I wandered by FanFest yesterday at Safeco Field and took this picture, which shows how the roof failed to close because of a broken axle. As Greg Johns explains, they were able to put the main roof panel in place over the center of the field, but as you can see, with the other two panels stuck in place on the east side of the facility, the field was uncovered on both sides.
Rebecca Hale, the Mariners’ director of public information, tells me that it will be mid-week before the roof repair is finished. “There’s some work that needs to be done to create a staging area for the jack to lift the roof to get at the wheel,” she said. “We’ve got the spare parts and the expertise to do it, it’s just taking time to get at it and get it done.”
A light rain fell each day, which might explain the decline in attendance from 12,298 in 2011 to 9,774 this past weekend, especially when word got out about the roof issues. Of course, the Mariners’ recent record and quiet winter might have something to do with it, too. The all-time FanFest attendance mark of 17,299 came in 2010, when the Mariners were coming off an 85-win season and had traded for Cliff Lee and signed Chone Figgins (which sounded good at the time). The previous year, in January of 2009, coming off a 101-loss season, they drew just 8,571 to FanFest.
At any rate, as promised, here is the transcript of manager Eric Wedge’s remarks from the media luncheon last week. It’s great to have Geoff Baker back in the fold after his two-continent jaunt. I hope that anyone who wandered by this establishment in his absence decides to stay awhile, and visit both blogs during the upcoming season.
I’m as excited and as confident, if not more confident, than the day I got this job.
On the “mini-camp” with nine players, who were brought to Seattle last month: It wasn’t by mistake they were all position players, I can tell you that much. To a man, I felt they all had something they needed to accomplish over the course of the winter, whether it be physical, mental or fundamental. I felt to a man, I need more. I expect more. I want more. You’re capable of doing more. Let’s go. Without exception, that was the message. I’ve met with them professionally, casually, and personally. I had them come over the house. I thought that was important, too.
The fine line is this: You have to understand the sense of urgency, how important this is, without playing tight. Athletes talk about being in the zone. That’s what the hell I’m talking about. To be able to understand how important it is to everybody. Understand the sense of urgency, but to be able to go out and play in a relaxed, tension-free environment. That’s the zone. That’s where we want all our kids to get to.
On whether his approach will be different this season: Without a doubt. No one’s going to take away what we’ve already established here. But ultimately, it is a different message this year. It’s about expectations. It’s not just about breaking kids in, although we’re probably going to do some of that this year. Not as much as last year. It’s about expectations, performance and production. Performance and production lead to wins. The expectations are from me right now. When we get down the road a little bit, the expectations are going to come from you guys (the media), as far as wins, and the fans. I’m not waiting for that. The expectations are from me, but even more important, from themselves, and to each other as teammates.
On whether he expects to contend in 2012: Yeah. I come into every spring training – I’ve seen too many crazy things happen not to feel that way. It may be a pie in the sky type of situation, because everyone tells me the two best teams in baseball are in our division now. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re not. My expectation is to come in and try to win every ballgame. I want our players to understand that the expectation for our club is to work hard to win every game. To do that, we have to focus on the individual part.
If we have 25 guys coming to the ballpark every day, and they expect great things from themselves, we’re going to be a pretty good damn ballclub. That’s what we’re going to get to.
On whether he’s brought players in during the offseason before: I’ve done it a few times before. You guys making a bigger deal out of it than should be. I remember sending Cliff Lee out to Carl Willis’s house in Durham, NC. He didn’t know why, but I sent him out there. They had some things they needed to talk about, and he’s been pretty good ever since, actually. Kudos to Carl. I’ve done it a couple of times in Cleveland.
It’s not for you to understand, it’s not really for them to understand. As manager of this big league club, I felt it was important for them and their families as we move forward, and more important for our team. That zone we want every kid to get to, it’s not easy to get there. I’m talking about being comfortable in your own skin, not feeling anxiety that most human beings have performing in front of millions on TV or 50,000 fans, and having to wake up the next day and listen to all you folks talk about it or write about it. That’s a part of it. Part of my job as major-league manager is to help them navigate through that.
I told them all, if you guys can just believe half of what I believe, not just in this organization, and this plan, but in yourselves, then we’re golden. Just get to that point. And if you get halfway there, you can finish it off yourselves. That’s how much I believe in these young kids.
Not just the nine I brought in, but everyone. Guys that aren’t even here yet. You have to have that type of confidence in yourself, not just as a player, but as a human being.
On Franklin Gutierrez: He looked great. He’s the strongest I’ve ever seen him. I felt like he was on the path when we traded him over here. He came over and had a good year. He’s had a lot of things go wrong since then. Physically, mentally, everything. I said, you’re not allowed to do that anymore. You’ve got to get back on the path. I don’t care about being sick, or this. I don’t care about any of that. You get back on the path. You go home and you do what your’re supposed to do, and you come back and you’re going to be the player you should be.
We’ve seen that. You’ve seen that, and I’ve seen him blossoming into that when we traded him over here. He looked great. I mean, you’ll be shocked when see him. He’s strong, he has a twinkle in his eye. I expect great things from him. I do.
On where the leadership is going to come from: Ultimately, leadership eventually is going to come from some of our young people,. It doesn’t happen right away. It takes a strong man to stand in front of his peers, and be comfortable enough in your own skin and confident enough in himself asa person and player to tell someone they’re doing it right or doing it wrong. Or you need to be doing it better. It takes time to do that.
I’ve said it before, there’s a severe lack of leadership with young people today in general, baseball aside. But I feel we have some young people on our team that are going to blossom into that.Having said that, I still feel like, even though (Chone) Figgins had the struggles he had, he has a sense of leadership. You guys may not see that, but behind closed doors, the way he handles some of those young kids. (Miguel) Olivo, without a doubt, has some of that. Felix (Hernandez) does a great job with the starting pitchers, (Brandon) League does a great job with the bullpen kids. I think (George) Sherrill will help him this year. We brought in (Kevin)Millwood as a non-roster guy and we’re rooting for him. He was actually the greatest presence I’ve ever been associated with as a starting pitcher when we had him in ’05. What he did in showing the way for CC (Sabathia) and Cliff and (Jake) Westbrook and some of these other guys are still with them today.
On whether Mike Carp can play every day in left field: I think he’s definitely capable. One thing I noticed last year was when we played him out there on a regular basis he was better defensively than when we played him out there sporadically. Now, we might not be able to control that. I’m really intrigued by Casper Wells. I want to take a real good look at him. I want to give all these kids as many at-bats as we can. I’m talking about Wells, Carp, (Justin) Smoak, (Jesus) Montero, all these kids. I want to be able to make that work. Right now, we’re in a situation we CAN make it all work, between first base, DH, catching, LF, depending on who you’re talking about.
What he did last winter, if you look, and the changes he did, that’s the reason I didn’t bring him in as one of those nine this year. He did what he was supposed to. I think we can all say it paid off pretty well for him.
On how a player can earn the left-field job: It’s going to take a lot, initially. It’s hard, it’s not fair, but it’s the big leagues. There are only 30 of us. It’s supposed to be hard; it’s not supposed to be fair. You have to go out and take it. How many times did Carp go up and down? I sent him down a few times myself. But not until I could look him in the eye, and I felt I was in the position to do this, and say, no matter what happens, you’re going to play. And then he took off. You can’t do that unless you know you can do that. I’m not going to be a liar. I’m not going to say it to someone and then change my mind in a week from now. To earn that spot, it takes performance and production. That’s what it takes, and the best of the best survive.
For us to be one of the best, we need to have the best players. We feel we have a lot of them here right now, and all of them aren’t here yet. There’s maybe even some we’ll pluck from outside. We definitely are on the right path here.
On his biggest question mark heading into spring training: I’m always intrigued by pitching. That’s where it starts. Look at Felix and (Jason) Vargas. We have (Hector) Noesi, (Hisashi) Iwakuma, and the young kids, (Blake) Beavan and (Erasmo) Ramirez, and the really young kids we drafted. You can push Millwood in the mix. There’s a lot of starting pitching questions, but a lot of good options. I like that. The bullpen too, is intriguing to me. We have League and Sherrill, and a bunch of young guys and vets trying to push through that too.
That’s what I spend most of my time thinking about now. But if you’re asking about this winter, I spent most of my time thinking about the offense I’m sticking my neck out a little bit, and I don’t mind doing it – I feel this should be the year we really take a significant step forward offensively. I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t. I don’t really worry about that, because I’m very confident we will do that. That’s how confident I am in our young people, that’s how confident I am in our plan, that’s how confident I am in the foundation we have here. That’s the faith I have in our kids individually. I’ve as much as told them that. When it gets a little bit thick, I’ll get out in front of them more. Otherwise, I’m going to let them keep doing what they need to do. It’s going to work out fine. It’s never on my timetable or your timetable or unfortunately on the fans’ timetable, but I think they’re going to see enough this year where they’re going to be pleased with our path.
On Ichiro moving out of the leadoff spot: It’s as much to do about his teammates as it does with him. In regard to the collective nine we’re putting down on paper. I haven’t made any firm decisions. I’ve made it very clear over the course of the winter I’m thinking about it. I’m even further down the road to where I’m leaning in that direction to have Ichi hit somewhere else. I know it’s a big deal to everybody. I can’t get caught up in that. My job is to make sure I communicate that to Ichiro, make sure everyone understands what the options are, and what they’re fighting for, and what I’m thinking about. That’s what I’m going to continue to do.
Right now, I’m going to be very open-minded to what I’m going to do, but I’m going to go into spring training leaning a certain direction. And we’ll make the decisions from there.
On where he’d fit in the lineup other than leadoff: I don’t know. We’ve talked about the 3 hole, I’ve contemplated hitting him second, and there’s still a chance he might leadoff. Ultimately, it’s not just about Ichiro, it’s about our club, and it’s about his 24 other teammates. Ichiro understands that. I damn sure understand it. What we’re going to do is make sure we put out the best possible lineup to score more runs. It’s not acceptable the amount of runs we’ve scored the past couple of years. Last year, I sat back, and I bit my tongue off more than once, but it was the right thing to do. My wife was proud of me, let’s put it that way. This year’s going to be a little different, but you don’t’ go from zero to 60. We’re going to let it out a little more this year, and raise the bar a little bit.
It’s hard to win a big league game. It takes good players with a lot of conviction to make it happen on a consistent basis. That’s what we’re building to.
On other leadoff options: I look at Ackley, I look at Figgins. And I think those are the first two that come to mind. A few others. Guti is interesting to me. (In Cleveland) I had him everywhere from first and second to more power producing spots, six or seven. When I saw him this winter, I was thinking more middle of the lineup, he was looking that good.
On Figgins: I’ve talked to him: He’s going to play all over. He’s going to have reps everywhere in the outfield, as well as second, short and third. We’re going to have him all over the place, give him every opportunity to play, every opportunity to get at bats but also play all over defensively. It’s how he broke in in Anaheim. Maybe he’s going to end up establishing himself in one spot and that’s fine, but we’re going to play him all over defensively initially.
On Charlie Furbush’s role: He’s still in the mix. With Furbush, we really liked what we saw last year. I thought he gained a lot of experience. He’ll compete for the starting rotation, but I’m not going to rule out the bullpen if he doesn’t become one of those five. We have the best of both worlds there. We’ll see what Charlie does and work off him. I love his arm, and he’s a quiet competitor. He’s got a look in his eyes I really like. There’s something inside there. I want to see him come in and compete for the starting rotation, but I’m not going to rule out if he doesn’t make the rotation, he can’t be in our bullpen.
On third base: The first guy that comes to mind, obviously, is Seager. But also, I think about Figgins, and some of the young kids coming to camp, and some of the non-roster guys.
On Montero’s role: Miguel is still our catcher right now, and we have a couple other guys too, obviously. With Jesus, the most important thing for me right now is to make sure he gets every-day at-bats. And then to continue to develop as a catcher. I do feel confident he’s going to be a solid big-league catcher, and without a doubt he has the potential to be an every-day big league catcher. I don’t think he should expect anything less from himself, because I don’t. But, he’s 22 years old. Most catchers develop late. We’re not going to rush this thing.
It’s important he gets every-day at-bats, it’s important he keeps working with (coach) Jeff Datz and myself, in regard to becoming a big-league catcher. And he’s going to be catching for us as well. But I think with Miggy here, he has a chance be a mentor for Jesus. Because we have Miggy here, we don’t have to throw him right in the fire, and we’re not. We’re going to take care of this young man. He has a chance to be special, and from talking to him here in the early going, I think he’s a special person, too. So I think the most important thing is he’s going to have every-day at-bats, we’re going to continue to break him in as a catcher, but we don’t have to throw him right into it. It takes time to develop. I don’t want to push that and it winds up taking longer. If you try to push that forward too fast, it’s going to take him longer to be the player he needs to be.