James Paxton’s new best friend was towering near the entrance to the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse at Safeco Field.
It was a large, stuffed bald eagle with a baseball between its talons, staring right at Paxton’s locker.
Paxton just laughed. He said he has no scarring memories of his encounter with the actual eagle, which tried to perch onto his shoulder while he was standing in left field for the national anthem before his April 5 start in Minnesota against the Twins.
“No, I think it’s cool,” he said with a laugh. “We’re good.”
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Kyle Seager and Mariners bench coach Manny Acta arranged for a trade with one of the Mariners’ fans when they noticed the woman had the stuffed eagle in the stands before one of their recent games. So they gave her an autographed Paxton jersey in exchange.
Although, Seager pleaded ignorance when asked about it.
Paxton wasn’t sure if Seager would handle it as well if the tables were turned.
“We’ll wait and see if something happens to him like that,” Paxton said. “If like a beaver comes on the field. The Seager beaver.”
And manager Scott Servais didn’t seem too concerned about the eagle’s watchful presence in the clubhouse.
“I’m fired up about the eagle,” he said in an understated tone. “Why wouldn’t we have an eagle in our clubhouse?
“But it was all Seager’s idea. He was like, ‘Hey, we need to get that eagle.’ So we got the eagle.’”
The Mariners’ communications staff has had a lot of fun with it, too. They ended a blooper reel, as the song “I Believe I Can Fly” played on the giant Safeco Field vidoeboard, with the highlight of Paxton’s undaunted experience with the eagle. And whenever he struck out a batter on Monday against the Astros, a loud eagle cry rang over the loudspeakers.
Could thing he handles it so well.
“Could you imagine if he didn’t?” Servais said.
Even general manager Jerry Dipoto was impressed with Paxton’s reaction to it.
“I can honestly say I’ve never seen that one,” Dipoto said on his weekly spot on 710-AM. “It would have led me to run away in fear and James Paxton handled that remarkably calmly. My hope is I can grow up to be like James Paxton.”
The fan with the stuffed eagle, Amy Franz, is a season-ticket holder who also created the “Ichi-meter” hit tracker above the right-field wall.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677