Mariners manager Scott Servais came up with the team slogan of "Whatever it Takes" for 2017. Will it be a rally cry to success?
PEORIA, Ariz. — “They’re everywhere,” Felix Hernandez said.
Well, that may be a mild overstatement.
But within the confines of the Mariners’ spring training complex, it may feel that way.
The 2017 Mariners’ team slogan of “Whatever It Takes” is featured prominently in any place the players might be with an assortment of signage.
There’s a large poster of the team celebrating one of their walk-off wins last season with the words “Whatever It Takes” outside manager Scott Servais’ office. Players going in and out of the clubhouse can’t miss it.
There’s another large banner with the same words hanging in the performance center/weight room, looming over the players as they get in their workouts.
In the player’s clubhouse there are two more signs, one on each end. On one wall near the clubhouse manager’s office where Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura and Leonys Martin have their lockers, there is a poster with the slogan written in Spanish reading: “Lo Que Sea Necesario.”
And at the opposite end of the clubhouse where the players exit to head out to the fields, there is another sign reading “Whatever It Takes” over the door. Players don’t quite hit it with their hands when they walk out to the practice field like Notre Dame football players do to the “Play Like A Champion Today” sign in the tunnel leading to Notre Dame Stadium, but knowing Servais’ love of all things football, he probably wouldn’t mind it.
He was the creator of the team mantra. Three words were enough to get his point across for this season.
“That’s it,” he said. “Pretty simple. Last year it was, ‘Are you ready?’ We talked about our preparation and how it had to improve and I think we did a good job there, from our everyday work to how we were preparing in meetings and how we took the analytical information and all the numbers and put that in play. We were really prepared and we’ll build on that this year.”
The implication is that it stands for “Whatever It Takes” to make the playoffs — something the Mariners haven’t done since 2001, the longest current drought in baseball. But to Servais it can be applied to everything they do on the field and off in preparation.
“The ‘Whatever It Takes thing is for me, where we’re at as an organization,” he said. “Our time is now.”
There was no cathartic moment where idea of the slogan came to him. It didn’t come from one of his many coaching and leadership books that he’s read. It came from looking back on the year that was and the year ahead.”
“I have all winter to do this,” he said laughing. “It takes a little while and evolves. I start with seven or eight and get it down to one. Little different theme this year.”
With a revamped team in a different season, a new slogan was needed.
“The one thing I learned early on as a player is that every year is different,” Servais said. “You always think whatever happened last year is going to carry over. But we have a different team. Is it all going to gel together and how quick is it going to come together? On paper, I like our team a lot. I think we may be a tick better than we were last year. Our time is now.”
It was a topic of discussion in Servais’ team address on Monday morning — the first time the entire squad has been together.
“It was short, brief, to the point,” he said. “A lot of times guys aren’t going to remember what you said, it’s more in the delivery. I think they see how passionate I am about us taking the next step. I certainly brought up things that happened at the end of the year last year.”
The reminder of being eliminated from the postseason race in Game 161 resonated with the returning players, not that they had forgotten.
“I remember the feeling after that game,” said infielder Shawn O’Malley said “It was upsetting. It just felt like your heart sunk in your stomach. We got kind of a taste it of in that fight to the end with that push, and you can’t take anything away from what we did. We just fell a little short. That feeling doesn’t go away. We still remember it.”
So while the slogan seems self evident, what does it mean to the players? The answers are all a little different, but some common themes arise.
“You’ve got to play selfless not selfish,” said Shawn O’Malley. “Everybody has each other’s backs and everybody picks up each other. Doing all the small things right to make one thing great.”
Said catcher Mike Zunino: “To me, when you play 162 games and you have two or three games where you look back and think, ‘we could have won that game and what more you could have done,’ and whatever it takes means you put it all out there for 162. At the end of the year, you want to be able to look back and say that you tried to take every opportunity that was there.”
But Zunino quickly pointed out that it wasn’t just about the games in the season. It starts before that.
“Don’t take any days for granted,” he said. “Don’t take any days off. Especially here in spring where you can really get work in and get ready for the season.”
Of course, no mantra and philosophy would work if the top players/leaders on the team don’t buy in to help perpetuate it. Servais met with his “leadership core” of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez about the team slogan and the upcoming season before addressing the team as a whole.
“I know meeting with our core group of guys before I had the meeting yesterday, the first thing they wanted to talk about was Game 161 last year,” Servais said. “They quickly that brought up how important the games in April and May and throughout the season are. You can’t just look at what happens the last week of the season.”
A year ago, they bought into his ideas and it has continued.
“Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone — whatever it might be,” said Nelson Cruz. “If it means I have to hit a groundball to second base, whatever it takes. If you have to take one for the team, you’ve got to take it. Just compete. You’re not going to feel 100 percent every day. But you have to go compete every day and find a way to get it done.”
Cruz can identify with it easily because it’s how he has got himself to this point in his career. Teammates marvel at the ferocity with which he plays. Having the star players buy in kind of forces guys at the bottom of the roster to do the same.
“When you have a core group like that who plays hard every game and plays like 161 games out of a 162-game season, it’s motivating to you,” O’Malley said. “It brings up the morale of the team. You’ve got guys that are where those guys are at and still bringing it every day, it makes you want to do the same.”
But will they follow that lead?
“I think that’s what could be special about this team,” Zunino said. “We’ve brought in guys that are selfless and willing to play for the team and play at the highest level and do whatever needs to be done to win.”
Servais was quick to point out that “Whatever It Takes” isn’t just for the players, but a team-wide philosophy, extending to the staff.
In the end, it’s still only simple three words. The Mariners hope it’s their rallying cry that helps spur them back to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
“Our guys are in a really good spot,” Servais said. “They understand the makeup of our team, what’s going to be important to take the next step. And it’s up to me to hold them accountable and make sure that happens.”