It’s been a while since Adam Conley has been to the ballpark where he grew up watching baseball.
But, Monday afternoon, the Olympia High School product stepped onto the grass at Safeco Field, delighted to return to the Northwest.
“I love it,” Conley said. “I was outside running and throwing. … I’ve spent a lot of time here, so it’s really good to be back.”
Conley last pitched at Safeco in the Class 4A state semifinals as high school senior. He visited the park in 2011, to watch the Marlins play the Mariners, shortly after the Florida club drafted him in the second round out of Washington State.
But it’s a rare trip.
“I’ve been blessed that my job has brought me back to this place,” Conley said. “To be here, not just in the Northwest, but be here at Safeco Field to play a major league baseball game.”
The left-hander is entering his third season with the Marlins, after pitching in 40 games during his first two, compiling a 12-7 record.
Miami manager Don Mattingly said the body of work Conley has produced so far is telling of his pitching development, despite a shaky spring.
“I think we knew what he was made of, and knew what kind of kid he was,” Mattingly said. “So we felt like he would bounce into the season.”
Conley said Mattingly advised him to just go out and compete once the regular season started, and any kinks would work themselves out.
“Something that really never goes away for guys that make it to this level is your ability to compete,” Conley said. “When you get a hitter in the box and you’re going out there trying to win a game, there’s an extra gear there.”
Conley (1-1, 3.75 ERA) has pitched in three games this season, including a quality start in a no-decision on Saturday against the Mets, during which he gave up four runs on three hits in six innings, and struck out two.
But, that start — delayed by an emergency, extra-innings relief appearance on Thursday — means Conley will miss the Seattle series.
He was originally scheduled to pitch in the finale Wednesday against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, and said he wouldn’t say no to another bizarre relief appearance if it meant he could pitch at Safeco again.
“I’m really hoping someday I get to pitch here,” Conley said. “The last time I pitched here, it was my senior year in high school. It was my last high school game ever.
“I always wanted to come back here and play in the big leagues. Hopefully I get that opportunity.”
Though Conley isn’t scheduled to pitch, several community members still plan to attend the series.
Olympia boys basketball coach John Kiley, a close friend of Conley’s who orchestrated hanging his Marlins jersey at the high school, is headed to Tuesday’s game.
“I think there were busloads if and when he was pitching,” Kiley said. “A lot of people around here are still going to make a trek.
“The whole community is proud of what he’s done. When he comes back, he gives time, energy and resources. He is truly a community icon.”
Conley said several friends and family — including his roommate at WSU, Rick Maxwell, and Nate O’Brien, both of whom played for the Bears — have reached out to reunite.
“I just feel so fortunate now, living the life that I’ve been blessed with, to be back here in Safeco Field, to be back in the Northwest, and see these friends and family that I’ve grown up with,” Conley said.
“They’ve known me, they’ve taken care of me. It’s just a really exciting time for me, and I’m humbled to be here.”
Conley noted the long journey since his senior season in 2008, when he set several single-season records, including wins (eight), opponent batting average (.129) and strikeouts (86).
Playing with one teammate in particular — who is also making a return to Seattle this week — helps put in perspective just how far he’s come.
Conley was the winning pitcher in Colorado last August when Ichiro Suzuki reached 3,000 hits.
And, the days he bats after the former Seattle star, he often is tasked with laying down a sacrifice bunt to advance Ichiro.
“It’s a little crazy that I grew up in the Northwest watching this guy play for the Mariners, and now, here I am bunting him to second base,” Conley said.
He told teammates about that game he attended in 2011, just after he was drafted, when Ichiro was still with Seattle. He was watching the team he would one day play for, and a beloved player he would one day play with.
“I definitely have great memories here,” Conley said. “There’s always a part of me, when I come back here, that embraces the Northwest.”