seatwarmer Night.
In the meantime, thanks for the blog-action and I promise to answer as many of your emails as I can — probably during one of those upcoming cold, blustery days in Minneapolis.
— Jim Street