James Paxton paused for a moment mid-sentence, making sure he didn’t misspeak. He quite clearly enunciated the words “T-Mobile Park” as part of his answer.
“I almost said Safeco Field,” he said.
To be fair, he isn’t the only one to make that slip-up in the first year of the Mariner stadium’s name change. For the entirety of his professional career up until this season, the Mariners were the only organization he’d ever known, and the emerald palace was always Safeco Field. But he has a legitimate excuse because it’s no longer his home stadium.
Change isn’t easy, and he’s been living it every day since he was traded to the Yankees for three players on Nov. 19. It was one of the many moves of the Mariners’ “step-back“/rebuild plan. Paxton lives in New York with his wife, Katie, and their labradoodle puppy. He’s had to adjust to the difficulty of pitching for the most recognizable team in baseball and the scrutiny that comes with it.
“It’s been an adjustment,” he said. “It’s definitely different. It’s not the same at all. But I feel like I’ve grown as a pitcher and learned a lot. I think I will be better for despite some obvious growing pains and getting used to it. Now it feels normal. I’m a lot more comfortable now than I was early on.”
Some of those growing pains are reflected in his 10-6 record and 4.43 ERA in 23 starts. He’s had only four outings where he didn’t allow an earned run and has struggled in the first inning of almost all of them, posting a 10.57 ERA.
On Wednesday afternoon, he will jog to the mound where he made 50 starts in his career to face the team that drafted, developed and ultimately moved on from him. He was scheduled to pitch against Seattle in New York in May, but knee discomfort landed him on the injured list just days before.
Now healthy, he’ll square off against Justus Sheffield — the key player in the Yankees’ three-player return for the trade.
“It’s like you guys drew it up that way,” Paxton said with a laugh. “Most of the time I don’t even know who is pitching against me on those days. I’m out there doing my job.”
Paxton isn’t certain what sort of response he’ll generate from the fans in attendance. He’s hopeful it will be warm.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” he said. “I’m not too concerned. I’m going to be out there doing my thing. It will just be fun to be back on the mound at T-Mobile Park.”
It should be a warm reception for the likable Paxton. He posted a 41-26 record with a 3.42 ERA in 102 starts for the Mariners.
He loved his time in Seattle, where he blossomed as a pitcher. Seattle also is the closest big-league city to his hometown of Ladner, British Columbia.
“It’s nice to be here and see some friendly faces and visit the city again,” he said. “I was definitely looking forward to getting back to see some friends and family.”
He was also hoping to hit one of his favorite restaurants, such as the Barking Frog in Woodinville, Volterra in Kirkland or Monsoon in Bellevue, but time wouldn’t allow it.
He hadn’t heard from the vocal group of fans that created “The Maple Grove” cheering section that became prominent in all of his home starts — though the group’s Twitter page said it planned to assemble for his start.
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. It will be a surprise to me and everyone.”