One of the joys of spring training is connecting with players you haven't seen in awhile, former Seattle Mariners scattered across the landscape.
The Cactus League is full of them, from old war horses like Lou Piniella (Cubs) and Randy Johnson (Giants) to favorites like Mike Cameron (Brewers) and Omar Vizquel (Rangers) to youngsters who got away.
There will be a few of those in Arizona, too – players like Matt Thornton (White Sox), Brian Fuentes (Angels) and Shin-Soo Choo (Indians).
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Throughout the spring, this blog and the News Tribune will bring you stories and interviews with former Mariners, giving you the chance to catch up. And Choo, pictured above, is one of the more intriguing stories.
Now 26, having recovered from 'Tommy John' reconstructive elbow surgery, the outfielder is expected to start in right field for Cleveland this year – and for Team Korea in the World Baseball Classic.
Choo never quite got it going in Seattle, and was slowed in Cleveland by injuries, but last season got a career-high 317 at-bats and made the most of them. Choo batted .309 with 14 home runs and 66 RBI in just 94 games – and hit .343 with 20 doubles, 11 homers and 48 RBI after the All-Star break.
He still has two years of military service awaiting him in Korea, where he has a home. And in a baseball career that began with the Mariners in 2005, Choo now has played the equivalent of one full season, 159 games.
In those games, Choo has a .291 average, 40 doubles, 17 home runs and 94 RBI in 519 at-bats.
Yes, he'd fit nicely into the Seattle outfield this season. And no, the trade that sent him to the Indians in 2006 for Ben Broussard didn't work out for the Mariners.
He'll be a different fellow this spring than he was in '05, when he asked me to introduce him to fellow Korean player Chan Ho Park – and he was stunned to learn that Park knew who he was. Choo was shy, polite, hard-working and a bit intimidated by then-manager Mike Hargrove.
Choo tried too hard in his brief chances in Seattle. Today, he's a more relaxed player, and his talent is carrying him toward a breakthrough season.
This spring, we'll try to get you stories on Choo and other former Mariners training in Arizona. It would be lovely if all their stories were as happy as Choo's.