If there was any doubt about how seriously the Mariners and manager Scott Servais are taking the fight for social justice and raising awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement, they made it clear before their opening game Friday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
During pregame workouts, Mariners players and coaches were clad in black T-shirts with the words “Black Lives Matter” in block lettering on the front.
The Mariners have 10 Black players on their opening-day roster, the most in Major League Baseball. And that group has been vocal and active on social media following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.
Servais wore the shirt during his pregame video media session with reporters. He was asked whether players would kneel or orchestrate any sort of showing of unity during the national anthem or before the game besides the shirts.
During the two opening games on Thursday night at Nats Park in Washington, D.C., and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, there were similar displays of unity. Before the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” players from both teams lined up along the baselines, holding a long piece of black cloth that went from foul pole to foul pole for a moment of silence for the people lost due to racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A similar display of unity was done at Minute Maid Park with every member of the Mariners team and staff kneeling with almost of all of the Astros, save for two or three players. All of the Mariners rose for the national anthem and stood for it. This wasn’t by order from Servais or the organization.
Six of the Mariners’ Black players — Dee Gordon, Justus Sheffield, Shed Long Jr., Mallex Smith, J.P. Crawford and Kyle Lewis — did raise their right fists during the playing of the anthem in a form of protest.
“It means a lot just to be a team with so many African-American players and be able to represent that community as well,” Lewis said. “We were able to come together and just show unity with the whole team too. I appreciate all my teammates and everybody coming together and just showing unity. It really means a lot to everybody in that clubhouse.”
Lewis said that Gordon has been a leader about this subject and decided to do the raised fist instead of kneeling.
“It’s kind of a trickle-down effect from him and we just feed off that energy and move as a unit,” Lewis said. “He spoke with all the players about it. And we’ve been speaking for a while about this.”
Forms of protest and how they were going to handle the anthem have been a part of discussions in several team meetings. Servais vowed to have his Black players lead serious and frank discussions about understanding racial injustice and educating teammates to what they have experienced in their lives.
“We’ve talked about it multiple times,” Servais said before the game. “I feel really good about the conversations we’ve had. We met again yesterday. The leadership group, they’ve got a good plan in place and we talked about it as a team.”
If a player decided to do more than what was discussed, Servais wouldn’t have any issues with the decisions.
“We’ll pay our respects during the program before the game,” he said. “But I’ve said all along that, and I will continue to say it — the beauty of our country is the freedom of choice. We have to respect people in whatever they do. I want all of our guys to know that I support them in whatever they choose to do. The more we talk and learn from each other that’s how you really induce change. That’s what this is about. It’s about change. We are in a good spot with that. I don’t know what every player is going to do, nor should I. It’s not for me to judge. We’ll continue to talk about it as the season goes on.”
Lewis and other Black players have been complimentary of the efforts of Servais, the coaching staff and their teammates in their willingness to be open and listen.
“Yeah, absolutely, I’ve been pleased with that,” he said. “I feel like everybody is trying to learn and be cooperative and be supportive whenever they can. I’m really appreciative of that. And I don’t have anything negative to say.”
The Mariners’ 30-man roster is the youngest in Major League Baseball with an average age of 27 years, 259 days. The Padres (27 years, 349 days), Marlins (28 years, 17 days) and Tigers (28 years, 29 days) are the next three youngest teams. Seattle’s roster includes five players with at least four years of MLB service time — Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon, Kendall Graveman, Bryan Shaw and Taijuan Walker — and 14 with less than one year of service time.
How young are the Mariners? They have 10 players making their first appearance on an opening-day roster: Justin Dunn, Kyle Lewis, Shed Long Jr., Tim Lopes, Matt Magill, Anthony Misiewicz, José Marmolejos, Austin Nola, Yohan Ramirez, Justus Sheffield and Evan White.
Misiewicz and Ramirez will be making their MLB debut when they appear in their first game. White and Marmolejos debuted Friday night.
For Marmolejos, his debut was a long time coming. Signed as a minor-league free agent in the offseason, he had spent nine years in the minor leagues, played in 840 games and made 3,440 plate appearance before his debut. Having his first MLB plate appearance come against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander was definitely a “Welcome to the big leagues” moment.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to Houston for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
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