This is the Mariners stepping up, not stepping timidly to the side when the dollars got into the stratosphere. And this is what Mariners fans have been clamoring for.
Richie Sexson is so reassured about the health of his shoulder after the Mariners’ no-joints-unturned physical examination that “I feel like going out and, I don’t know, jumping on the monkey bar and doing flips.”
If you’re a Mariners fan, you should be doing cartwheels right behind him. For this is what you’ve been clamoring for since, oh, about the time they had a dire need for a big bat down the stretch in ’00 and came up with … Al Martin.
This is the Mariners stepping up, not stepping timidly to the side when the dollars got into the stratosphere. This is the Mariners getting involved in a bidding war, and making a pre-emptive strike, not a premeditated retreat.
This is the Mariners doing precisely what they have to do in the flaming ruins of a 99-loss season, when their credibility is on the line among fans who want to be convinced that they’ll pay the price to win. Even the most cynical Lincoln-basher would have to admit that four years and $50 million for Sexson is a very nice start.
And if the other shoe should drop, as now seems tantalizingly possible, and yesterday’s Sexson unveiling is followed shortly by the pickup of third baseman Adrian Beltre, well, then, Mariners fans will move past cartwheels and be doing backflips down Edgar Martinez Drive.
For the Mariners, it was desperately important to get one of the sluggers on their wish list to say yes, to get the rebuilding rolling and help lure another skeptical big bat their way.
Seattle, with all its natural beauty and the lure of sparkling Safeco Field, is not always an easy sell to ballplayers leery of being isolated in the upper-left corner, with all that extra travel. Throw in a wretched last-place team that had to sell itself against powerhouses like the Yankees and Red Sox, and it was no lock that it could get one of the elite, even if the money was right.
“Now that everything is over and I’m here, I can say it this is where I wanted to be from day one,” Sexson said. “It would have been tough playing anywhere else. I wanted to play in Seattle, for sure.”
So Sexson wasn’t a hard sell at all, and when he came up to the Mariners’ suite to meet with their top brass last weekend in Anaheim during the winter meetings, it wasn’t long at all before the two sides had a handshake agreement.
Not even last place was going to keep the pride of Brush Prairie, the tiny town near Vancouver, Wash., away from his dream of playing in Seattle. This is a guy, mind you, who’s buddies with Ray Allen from their Milwaukee days, who grew up as a Jim Presley fan, and is a Huskies fanatic who wants to buy a house near Husky Stadium “so I can hear that horn every time they score.”
All 99 losses meant to him after playing for five straight teams that lost near or over 100 games is one more chance to be part of a turnaround.
“Anybody who’s followed Seattle at all knows they were disappointed with last season, and knows they want to fight their way out of that,” he said. “I want to be a huge part of that. … They’re one or two moves away from being really, really good here.”
Even as Close was telling reporters on Monday that Sexson had no physical examination scheduled, and that negotiations with other teams, particularly Baltimore, were still open, Sexson was preparing for the mother of all physicals in Seattle that day a rigorous exam he jokingly referred to as “a NASA experiment.”
The big guy and at 6 feet 8, he “blocks out the sun,” as GM Bill Bavasi put it, and is “so big he could hunt bear with a switch,” as team doctor Larry Pedegana put it passed with as much certainty as one can receive, coming off June surgery for a torn labrum.
The Diamondbacks’ doctors had reportedly said he had a 10 percent chance of a recurrence. Sexson didn’t deny it.
“Yeah, and there’s a 10 percent chance yours could do it, too,” he said to a reporter. “I don’t think you can ever put 100 percent on any player. If I can get 90 percent, that’s pretty darned good.”
The best news for Sexson and the Mariners is that the shoulder feels great; indeed, he’s been swinging full speed for three weeks now, and declared: “Really, I’m done with my shoulder. I think I’ve moved on from that.”
Right now, Sexson might be the happiest guy in the Puget Sound, except maybe for the M’s season ticket holders drooling over a lineup that actually has a 40-homer guy to knock around Ichiro. And another one, just maybe, on deck.
For Sexson, it’s a far cry from the misery of last season, when his shoulder injury limited him to 23 games after Arizona traded a quarter of its team to get him.
“Last year was the worst experience I’ve gone through as an athlete,” he said. “Pride takes over, then guilt. All kinds of stuff runs through your head. At least one good thing, I had good family and people telling me it’s not my fault, because it sure feels like it.”
Right now, guilt is off the table, for Sexson and the Mariners. He’s exactly where he wanted to be all along in Seattle, with a big-market team that’s actually acting like it.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.