Just got off a (delayed) conference call with Eric Byrnes, who is indeed eloquent and effusive. He said the Mariners were one of the first teams to contact him once he was released by the Diamondbacks last week.
“Once I talked to Jack (Zduriencik), I knew this was the right fit,” he said. “It was just a matter of figuring out what other opportunities I had out there. Right away, I just kind of felt this was the place I felt I could contribute. It was a team I felt had a great chance of winning the American League West, and potentially the American League, if not the World Series. I wasn’t going to consider signing with a team I didn’t feel would have a real good chance of winning. What Jack and Don have put together is impressive.”
Asked about what the Mariners have told him about his role, he said, “I haven’t talked to Don yet. Speaking to Jack, the role wasn’t necessarily specified, other than the fact he believed I would contribute. That’s all I needed to hear. Being in the position I’m in now, I’m healthy for the first time in two years. I just needed a team to believe in me half as much as I believe in myself. Speaking to Jack, that’s what I felt.
“I’m not so much concerned, am I going to start, or play against left-handers or right-handers. It’s a matter of getting back on the field, and proving to the Mariners and the rest of baseball I’m healthy and still have the ability to play at a high level. Talking to Jack, I felt I would get that opportunity, and I’m excited about it.”
Here’s how Byrnes summed up the past two, injury-riddled years: “The last two years have been two of the most difficult years I’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “We had such a successful season in 2007 — we went to the NLCS, and had an unbelievable core group of guys in Arizona. It felt like we would be going to the playoffs every year until the end of my contract.
“We went out in 2008 and things were going great the first month. I think we were 20-7, 20-8, then all of a sudden, for me, personally, I tore my hamstring. Actually I had tweaked it in spring training, and I played through it. Looking back, it was obviously stupid. I played through it so long, I ended up tearing the other hamstring.
“I had never been hurt, all through high school, college, I was never on the DL. In a lot of ways, it was disheartening, but it was self-imposed. I should have shut it down before, but that’s not in my nature. It ended up biting me in the butt. I went on the DL for the first time, and then came back obviously too soon, and completely tore my hamstring off the bone.
“As soon as I came back for the ’09 season, it was a struggle getting the hamstring right. I was starting to pick up when I broke my hand and essentially missed the rest of the year. It’s been hard.”
Byrnes, in fact, said he lost his passion for baseball, and didn’t regain it until he spent almost a month in Triple-A on a rehab assignment.
“I really rediscovered my passion for baseball,” he said. “I came back this September, and in the limited time I did play had some nice games. It was nice to finish on a strong note.”
Right now, Byrnes said, “My legs are as healthy as they’ve ever been. II’m excited to put together a full season and help the Mariners win a lot of games.”