John McGrath

John McGrath: Seth Smith makes a memory on opening day

Veteran Seth Smith was enjoying one of those afternoons that stay with a ballplayer decades after his skills leave him.

The smoke from the season-opening pregame fireworks had barely wafted out of Safeco Field when Smith, batting second, hit a double off Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver.

Next time up, in the bottom of the third, Smith connected on a line drive that Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun tried to grab with a diving catch. The ball got past him, enabling Smith to end up on third with an RBI triple.

Two-at bats, two extra-base hits, and he wasn’t through. Smith’s fifth-inning shot to left center — it bounced between left fielder Matt Joyce and center fielder Mike Trout for a ground-rule double — drove in the the final run of the Seattle Mariners’ 4-1 victory.

Midway through his Seattle debut, Smith already had set a franchise record for extra-base hits in a season opener. For those fans more familiar with Smith’s career as a former backup quarterback to Eli Manning at Ole Miss than as a journeyman outfielder for eight years, there was hope the 32-year-old could achieve a truly historic opening day feat.

Hitting for the cycle, perhaps? Delivering four extra-base hits, maybe?

Manager Lloyd McClendon was not among the curious.

When the Angels replaced right-handed Weaver with lefty reliever Cesar Ramos in the seventh inning, McClendon turned over Smith’s spot in the batting order to the right-handed-hitting Justin Ruggiano, who figures to share playing time with Smith on a game-to-game, situation-to-situation basis dictated by the pitching matchup.

When I asked if he had any second thoughts about taking the bat from Smith, McClendon answered in a tone that suggested the manager not only didn’t have second thoughts, but he also devoted no time to the first thought.

“Nope,” said McClendon. “Did you?”

Uh, no sir. Of course not.

“Then we’re in agreement,” a smiling McClendon went on before explaining his rationale.

“We had a lead,” he said. “Ruggiano’s the superior defensive player. It was an ideal situation to get him in there and give Seth a breather, especially against a tough lefty.”

Although deprived of the opportunity to turn opening day into Seth Smith’s Career Day, the easygoing outfielder shrugged off his early dismissal.

“It’s the way it is,” Smith said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been in that situation.”

Smith’s tendency to not sweat the small stuff was one reason the Mariners acquired him in a trade last winter that sent pitcher Brandon Maurer to San Diego. Another was his bat.

“I knew he was a pretty good hitter,” said McClendon. “I competed against him in the playoffs and I’m excited to have him.”

Still, Smith’s arrival in Seattle was unheralded, and remains so. Along the First Avenue side of Safeco Field, several prominent Mariners appear on posters the size of small billboards. Not Smith.

Unlike Nelson “The Boomstick” Cruz, Smith doesn’t have a nickname fit for a videoboard introduction given by the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom.”

Cruz went 0 for 4 as DH Monday afternoon. Robinson Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager — the middle-of-the-lineup hitters seen as crucial in an improved lineup — finished the opener 1 for 12.

That will happen now and then. But on a day ace Felix Hernandez was as spectacular as anticipated, it would have been a shame to waste his 10-strikeout gem because the core hitters were held in check.

Thanks to Smith, the start wasn’t wasted, and the Mariners are off and running.

“Opening day is special,” said Smith. “They’re all special. Try to enjoy them for what they are.”

The 2015 opener can be savored because a part-time right fielder made the most of his part-time role.

There’s a good vibe about that.

A very good vibe.

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