PEORIA, Ariz. – Tom Wilhelmsen needed only a pinch of Japanese soil to add to an international collection, and he didn’t get it.
“When we were near the temples, the grounds were so beautifully cared for, I couldn’t take anything from there,” the Seattle reliever said Saturday.
“At the ballpark, there was the mound and the area around the bases, and they worked so hard to have it perfect for us, I didn’t feel right taking it from there, either.”
Bottom line, the Japanese so impressed Wilhelmsen that he couldn’t bring himself to steal a tiny bit of earth from there.
“The people were so generous, so gracious, so anxious to help,” he said. “If you dropped something, someone would pick it up and chase you down to give it to you.
“(Wife) Cassie and I got home, and someone had delivered a package to our house – and stole our welcome mat. It was like, ‘Welcome home!’ ”
For many of the Mariners, the graciousness and excitement of the Japanese baseball fans was what struck them during their visit.
“They cheered for everyone when we were introduced,” Guillermo Quiroz said. “The crowds were huge and loud but respectful.”
“Passionate,” Justin Smoak said when asked to describe the fans.
“Friendly and patient,” Kyle Seager said. “Everywhere we went, the people were patient with us because not many of us knew a word of Japanese.”
For all that, the return flight from Tokyo to Phoenix on Friday – and the jet-lag aftermath – was a test for Seattle players, coaches and front office personnel.
“We tried to keep them awake for a while when we got here, advised them to stay awake into the evening and then try to get a good night’s sleep,” manager Eric Wedge said.
“That said, we’re all feeling it today. We’ll be better with another night of sleep.”
Miguel Olivo said he’d gone to sleep at 10 p.m. on Friday.
“Then I woke up at 2:45 a.m. and didn’t get back to sleep until 5 a.m.,” he said. “I woke up again at 7 a.m. and said, ‘The heck with it,’ and got up.”
With the Seattle team not due at the spring training complex until 1 p.m. for a Saturday night game, Olivo and others had a lot of time to kill early.
“I kept waking up, trying to go to sleep, waking up again,” reliever Steve Delabar said. “The toughest part of (Friday) night was trying to stay awake until 10 p.m.
“I had to count down the final minutes, and when I hit the bed, I was asleep within three minutes. I woke up at 2:30 a.m.,” he said.
The Mariners’ clubhouse opened early Saturday afternoon for a 6 p.m. game, and after an easy, routine workout the entire team – except starting pitcher Kevin Millwood – was sent home.
One question that made the rounds in the clubhouse was “what time does your body think it is?”
“Maybe 5:30 p.m.,” Smoak said at 1 p.m.
“No idea,” Olivo said.
“I’m not entirely sure what day it is,” Delabar admitted.
The Mariners also came back aware that some Seattle fans were disappointed in their offensive performance.
“Well, given the problems of the last couple years I guess you can’t blame them,” Seager said. “I think we’ll be fine. There’s a real positive attitude here. We’re going to hit.
“It’s a little early. Two games? We know we’ll be better.”
What does the team have to do to quiet the worriers? Smoak said it had nothing to do with home runs or batting average.
“Winning,” Smoak said. “And no one wants that more than we do.”