The Mariners have hit 61 home runs this season. There have been towering moon shots, line-drive lasers, wall-scrapers and no-doubters. And all have elicited a variety of celebrations from the team.
But it would be difficult to find a homer hit thus far this season that yielded the sort of dugout celebration that Donovan Walton’s three-run blast to right off James Kaprielian in the fourth inning Monday of the Mariners’ 6-5 victory over the A’s.
It was Walton’s first big-league homer, and it wasn’t a cheap one, traveling 388 feet with a 100 mph exit velocity.
While he did hit 10 homers in 2019 for Class AA Arkansas, Walton’s diminutive size doesn’t project power.
“I knew I caught it good,” he said. “And then the first thing you do is kind of look at the right fielder and see how he reacts to it. Once I saw him stop running, I think my body went into shock. I just blacked out. My whole body, I just couldn’t feel anything. It’s what I dreamt about and envisioned about a million times through my head growing up. To happen like that in a stadium like this and with the teammates I have and the veteran guys in the clubhouse, it’s unbelievable.”
Walton rounded the bases on a pace slightly less than a sprint, but something much faster than a typical trot.
“The adrenaline was going and I just couldn’t wait to see all the guys in the dugout,” he said.
Walton said after the game his phone already was flooded with texts and voice mails.
“It’s blowing up,” he said. “It’s gonna take me a while to get back to them. I’m very, very thankful for the people around me and friends and family.”
The home run ball already is in a protective case and Walton’s plan to give it to his parents.
A fifth-round selection out of Oklahoma State in 2016, he has worked his way up through the system, playing a variety of positions in the infield and even some left field this season. Walton’s father, Rob, is the pitching coach at Oklahoma State and Seattle manager Scott Servais loves the work ethic and coach’s kid mentality Walton brings to the field.
Players have started calling him “Rudy” in reference to the movie about Notre Dame football.
“He’s become a guy everybody cheers for, no question,” Servais said. “It’s the little guy that busts his tail every day and coming up big and playing great baseball for us.”
He has a fan in catcher Tom Murphy, who was more excited and emotional talking about Walton’s homer than his own game-winning sacrifice fly.”
“Donnie Walton is one of the most-liked kids I’ve ever seen in my life,” Murphy said. “And it’s because he goes out there, he does everything right. And he’s one of those kids where you could easily point to where if he didn’t try his absolute hardest from day one in college, he probably wouldn’t be here. It really speaks to him and who he is as a player, who he is as a person. Literally 1 to 26 (players) in that dugout loves that guy. For him to have the success that we all know he’s capable of, and for him to go out there and do it and finally get his first big-league homer, that’s when you see those types of reactions. He deserves all the credit.”
Fraley provides a spark
Outfielder Jake Fraley was activated from the injured list before the game and started in right field. Infielder Eric Campbell was optioned back to Class AAA Tacoma.
Fraley missed the past 49 games with a left hamstring issue.
He made his presence felt immediately, going 2 for 3 with a double and two walks. In the six games he has played this season, Fraley has drawn 10 walks to go with three hits in 24 plate appearances for a .585 on-base percentage.
Servais said Fraley will play about five days a week.
“He’s 100% and feels really good,” Servais said. “He has no limitations and no reservations and will be running the bases hard and playing hard in the outfield.”
The Mariners made a small trade Monday, sending right-handed reliever Sam Delaplane to the Giants in exchange for cash considerations. Delaplane, 26, was designated for assignment Thursday to open a spot on the 40-man roster for pitcher Hector Santiago.
He has spent the entire season on Tacoma’s injured list after undergoing Tommy John surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow April 13. He spent all of last season at the Mariners’ alternate training site where he dealt some arm issues that also carried over into spring training.
A 23rd-round selection in the 2017 draft out of Eastern Michigan, Delaplane was rated as the No. 18 prospect in the organization by Baseball America before the season started.
Olympic qualifying features Mariners prospects
A handful of Mariners prospects are participating in the World Softball Baseball Confederation Baseball Americas Olympic qualifier for their respective countries. It features eight teams – the U.S., Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Canada, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
The Mariners’ top outfield prospect, Julio Rodriguez, made a game-saving sliding catch in the ninth inning of the Dominican Republic’s 5-2 victory over Puerto Rico in St. Lucie, Florida. Outfielder Luis Liberato, who plays for Class AAA Tacoma, hit the go-ahead homer in the sixth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Outfielder/first baseman Eric Filia, who also plays for the Rainiers, is on the roster for Team USA.
The winner of the qualifier will become the fifth national baseball team to advance to the six-team Olympics tournament in Tokyo, joining world No. 1 Japan, No. 3 South Korea, No. 5 Mexico and No. 18 Israel.
The runner-up and the third-place team in the qualifier will advance to another qualifier along with No. 4 Chinese Taipei, No 6 Australia and No. 9 Netherlands.