Mike Cameron, a former All-Star for the Seattle Mariners, spent many of his afternoons this week roaming the outfield at Cheney Stadium.
And, as Triple-A Tacoma took batting or fielding practice each day, Cameron usually had Rainiers center fielder Mallex Smith at his side.
Smith has played parts of four major league seasons with Atlanta, Tampa Bay — where he tied for the American League lead in triples last season with 10 and stole 40 bases — and now Seattle.
The Mariners optioned the 26-year-old to Triple-A at the end of April following a shaky start to the season. Cameron is on assignment in Tacoma, in part, to help Smith get back on track.
“It shows that the team cares about me, and he cares about me,” Smith said. “It’s a very comfortable feeling to have a guy like that come in and take you under his wing.
“You soak up as much as you can, and try to apply as much knowledge as you can that you’ve learned.”
Cameron retired in 2012 after a 17-year career during which he played for eight different clubs. He played four seasons with Seattle, which included his All-Star selection in 2001, and two of his three Gold Gloves.
He returned to the Mariners last month, joining the player development staff as a Special Assignment coach, will primarily work with the minor league teams, and occasionally the big league club.
“It’s a special comfort zone, and I think that’s always a good thing,” Cameron said. “I was only here for four years, but I felt like this was home for me. Some of the best experiences and best years of my career were here.”
Cameron’s trip to Tacoma this week was his first. He said he was rerouted to work with Smith and the Rainiers, and spent the final three days of their homestand with them.
Standing near the dugout Wednesday afternoon, working to mold Smith’s glove with a baseball, Cameron said he hoped to offer Smith and the other players in Tacoma some insights about his baseball experience to reinforce their strengths, and perhaps help iron out some weaknesses.
“From a mentality of really giving them another opinion or option,” Cameron said. “Like, I would tell Mallex in the outfield, I would say, ‘This is how I got warmed up, and got myself prepared to play on a daily basis, you know, confident.’
“Big league baseball is so fast, so you have to find some comfort in slowing it down. Right now, I think the game has sped up on him a little bit, and that’s one of the biggest things we’re trying to get through now — slow it back down so he can take that back to where he belongs and continue to thrive as a young player.”
During the short time the two have spent together in Tacoma, Smith said Cameron has already offered him a lot of advice — probably too much to write down, he said smiling.
“The short answer is, yes, he’s helped me out a lot,” Smith said.
Since arriving in Tacoma, Smith is slashing at .406/.441/.563 with a 1.004 OPS, with three extra-base hits, two walks and seven stolen bases. He has hit safely in six of seven games, including five multi-hit games, and a three-run go-ahead homer in Friday night’s win over Reno.
Rainiers manager Daren Brown said he believes Cameron can relate well to Smith through similar experiences.
“Being Mike Cameron, and being the center fielder that he was, I think he has a lot to offer a guy like Mallex,” Brown said. “Even some of the little things out there, I think Mallex hearing it from somebody (like Cameron) means a lot to Mallex.
“I’m sure it’s a lot of stuff he’s heard before, but sometimes coming from somebody that’s went through it, sometimes it will mean a little more. Being being in the dugout with us, and being able to talk to him between innings, I think that’s a huge part.”
The Rainiers (17-19) won each of the final three games of their homestand with Cameron on site, and won six of eight at home before heading to Las Vegas to begin a nine-game road trip Saturday.
“I appreciate the fact that Cam has decided to give back,” Brown said. “I’m sure there were people that helped him along the way and now, whether it’s Ian Miller or Shed (Long), or a young kid like (Johnny) Slater from extended spring, he’s got something for all of them.”