PEORIA, Ariz. — Though the Twitter mailbag, or more specifically its author, can often be an unrelenting grumpus maximus, exhibiting all the qualities of someone 30-plus years older and grouchier, the dawn of every new baseball season brings joy, enthusiasm and even optimism.
Most years, the Mariners find ways to pummel and sink that buoyancy by July 1.
But every year, hope is rejuvenated when they play Dave Niehaus narrating “Welcome back, baseball.”
The orchestral music begins, and his unmistakable voice, which elicits such a warm, remembered feeling, says: “Someone once said, ‘You don’t grip a baseball, it grips you. It fills our days and brightens our nights over the course of a season and the span of a lifetime.’ ”
It makes your skin tighten with goose bumps.
After a 2020 season that won’t soon be forgotten for all the wrong reasons, the 2021 season, which will hopefully be a full 162 games with fans in the stands, has to be better, regardless of results on the field.
With anticipation, here is the first official mailbag of the 2021 season … as always, these are real questions submitted by the baseball believers who are my Twitter followers.
Welcome back, baseball … welcome back.
“We have a lot of outfielders; (Kyle) Lewis, (Mitch Haniger), (Taylor Trammell), (Jarred Kelenic) coming in late spring, then (Julio Rodriguez) in the next year or two. Seems like a good problem, but a problem nonetheless. They can’t all play regularly, how does this end?” — @bradnelson
“IF … Taylor Trammell, JK (Jarred Kelenic), and JROD (Julio Rodriguez) all continue to improve as expected and Klew (Kyle Lewis) and Haniger play well this year, what should Jerry (Dipoto) do?” — @SeattleJru
There were lots of variations of these two questions. What should Jerry Dipoto do if this happens? He should celebrate.
It’s a problem only if you allow it to be a problem. Baseball usually sorts itself out in these situations. It tried to do that with Kelenic and the adductor muscle strain this spring. But baseball and doctors underestimated Kelenic’s advanced recovery genetics and his motivation to make the decision to start him in the minor leagues as uncomfortable as possible for Dipoto.
I said this on the podcast, and I will say it in the mailbag: Of the group of players competing for the left field spot, Kelenic, even with his minimal 21 games above the Class AA level, is still the best of the group and the most equipped to have immediate success at the MLB level. It’s not just talent or potential; he’s just a better baseball player in every facet.
So we know Kyle Lewis will be the opening-day starter in center field, and Mitch Haniger will be in right field. We’ve also sort of expected Taylor Trammell to be the opening-day left fielder after his better-than-expected spring training showing. Manager Scott Servais announced he would either be the starting left fielder or center fielder on opening day, depending on the health of Lewis’ bruised right knee.
It’s important to note that Trammell has struck out 16 times in 43 at-bats, which is a lot, according to Mike Zunino. There’s no doubting his talent. He still looks incredibly raw at the plate at times and just as unpolished in the field. He was never considered a candidate for the opening-day roster. He played his way into consideration but also revealed obvious limitations. For all the reasons they talk about allowing Kelenic to develop and be ready, they should say the same about Trammell, who is three years older but less complete as a player.
Back to the larger question. Rodriguez still likely won’t assume an everyday role in the outfield until probably the middle of next season. By then, the designated hitter spot could be open with Ty France taking over at third base with the departure of Kyle Seager. So you could reasonably rotate the DH duties among your outfielders.
Also there is no guarantee that Haniger is still with the organization. The Mariners failed to sell high on him when they shopped him after the 2018 season. Three surgeries and basically two lost seasons later, he looks likely to be back to 100%. If he produces at his 2018 level, there will certainly be teams interested in acquiring him.
Still, the idea of trading your one of your two best hitters — and when healthy Haniger is an All-Star-caliber hitter — when you are trying to compete for a postseason spot seems counterproductive.
So why not have Kelenic, Lewis, Haniger and Rodriguez all in your batting order — one at DH — with Trammell as a bench player or in Class AAA continuing to refine his offensive game and ready to contribute when needed?
That doesn’t sound like a problem. That sounds like a solution.
“1) If, as a journalist, you had a walk-up song what would it be?
2) It had been written that Ty France had untapped potential as a hitter, but this much? Can he have sustained success over a full season?” — @Vancitysaint
To answer your first question, there was a time, well before Charlie Blackmon, when I had walk-up music. And when everyone was rolling with heavy metal or hip hop, I used “Your Love” by The Outfield as the primary song. The secondary song was “Heat of the Moment” by Asia. The emergency third song was the “Beverly Hills 90210” theme song. Yeah, I was weird.
Walkup/warm-up songs are still a minor obsession for me. I can say the Mariners have traditionally had some of the least enjoyable walk-up song choices in baseball — too much pop country and religious music — which are still better than Alex Rodriguez’s use of “Who let the dogs out?” for far too long.
As for your second question, Ty France obviously isn’t going to carry his one-time spring .400/.465/.660 slash line for an entire season. But the Mariners and opposing pro scouts believe he can carry a slash line in the .285-.300/.360-.370/.489-.500 range with 500 plate appearances in a season. And that would make him a borderline All-Star.
Following the teaching of his college coach, France has a simple approach to hitting the baseball well — get in a good position and swing at strikes.
“It’s always on the barrel,” Evan White said. “Even if he’s fooled by a pitch, he still manages to get barrel on it.”
The biggest thing that has held France back is opportunity. He just hasn’t been given a chance to play every day and put together a full season of worth of plate appearances. He will get that opportunity with the designated hitter and random days at third base, second base and first base.
“I want to get a ‘championship bottle’ of nice bourbon to crack when (if) one of my teams finally wins a title (don’t have any), price range $100-300. Any suggestions?” — @ARealFan5
For the sake of honesty, I will admit that I’m not a huge bourbon fan. I’m a fan of blended whiskeys and have really embraced my mom’s heritage of Japanese whiskys (note, no E in the spelling). Under $300, which is still above my $75 limit, would allow you to purchase the Yamazaki 18, which I once sipped on with Felix Hernandez at the annual banquet a few days before the game in Japan in 2019. The Hakashu 12 is a solid option. There is also the Ichiro Chichubu — “The first whisky.”
As for bourbon, obviously Pappy Van Winkle and its various reserve years are the most known. You could start there.
What’s worth noting is that past purchases of celebratory libations for a Mariners’ postseason berth or championship can’t help but be aged for decades.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.