Tyler O’Neill sat in the visitor’s dugout Sunday at Cheney Stadium as Marco Gonzales made his Mariners debut in Kansas City.
O’Neill, who was traded July 21 by the Mariners to the Cardinals for Gonzales, scanned his old stomping grounds as he discussed leaving the team that drafted him.
His new team, the Memphis Redbirds, capped a series victory against the Rainiers, taking three of four games.
O’Neill reflected on the phone call he received weeks earlier from Mariners director of player development Andy McKay. A phone call he didn’t see coming.
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“It was a lot to take in,” O’Neill said. “Finally playing here at home, ready to be back in the Northwest playing in Tacoma, but I had to pack up and leave everything behind.”
Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto has made a series of trades this summer to try to push Seattle to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
O’Neill made his Rainiers debut April 7 and struggled for the first month before making a few adjustments.
After batting .185 through the first month of the season, O’Neill has raised his average to .246. He’s batting .259 with 17 RBIs in 13 games with the Redbirds, who boast the best record in the Pacific Coast League.
“It’s awesome,” O’Neill said. “It’s just different. There’s a lot more rules, a little more strict, but I’m loving it so far.”
Hailing from British Columbia, Canada, O’Neill said he enjoyed playing in the Pacific Northwest, but Rainiers manager Pat Listach enhanced his experience.
“I’ve loved him ever since I started the season out here in Tacoma,” O’Neill said. “He’s always treated me well, treated me respectfully. He gave me every opportunity that he could for me to succeed, so for that, I’m grateful.”
Listach, O’Neill and O’Neill’s parents got together Saturday night for some food and conversation. Listach hadn’t spent much time with O’Neill’s parents previously, but he found similarities in O’Neill and his father, Terry, after one night. Listach said Tyler and Terry look, act, and sound alike.
“He comes from a good family,” Listach said.
On Thursday, the opening game of Tacoma’s series vs. Memphis, O’Neill walked onto his old home field for batting practice, stopping to greet his former teammates. Fans cheered when his name was announced over the public address system for the first time as a visitor. They even cheered after he smashed a home run to right field on Friday.
“It’s a great group of guys to play with (in Tacoma),” O’Neill said. “Probably the best experience of my life, as a team. Everybody just gelled really well together. There wasn’t one guy or another that I was super close with, but this group as a whole, I was blessed to play for them.”