Wakamatsu’s focus is again on improvement for Mariners
LARRY LARUE; Staff writer
PEORIA, Ariz. – As a minor league manager, Don Wakamatsu used to hand questionnaires to his players, hoping their answers would give him some insight into their personalities.
“We had one player who was 30 years old, and one of the questions was ‘When do you see yourself making it to the big leagues?’ ” Wakamatsu said on Wednesday. “And this player said ‘In five years.’ I said, ‘So, in your mind, you’re going to be ready to play in the majors at age 35?’
“That told me all I needed to know about his mind-set.”
On the day the Seattle Mariners pitchers and catchers – all 38 of them – reported to camp and took their physicals, Wakamatsu and his coaching staff began their second year.
A big part of the plan for spring training 2010 is getting to know the 63 players who will be part of this camp, 31 of whom were not Mariners a year ago.
“A year ago, we had to put out fires left over from that 101-loss season,” Wakamatsu said. “We had players who didn’t like one another, we had cliques in the clubhouse, we didn’t play real sound team baseball.
“We laid the foundation for most of that last year, so we don’t have to deal with that now. Last season, we asked players to give us their best, have career years – and a lot of them did.
“You look at David Aardsma, a guy who didn’t have a career save, and then he saved 38 games,” Wakamatsu said. “Jose Lopez had a career high in home runs and RBI, Russell Branyan did the same, Felix Hernandez had his best year.
“Mark Lowe had a big season, Ichiro (Suzuki) had one of his best years, Franklin Gutierrrez …”
The point is, the Mariners’ coaching staff wants to be known for helping players improve, whether they’re All-Stars or minor leaguers.
“Players talk to each other, and one of the things we learned this winter was there were a lot of players out there who liked what they heard and saw from us last season,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “They wanted to be part of this, come over and contribute to this team.”
“Talent wins, no question,” Wakamatsu said. “But you have to expect results to get them, and we have to help our players reach their potential.”
Pitchers such as Erik Bedard and Ian Snell both loved what they saw of the ’09 Mariners and said Wednesday they wanted to help push the team a bit more in 2010.
“It’s like a whole new experience, being with this manager and this staff,” Snell said. “All the (things) I went through in Pittsburgh, that’s forgotten. I feel like a Seattle Mariner now.”
Pitchers and catchers go through their first workouts today, and Wakamatsu and his coaches – bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, pitching coach Rick Adair, bullpen coach John Wetteland and hitting coach Alan Cockrell, especially – will begin sitting down with players individually.
“You get to know them, you get an understanding of what they expect of themselves, and insight into who they are,” Wakamatsu said.
“A year ago, we had a young pitcher who came in with everything – great body, great arm and four pitches – but said his only real support group was his mom and dad,” Wakamatsu said. “His head was way behind the rest of him, and he lacked confidence. We had to help him believe in himself, because no one else really ever had. After talking to him, we understood his issues.”
If that sounds a little too touchy-feely for old school baseball, it’s becoming the new school of thinking with teams throughout the game. By getting to know players, Wakamatsu said, you know better how to reach them.
“We challenge our players to be their best, and our job is to help them do it,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s listening to what they expect of themselves – and guys like Ichiro and Felix Hernandez, they still think they can get better, and they’ll work their butts off to get there.”
Others, he said, need a little mental coaching.
“I had a kid come in the other day and say, ‘I feel great, I’m going to beat out this guy – and he named another player,’ ” Wakamatsu said. “I told him, ‘That’s the wrong way to think. If you say your goal is to beat out John Doe, and John Doe goes 3-for-3 on Day 1, does that mean you’re already behind?’
“The goal has to be, be your best, and you can’t do that setting up some competition in your head. It may be human nature to do it, but it will get in your way.”
Of the 31 pitchers in camp, 11 or 12 will make the opening day roster. Of the seven catchers here, two will make the team.
But all 38 of them will know well before then what Wakamatsu and his staff expect from them. And each will know he’s more than a face and a name.
Catcher Rob Johnson
, coming back from surgery to both hips this winter, is on schedule this spring but will be held back from doing too much during the first few weeks of camp. “They want me to be smart, and for the first time in my life, I’m not in baseball shape yet,” Johnson said. “By opening day, I’ll be ready, but it doesn’t make sense to hurry it.” … Kanekoa Texeira
, a 24-year-old rookie, had a full beard on Tuesday but reported to camp Wednesday clean-shaven. “Someone suggested I might not want to look quite so hairy,” Texeira said. … Catcher Steven Baron
is 19 but looks 16, and he’s a bit wide-eyed in his first big-league clubhouse. “It’s going to be strange looking over there and seeing Ken Griffey Jr.
next week,” he said. Baron’s goal for camp? “I want to mature,” he said. … Quote of the day from outfielder Greg Halman
, who sports 14 tattoos: “People say when I get older, I’ll look bad. When I’m 60, women won’t be interested in me, anyway.”… Reliever Chad Cordero
lost 25 pounds going back to August. “I haven’t been this weight since college,” he said. Cordero, who is an even 6 feet tall, once weighed 240 pounds.