Old, young stoked to make Mariners roster
LARRY LARUE; Staff writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – One of them came to spring training with dreams of his first big-league opening day, the other arrived having been told he had no chance to make the roster.
Today, rookie reliever Kanekoa Texeira and veteran designated hitter Mike Sweeney are listed on the Seattle Mariners’ 2010 season-opening 25-man roster, and it’s hard to say which one is happier.
“The first time I made an opening day roster was 1997, and no one really said I was on the team after our final exhibition game in Denver,” Sweeney said. “I quietly tip-toed onto the bus, jumped on the plane and flew to Baltimore.
“It was special. I’d been in the majors before but never made an opening day roster. I imagine Kanekoa is feeling the same things I did – what a special thing it is.”
A 24-year-old right-handed reliever, Texeira was plucked from the New York Yankees system in the Rule 5 draft, which meant he had to stay with the Mariners or be offered back.
He made it a moot point, allowing one run in 14 innings of relief. Then Friday, in Albuquerque, N.M., he was torched for five hits and three runs in a single inning by the Colorado Rockies.
“I worked hard all offseason and came in hoping to open some eyes, put up some good numbers,” Texeira said. “I won’t lie – I never expected to have numbers like this. You get on a streak like this, you just want to keep it going.”
And making his first big-league team?
“These guys know my name,” he said of his teammates. “In other camps, it was, ‘Hey, No. 54!’ I’m pretty shy, but these guys brought me out. That ‘American Idol’ thing we did? That really brought everyone together.”
That “American Idol” contest was produced by Sweeney, a 36-year-old hitter who was invited to camp by two of his fans – general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu, who were honest with Sweeney.
“They basically told me I had virtually no chance to make the team,” Sweeney said. “I told them, ‘I’ll take that chance.’ All spring I thought that come Easter Sunday, I’d be going to mass in Oakland with the team or going to mass at home with my wife and kids. Those are both good things.”
Sweeney is a clubhouse factor, a man capable of teaching and teasing, bringing a team together and focusing on hard cases such as Erik Bedard and Milton Bradley.
The Mariners got Sweeney into a dozen exhibition games – and he hit .543, with six doubles, a triple, home run and 10 RBI.
“I was going to do my absolute best and accept whatever happened,” he said. “I told Jack, if he had to release me and I left a clubhouse with tears in my eyes, that was my responsibility, not his.”
Texeira throws a mid-90s fastball, a plus-change-up, a sinker and slider. This spring, he threw them all for strikes, and when the Mariners asked him if he could pitch more than one inning, he went 3 innings one game, two the next. Without allowing a run.
“About the middle of camp, I worried about jinxing myself, trying to do everything the same way,” Texeira said. “The best thing I did was decide not to think. I just pitched. I’m a regular guy on a streak, and when I called my mom and dad with the news, they were more excited than I was.
“They’re coming to that first series in Oakland to see me.”
Sweeney said before coming to camp he reflected upon his All-Star seasons with Kansas City and how he’d never been satisfied, never took the time to appreciate the small moments.
“No matter what, I was going to enjoy this spring, this club,” he said. “I fell in love with these guys last year. I love the guys here now – (Ken Griffey) Junior and I took Milton to dinner last night, and he was talking about how much he enjoyed this clubhouse.
“Making the team, I’ve achieved my personal goal. Now, we’ve got a team goal – make the playoffs. That’s something we’ll have to do as a team.”