Let’s keep in mind that this is spring training, where the optimism is so thick you need a machete to navigate the clubhouse.
PEORIA, Ariz. — “Our roster is questionable and there’s a lot of uncertainty, so I just don’t know if this going to be a good year.”
— No professional athlete ever.
Let’s keep in mind that this is spring training, where the optimism is so thick you need a machete to navigate the clubhouse. Thirty teams are playoff-bound, and 1,200 players are “a great fit for our club.”
So while you shouldn’t get too amped over any high praise, the following should still be noted: The returning Mariners seem genuinely excited about all the changes to their team.
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“The vibe is definitely different now,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “I’m looking forward to this.”
First-year manager Scott Servais said he wrote an elaborate speech that he planned to give his players on the first day of full-squad workouts Thursday, but ended up scrapping it. Looking back on his 27 previous spring trainings, he realized he couldn’t remember a single thing the manager said on Day 1, so there was no need to go full-blown Churchill.
But he still wanted to send a message. He wanted to instill a mindset. He wanted to ensure that, with the proper attention to detail, the wholesale changes to the roster would lead to wholesale changes in results.
“It’s a little different out there,” Mariners ace Felix Hernandez said. “We do a lot of stuff different now, but it’s good, too.”
Seattle catcher Mike Zunino noted how the atmosphere feels relaxed, but not in an unproductive way. Baseball-related activities, he said, are organized and precise, but there is an element of ice-breaking that the previous regime didn’t implement.
No, returning players aren’t asking new acquisitions to close their eyes and fall backward into their arms. It’s just that Servais wants everybody to know each other as men and not just co-workers.
“A lot of it’s just ‘Say your name. Where are you from? What are your interests? What are your hobbies?’ just stuff where you can start dialogues and get to know them on a personal basis, so that down the road the trust factor is still there,” Zunino said. “It’s a huge part, because it’s not only going to be 25 guys up here throughout the year; it’s going to be 40 guys if not more who are going to be in here. So getting to put names to faces will help give us that seamless transition when people come up to contribute.”
Of course, a catcher learning that a pitcher enjoys origami and stamp collecting isn’t going to matter much if they aren’t playing well. The stat geeks haven’t come up with a metric for Hobbies Shared per Plate Appearance yet.
At the end, middle and beginning of the day, it’s about what you can contribute between the lines — and that’s what the Mariners are curious to see.
You have to think that part of the reason the “vibe” is different from last year is because there aren’t sincere expectations of a playoff run among pundits and fans. This isn’t a team that won 88 games before adding Nelson Cruz — it’s one that won 76 games before adding a flurry of names that have never walked Major League Baseball’s red carpet.
Doesn’t mean the M’s don’t still think they can win. They just know the blueprint for winning got a complete redesign.
“The changes that were made made a lot of sense,” Seager said. “Players are more athletic. We’re faster on the basepaths. There’s a lot more tempo around here.”
Obviously, faster personnel doesn’t guarantee an accelerated win total. Plenty of general managers have inspired fans in the winter only to incense them in the spring. For now, though, this Seattle team seems jazzed about what it can accomplish this season.
As fans, you don’t have to be sold, but you should know the Mariners have bought in.