For Mike Wilson, May 10 of last year was magical. He spent his first day in a major-league clubhouse after 10 years kicking around the Mariners system. Maybe you can see the excitement on his face in the picture above, which I snapped in the Mariners dugout at Camden Yards before the game that evening as he did one of several rounds of interviews (with Shannon Drayer and Dave Sims). The Mariners had just cut Milton Bradley, and they called up Wilson from Tacoma to platoon with Carlos Peguero in left.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said before the game. “My long road I’ve been through, everything that’s been going on with me. It’s one of the best feelings of my life right now. Hopefully, I can take full advantage of it.”
It was a heartwarming story of perseverance, and that wasn’t even the best of it. Sure enough, Wilson got in the game that night, and had a chance to be the hero, twice. He threw out the potential winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, then delivered an RBI single in the 13th to put the Mariners ahead, 6-5.
But the story-book ending was sidetracked when Brandon League, in the midst of the worst week of his career, blew the game in the bottom of the 13th. Wilson would go on to hit just .148 in eight games and was sent back to Tacoma, where he finished out with a robust .331 that didn’t earn him a September callup. Yet he remained on the 40-man roster all winter. Until…
A couple of weeks ago, when the Mariners signed Hong-Chih Kuo and Shawn Camp, Wilson was designated for assignment, along with Chris Gimenez, to make room on the 40-man roster. That left those two free to move to any other team. Gimenez signed with the Rays.
And Wilson? He’s back with the Mariners for the 12th year, having found no other offers coming his way. He considered signing with a Japanese team, but nothing developed there, either. Today, the Mariners outrighted him to Tacoma and invited him to major-league camp. And there he was in the clubhouse this morning.
“I always feel at home here,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind looking somewhere else. But unfortunately, the timing was off a little bit. Everyone’s starting spring training and everything’s kind of full right now. I’ll just work hard here and see what happens here. It’s always good to be back with Seattle.
It’s not like Wilson didn’t see the roster squeeze coming. He’s been taken off the 40-man roster other times in the past, and he’s been a minor-league free agent three times. And yet he always seems to find his way back to Seattle, and the Mariners’ organization.
“It’s happened before,” he said. “Things will work outself out. I know they had to make a move; unfortunately it was me. I’m not going to whine about it. I’m just going to come here and work. That’s it.”
Wilson is wearing No. 94 in a spring hierarchy where the higher the number, the more remote a player’s chance of making the team. His best bet is to go back to Tacoma, hit like he did last year, and hope that a need develops at the major-league level. Like it did last year. He’ll always have Baltimore. But, yes, he admits, it’s a bit discouraging at age 29.
“It would be to anybody, but it adds more fuel to the fire,” he said. “It gets you that much more pumped up and motivated.”
One thing Wilson says he never contemplated is quitting.
“Nah. Nah,” he said emphatically.
With WIlson’s return, the Mariners now have 67 players in camp for their first full-squad workout today. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back here next year, too.