After missing three workouts last week to stay at home with his wife, Joalisya, who wasn’t feeling well, and to take care of their 5-month-old daughter, Demi, so his wife could get adequate rest, Dee Gordon returned to Mariners’ Summer Camp on Saturday admittedly a little sleepy from full-time daddy duty.
“If we had regular-season games, I would’ve been there,” he said.
But in his first intrasquad game Saturday, he tallied three hits in five at-bats while driving in a run. On Sunday, he added another RBI double while handling shortstop duties with ease.
The energy, joy and passion that fills him the moment he steps on a baseball field, playing the game that carried him out of the rough areas of Avon Park, Florida, and into the big leagues, will overcome any sleep deprivation.
In the echoing confines of an empty T-Mobile Park, playing his teammates in a meaningless game, Gordon can be heard cajoling teammates, celebrating their success and trash talking the teammates who happen to be playing against him that day.
Several players lamented the feeling of life without baseball during the shutdown and how much they missed it. Gordon has always known that aching pang of being without it. It follows him.
“To be honest, I didn’t miss it because I play with a joy and love every single day,” he said. “It didn’t take a pandemic for me to miss baseball. I miss it every day I’m not playing it. And I miss it every day I don’t get to play [in the season].”
There is a strong chance that he is going to have that awful longing feeling far more than he’s ever experienced since his rookie days with the Dodgers.
With the Mariners pushing their rebuild plan, his friend, Shed Long Jr., is going to see the bulk of the playing time at second base. Gordon has been asked to serve as a utility backup – filling in at second, shortstop, third base and even outfield if needed.
It’s not what he wants. But he also knows it’s out of his control. And he won’t raise hell or be a distraction about it. That’s not how he was taught the game. Whatever gets him on the field and gets him at-bats, he’s going to do it.
“I’m just going to play baseball,” he said. “Baseball always takes care of everything. No matter what’s put in front of you, baseball always find a way to take of you, if you are doing the right things. I’m going to continue to do the right things and we’ll see what happens.”
Knowing they wanted to play Long as much as possible at second base going into the season, even before the pandemic, the Mariners tried to trade Gordon, who is in the final year of his contract. But the combination of his $14 million salary and $1 million buyout and the injuries that led to diminished production the past two seasons didn’t lead to much of a market. But with Gordon’s salary reduced to $5.3 million in a 60-game season perhaps the Mariners could hope a team needs help in the coming weeks.
While some players with similar financial security and free agency looming after the season opted to sit out 2020, Gordon never once considered it. A whole year without baseball?
Gordon’s mother was murdered when he was just a boy and the hurt and regret of knowing she never got to see him play in the big leagues makes him dream of the day when Demi sees him play and can remember it.
“My decision to play baseball never wavered at all,” he said. “I love this game too much. I’m having too much fun being in the major leagues, and I would never want to miss out on the opportunity to be in the majors. No disrespect to no one else because everybody has little kids just like myself. I have a fantastic wife, who has my back.”
So while he’s going to play the game for his family, he also plans to wear a mask at all times to protect them.
“To be totally, totally honest with you, it’s more to keep my daughter and my family protected,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen when we travel to these games or anything like that. So I just want to keep my family protected. I don’t want to come and bring something back to my family that could hurt my wife or my daughter.”
Hirano joins summer camp
Mariners manager Scott Servais confirmed earlier reports from multiple news outlets in Japan that veteran reliever Yoshihisa Hirano had cleared intake testing protocols and was on the field Saturday during the morning workout session, playing catch in the outfield.
“We want to get him out there and in some [intrasquad] games and competition as quick as possible,” Servais said. “It’s great that he’s in camp. He’s happy to be here. Hopefully, we can ramp him up as quick as possible.”
Per the Kyodo News, Hirano, who turned 36 in March, tested positive for COVID-19 on June 25 and battled the common symptoms, including a high fever of around 102 degrees that didn’t allow him to train or condition. He told reporters his first of two required negative tests came July 6.
He is the first and only known Japanese player to test positive in MLB. The Mariners placed him on the COVID injured list Tuesday. Unlike the common 10-day injured list, there is no minimum or maximum limit on how long a player can be on it. Given how much time he has missed and the extended period without physical activity it seems unlikely that Hirano would be activated and placed on the opening-day roster for Friday’s game in Houston.
“He got in camp yesterday, he’ll start throwing some bullpens and we’ll see where he’s at arm strength-wise,” Servais said. “We’ll wait and see. There’s a very short window until we open up in Houston, so is he going to be ready for that? I don’t know. That may be a stretch.”
Seattle signed Hirano to a one-year, $1.6 million contract in the offseason after spending the past two seasons with the Diamondbacks. Last season, he posted a 5-5 record with a save and a 4.75 ERA (28 earned runs, 53 innings pitched) with 22 walks and 61 strikeouts in 62 relief appearances.
After naming Justin Verlander as his opening-day starter a few days ago, Astros manager Dusty Baker announced his projected starting rotation for the season-opening series against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park.
Barring injury or last-second changes for either team, the starting pitching matchups set up like this:
- Friday, July 24 – 6:10 p.m. PT: Marco Gonzales, LHP, vs. Justin Verlander, RHP
- Saturday, July 25 – 1:10 p.m. PT: Taijuan Walker, RHP, vs. Lance McCullers, RHP
- Sunday, July 26 – 11:10 a.m. PT: Yusei Kikuchi, LHP, vs. Zack Greinke, RHP
- Monday, July 27 – 4:10 p.m. PT : Kendall Graveman, RHP, vs. Josh James, RHP