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July 10, 2009 at 6:15 PM

Yuniesky Betancourt says goodbye to Mariners teammates and Seattle fans

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The Mariners have some divine inspiration alongside them tonight. That’s Mount Vernon native actor Jim Caviezel out by the batting cage in the photo. He’s also known worldwide as Jesus Christ, having played him in The Passion of the Christ. A pal of Mike Sweeney’s in case you were wondering. Sweeney is a pretty avid Christian, who recently got to meet the Pope at the Vatican.
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Anyhow, enough of him for now. Yuniesky Betancourt was here packing his bags and preparing to head off to join the Kansas City Royals. He didn’t seem all that shocked to be on the move, which he should not have been.
“I’m going to miss everybody,” he said, through an interpreter. “But I’m mainly going to miss Lopez, Felix, Beltre, Silva. Because those are the guys that were here. They helped me out a lot with the language barrier and helped me to be a big league player.”

Betancourt was asked about his on-again, off-again performances over the years and where he felt he could have improved.
“It’s part of life, so you’ve got your ups and downs,” he said. “But you just need to keep your head up high and keep working.”
The Mariners tried to get Betancourt working more. They pleaded with him to be more selective, get bunts down and make the most of his at-bats.
“I think I made a few strides,” he said. “But now I have to see what they (the Royals) expect of me and proceed from there.”
Betancourt said he though that, back when he his contract was extended in 2007, he’d be here to see it through the 2011 season. He was asked what he thought went wrong, causing the relationship with the Mariners to end.
“I’m just going to focus on giving 100 percent to my new team and showing them what I can do,” he said.
At that point, I asked whether he thought he’d shown Seattle fans what he can do talent-wise.
“The main thing is, I just try to give 100 percent and keep working hard,” he said. “In terms of potential, I just want to do the best I can.”
There are a lot of Betancourt clubhouse stories now floating around the blogosphere. I can tell you that, last year, the team was fed up with his lack of work ethic. I can recall seeing him out, holding court with pals, at a nightspot in Toronto. When I got up to leave just before 2 a.m., he showed no signs of budging (that place keeps open a bit past the official 2 a.m. closing time in Ontario). The team had a game the next day at 1 p.m. In the middle innings, the shortstop made what looked to be a half-hearted lunge at a ball hit to his right. It bounced off his glove and rolled away.
That’s one story, but emblamatic of what the problem was with him. Betancourt and Jose Lopez are good friends, but there is no comparison between the two when it comes to work ethic. Lopez is a guy who takes extra BP, who works on his fielding when he messes up.
Betancourt drove the team insane with his refusal to do these little things that winning teams — and players — do. So, while Betancourt mentioned learning the game from Lopez, Betre, Hernandez and Silva, the work ethic those players display day in and day out dwarfed that turned in by the shortstop.
It didn’t take long for Betancourt to infuriate the new Mariners regime. When he was benched for a string of games last month, the front office and coaching staff could not understand why Betancourt — instead of doubling his efforts to get back on the field — did the equivalent of walking into the corner and sulking for several days. It finally had to be spelled out to him what it was going to take to get him back on the field.
This is the price an organization pays for coddling and not policing players for years at a time. We like to preach about accountability in this space, but this truly is a sheer example of how one player’s talent wasn’t enough to overcome a lack of accountability to his coaches, teammates and…most importantly, to himself.
Betancourt is a good human being. I truly believe he is a young guy who grew up in a harsh environment in Communist Cuba — a place I’ve visited three times, so I’ve seen life there — only to become an overnight millionaire in a new world. Lots of young guys would have a hard time keeping their edge when that happens. But it’s no excuse. He’d been warned before, but did little to change.
Now, he heads to KC, where the fans are already sharpening their claws. Royals GM Dayton Moore has been getting ripped all day for this deal. But he also has Jose Guillen there. When Guillen was here in 2007, he served as Betancourt’s personal good cop/bad cop. He’d be a friend. But he’d also get all over him — put him up against a wall, so to speak — when Betancourt stepped out of line and was Yuni being Yuni.
Maybe the Royals are banking on that continuing in KC. For Betancourt’s case, I hope so. The talent being wasted here was tough to watch.
As for this trade, unless this Danny Cortes kid skateboards into a truck on the Nebraska freeway — they have those there, right? — the Mariners didn’t just fleece the Royals. They mink coated them. I mean, they just got the Royals’ minor league pitcher of the year — a guy who throws 96 mph with a nasty curve. And they got a young relief prospect. As one scout just told me in the pressbox in regards to Betancourt, “the Mariners would have taken a bag of nickels for him.”
They didn’t, though.
The Royals, according to various reports, have picked up anywhere from $5 million to $7 million of the $10 million in money owed Betancourt for the remainder of his deal — including a $2 million buyout for 2012. Gotta run. My side is starting to hurt from laughing too hard.



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