Oakland – When Steve Delabar was called up to the big leagues last September, he wasn’t sure what would be expected of him – off the field – so he asked the veteran he was traveling with.
“We were both called up from Tacoma, but he’d been here before, and I never had,” Delabar said. “We talked about it, and he answered a lot of questions, which made it easier.”
Among the ironies, Saunders is three years younger than Delabar.
“When it came to the little things I had to know, I had great teammates when I first came up – Mike Sweeney, Ichiro, Chone Figgins – who really took care of me,” Saunders said. “I tried to pass what I knew on.”
Delabar is now a staple in the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen, and Saunders is their starting center fielder. Both took long paths to get where they are.
“I wasn’t penciled in to a job when spring training started, but I’d worked as hard as I ever have in the offseason, and in limited games in spring training, I thought I carried my offseason over,” Saunders said.
“Now it’s time to step it up – for all of us.”
The offseason of producing a new swing and a new plan at the plate was documented throughout camp, and Saunders batted .368 in 15 exhibition games.
After parts of three big-league seasons, what drove Saunders last fall?
“Desperation,” he said. “I didn’t want to be labeled a fourth outfielder at 25. I think I can hit, but I never had, so if I didn’t produce this spring, the team could have run out of patience.”
Then Franklin Gutierrez went down with a partially torn pectoral muscle, and a second outfielder, Mike Carp, sprained a shoulder. The Mariners were a bit desperate, too – and there was Saunders.
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he was long, a bit lanky and rock-solid in center field, and he’d hit all spring.
“I first came up at 22, and I’d never experienced much failure,” Saunders said. “Until you stand in the box night after night against major league pitchers, you don’t know how tough it is. The guys who come up at 22 and handle it all, they’re household names.”
EYE ON THE TIGER
The Masters was on television in the clubhouse before batting practice, and Miguel Olivo barely glanced at it.
“I played golf one time in Miami, and I hit the ball pretty good,” said the catcher, “but it messed up my baseball swing for a month. That was it for golf.”
What about watching?
“I watch if Tiger Woods is close,” he said. “But lately, it’s been one good hole, a couple bad ones.”
Carp and Gutierrez continue to rehabilitate injuries in Peoria, Ariz., and manager Eric Wedge said the team will re-evaluate their conditions Sunday or Monday. One or both could begin rehab assignments with a minor league team – with Gutierrez getting his early at-bats as a designated hitter. … Kevin Millwood pitched four innings against minor leaguers in Arizona on Thursday, then joined the Mariners in Oakland on Friday. He’s scheduled to pitch against Texas on Wednesday. … The youngest player on the roster is Erasmo Ramirez (21 years, 10 months), and the oldest is Ichiro (38 years, five months). … Friday night’s game came on the 35th anniversary of the first game in franchise history – April 6, 1977, against the Angels.
Seattle concludes its series in Oakland today with a 6:07 p.m. game that will be televised by Root Sports. Probable starting pitchers: Felix Hernandez (0-0, 1.13) vs. Bartolo Colon (1-0, 1.13).
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