Manager Scott Servais said he welcomes the “edge” he expects Jarrod Dyson to bring to the Mariners, and Dyson said, in turn, that he knows exactly what that entails.
Maybe the Mariners have been just a little too comfortable to play against. Sure, you’ve got those elite power bats in the middle of the order, but no one who struck fear with their ability to cause havoc on the bases, and who made the other manager fret about what might be coming next.
“I want us to be uncomfortable to other teams,’’ manager Scott Servais said. “That’s the goal here.”
And just maybe, the Mariners have been a little too comfortable in their own clubhouse. That’s not to say they don’t have leadership, or effort. But not necessarily someone to agitate, challenge, nurture and coerce — and in the process help will the ballclub to the next rung of achievement.
Meet outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who is happily embracing both of those roles, eager be an instigator between the lines and a presence in the clubhouse. It didn’t take long into a dugout interview at Fanfest on Saturday to realize that Dyson, acquired in a January trade with the Royals, oozes personality. He admits he loves to talk, which he does with the folksy charm of his Southern roots. He doesn’t stray far from his Mississippi home in the offseason, in fact.
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“I’m like a nut in a shell down there, man,’’ he said. “I don’t go nowhere.”
Servais said he welcomes the “edge” he expects Dyson to bring to the team, and Dyson said, in turn, that he knows exactly what that entails.
“I’m fearless, man,’’ he said. “I’m not shaken up by anything.”
There are examples galore to be gleaned from Dyson’s 10 years with the Royals, who selected him with their final pick of the 2006 draft — in the 50th round — mainly because veteran scout Art Stewart was intrigued by his maximum 80 grade in speed.
From there it was a slow rise to the big leagues, where Dyson became an invaluable part-time player for the Royals and coined the phrase that became their motto: “That’s what speed do.”
He had a lightning bolt shaved into one side of his scalp and the word “zoom” on the other. When the Royals beat the A’s to move into first place on Aug. 11, 2014, in the midst of a pennant-bound breakout season, Dyson caught the final out of the game and then executed a back flip. According to the Kansas City Star, Eric Hosmer once said Dyson “controls everything” in the Royals’ clubhouse.
But his attitude, and edge, was epitomized in one play in the wild-card game against Oakland in 2014. The Royals, who had battled back from a 7-3 deficit, still trailed 7-6 in the ninth when Dyson pinch-ran at first base after Josh Willingham’s leadoff single, and was sacrificed to second.
With the entire ballpark knowing a steal was coming, Dyson swiped third base with a thundering headfirst dive, then rose to his feet, dancing and making the motorcycle revving gesture that was his trademark. He promptly scored the tying run on Nori Aoki’s sacrifice fly, and the Royals went on to win the game in the 12th.
Dyson laughed when asked what he was thinking while gesticulating on the basepaths after the steal.
“You really want to know what I was thinking? OK, I’m going to tell you. If I get caught stealing third, I better take off from right there and fly back to Mississippi and never show up again. That’s what I was thinking.
“On the other hand, if I’m safe, there’s a good chance I can help this team tie it up. When I got in there, I can’t even explain the feeling going through my body when the umpire said safe. … The excitement coming back in the dugout was like, wow, I want to do that again. It was a pressure moment for me to be on second, everyone knowing you’re stealing third at some point, and still getting there and be safe. It takes a lot of guts, man.”
It’s a quality Dyson, 32, seems to have in ample supply, to go along with a strong belief in his ability that somehow doesn’t come off in person as cocky as it sometimes might appear. He loves the challenge of stealing bases, and projects that he, Leonys Martin and Jean Segura will approach 100 among them (the entire Seattle team stole 56 last year).
Dyson also is eager to patrol the vast expanses of left field at Safeco Field (“The bigger the better. I get to showcase my speed. I got more room to run it down”) and be the Mariners’ main leadoff man, the role Servais envisions for him.
“I don’t mind going up there and taking pitches,’’ he said. “I’m not afraid to strike out. I don’t mind putting myself in a count where the guy behind me gets to see what the pitcher’s got. Not just going up there and first-pitch hacking and making an out. I’m there to set the tone, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing, setting the tone.”
Mostly, though, Dyson wants to help engineer the same baseball revival in Seattle that he experienced in Kansas City, where the Royals broke a 29-year playoff drought (14 years longer than the Mariners’ current dry spell) in 2014. The Royals that year came within one run of winning the World Series against the Giants, and then came back to win it all in 2015. Dyson scored the go-ahead run in the 12th inning of the clinching Game 5 victory over the Mets.
“When you turn the corner, it’s a great feeling, man,’’ he said. “To be a part of it is a greater feeling. When you see a team that’s not been there in awhile, and the fans know that, and you know that, it’s almost like pressure on both sides. The fans want to see it as well as the players want to see it.
“When you bring it together, man, it shows. You’re going to have the stands packed out. … When you get that, that makes you feel better as a player and makes you really want to go out there and do your job for the city. You know the drought they’ve been through. Me, I’m over here, I’m willing to help, I’m ready to help. I want to see that same excitement we had in Kansas City brought to Seattle.”
Dyson had one final — and heartbreaking — reconnection with the Royals last week when he traveled to the Dominican Republic for the funeral of close friend Yordano Ventura, who died in a car accident.
“I watched this kid grow up,’’ he said. “He was like a brother to me. I’m impacted by him every day I take the field. The guy was a special guy. It’s a sad tragedy, and to go out there and visit his country and to see all the love he had in his hometown, to see his mom torn down to pieces, man, it’s a hurt feeling.”
According to Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger, there is a feeling among some Royals coaches and executives that the ballclub will miss Dyson’s presence even more than anticipated amid the shock of losing Ventura. Here’s how Royals beat writer Rustin Dodd summed up Dyson:
“In moments, he was a swaggering hype man. In others, he was a cackling rapscallion … (and he was) a truth-teller who did not suffer fools or care about polishing his public image.”
Here’s Servais’ interpretation: “He’s a guy that will be chirping in the dugout, maybe at the umpire, maybe at the other team, maybe at some of his own teammates, and you need to have those guys.”
The Mariners’ edge has been sharpened.