It’s been a busy 18 hours here, with the Seattle Sports Star Of The Year awards last night, and then the Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon today. The media luncheon always serves as a wake-up call for me: it means the season is coming soon, and I better start prepping.
There is a lot to cover. I’m going to do it bullet-points style, because a) I’m lazy in the winter and b) I want to finish before Pac-12 Thursday tips off.
- Major congratulations are in order to my occasional broadcast partner Bob Robertson, who was the recipient of the Keith Jackson Award on Wednesday night. After being introduced by Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, Bob received a standing ovation from the crowd at Benaroya Hall. Not surprisingly, Bob gave an outstanding speech (the surprise was in his attire: Bob wore a suit!).
- In his speech, Robertson touched on his long broadcast career, which began when he graduated from Blaine High School in 1947. He has called games for nearly every college in the state of Washington, and of course he’s been the voice of Washington State football for 44 years. He has never missed a broadcast – 508 games, through 2012.
- Robertson also called baseball games for the old Seattle Rainiers of the PCL, and of course the Tacoma Giants, Cubs, Twins, Tigers, Rainiers, etc…
- You might not know that Robertson broadcast a lot of soccer games earlier in his career – he enjoyed it. He called a professional soccer game at the Kingdome right when it opened, and last night he quipped that at that first game he “never would have guessed that he would out-live the building.”
- Other than Bob’s speech, the next-best thing to happen at the Seattle Sports Awards was the duo of Jay Buhner and original Guns N Roses guitarist Duff McKagen presenting the Pro Athlete of the Year Award. What would you give to sit in as those two spent the night swapping stories?
- Special thanks to Mortenson Construction for letting me tag along as their guest at the awards.
Moving on to the Mariners event this morning, it was fun to see so many former Rainiers players who are now in the picture with the Seattle Mariners. I mean literally in the picture – here’s Mike Carp (left) and Michael Saunders (right) addressing the gathered media.
- Saunders had quite a revelation: he has worked hard with a private hitting coach during the off-season, as he looks to better utilize the lower half of his body. He did lots of video work with his coach – Mike Bard, catcher Josh’s older brother – and he not only watched himself, but also several of the game’s best hitters to see what they are doing. Saunders said he is “the most comfortable I have ever been going into spring training.”
- On a personal note, Saunders moved to Castle Rock, Colorado to be close to his wife’s friends and family. Castle Rock is half-way between Denver and Colorado Springs – the Rainiers team bus drives through the town four times a year. Not surprisingly, the city is named after a massive castle-shaped rock that sits atop a hill.
- Carp and Saunders have worked out extensively together in Santa Barbara, CA doing a “P3” workout. I have no idea what that is/means – although I am familiar with the “PS3” workout, which strengthens thumbs.
- To my eye, both Carp and Saunders appear to be in terrific shape. They were also in a good mood – after lunch they left with Rick Rizzs, The Moose, and a few others to go on Mariners Caravan stops back here in Tacoma, including a visit to the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
- Carp touched a little bit on the passing of his buddy Greg Halman, and he said that he has stayed in touch with Greg’s family. One of my spies told me that Carp added to his tattoo collection with a Halman memorial piece.
- On that subject, the Rainiers have plans in the works to honor Halman – an announcement will come as opening day draws closer. I also heard a terrific idea to honor Halman that the Mariners are considering.
There was much more Mariners major league news at the media event. I’m going to let the major league writers cover that – I’ll provide all of the links in Friday’s blog. However, I also picked up some nuggets about the Tacoma Rainiers 2012 team. More bullet points!
- The Mariners official roster lists hitting prospect Vincent Catricala as an outfielder, but new Mariners Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn said “versatility is an asset” and Catricala will play multiple positions this year. My opinion: look for Catricala to make the Rainiers opening day roster, and see time at first base and in the outfield.
- Assistant General Manager Tony Blengino said that the Mariners “are going to be young at Triple-A and Double-A.” My opinion: the Rainiers will be young at the positions, but the pitching staff might be a bit older. They’ve signed a lot of veteran minor leaguers to fill the staff.
- Don’t get your hopes up on seeing Kevin Millwood in a Rainiers uniform. Even though the former All-Star is on a minor league contract, it appears as if he has a very good chance of making the Mariners starting rotation. Both Eric Wedge and Jack Z mentioned that they hope Millwood can be a positive in the big leagues.
- I heard a rave about infielder Eric Campbell, a former second-round pick of the Atlanta Braves whom the Mariners signed as a minor league free agent. Apparently Campbell has looked good trying to learn second base, and he’s also impressed at the plate. He’s 26-years-old and has some power – could be a nice pick-up for the Rainiers.
- On the pitching side, I’ll be keeping an eye out for pitcher Philippe Valiquette in spring training. The hard-throwing lefty reliever missed all of 2011 with an injury, but I heard that he is healthy now and has an opportunity to make the Rainiers bullpen. The Mariners invited him to big league camp, so he’ll definitely get a chance to show his stuff.
- The outfield situation is going to be a real battle royale for jobs in spring training. The Mariners appear to be going with Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Carp, Casper Wells, and Chone Figgins as the jack-of-all-trades. Michael Saunders and Trayvon Robinson will try to play their way into that mix, but might end up in Tacoma. Then we have Mike Wilson, Darren Ford, Catricala, Johermyn Chavez, Carlos Peguero, Johan Limonta, and Chih-Hsein Chiang in the mix, with Jake Shaffer and Jamie McOwen standing by. What a mess!
- A source told me that Tacoma fan favorite Matt Tuiasosopo is currently weighing offers from three different National League teams, deciding which presents the best opportunity to return to the major leagues. On the all-time Tacoma statistical leaderboards, Tui ranks 4th in runs scored, 15th in hits, 6th in doubles, 14th in home runs, 10th in RBI, 8th in walks, and 2nd in strikeouts. That’s what roughly three full seasons in the Tacoma lineup will get you.
- Big congrats to pitcher Forrest Snow, who was invited to big league spring training camp. Snow went from 36th round draft pick to MLB spring training in just one-and-a-half years. Seriously, who does that?
- File this one under bad for him, but good for us: there was no talk whatsoever about Alex Liddi making the big league club. We’ll take him!
- Ex-Rainiers trainer Rob Nodine was at the luncheon – I assume for the free food. Now the Mariners assistant trainer, Nodine is looking for some quality family time before heading to Arizona in ten days.
It was a fun day at Safeco – part of the fun is seeing all of the people you haven’t seen since September. I’m ready for the season to start.
Check back Friday mid-day; I’ll have all of the Mariners links from the real sportswriters.