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September 10, 2009 at 10:45 AM

Mariners minor leaguers made splashes in 2009

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The Mariners had some on-field admirers during pre-game batting practice yesterday. members of the Class A High Desert squad turned up in the dugout at Angel Stadium to witness the action. In the photo above, you can see Felix Hernandez talking to some of the players. The guy in the red and white striped shirt is California League MVP Alex Liddi, a native of Italy, who has a league-leading .345 batting average with 23 home runs and 104 RBI. Liddi played in the Futures Game as part of All-Star Game festivities in St. Louis.
Another guy who played in the Futures Games is my fellow Canadian, Tyson Gillies, of Vancouver, B.C. You can see him in the photo below, in the middle of the pack of players in the dugout, wearing a blue shirt with a white collar.
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Obviously, this is a pretty good team. The Mavericks are 83-57 overall and have captured both the first-half and second-half (that’s how the California League works) championships, only the second time in club history that’s happened. Mavericks manager Jim Horner has been named Manager of the Year.
And let’s not forget the guy down below, James McOwen, who gained national attention earlier this year by compiling a 45-game hitting streak — the longest in 44 years in the minors.
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One of the challenges faced by McOwen when the streak ended was to forget about it and continue to develop this season. After all, he’s a Class A ballplayer trying to make the major leagues. Not like he could take a week off to relax. Well, he’s hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games, hitting .444 over that stretch with an overall average well above .300.
“You definitely go ‘Whew!’ but you still want to go out the next day and get a hit,” he said. “It’s only A ball, so one 45-game hit streak isn’t going to get you too far. You want to keep your nose to the grindstone no matter what.”
McOwen says he still has folks coming up to him on each stop his team makes and ask him about the accomplishment. He told me opposing players will go “Oh, you’re the guy who had the hit streak? Good job!” and things like that. No, his hair didn’t fall out from the stress. He insists he still enjoys talking about it and tried to have fun with the whole thing as it was going down.
By the way, if you look in the photo, you can see my Fuji TV crew lurking in the background. The female reporter is Chigusa Nogami, who was quite jet-lagged after flying in from Tokyo yesterday morning. But she’s a trooper. And the guy to the left of her with the tripod is Katsuichi Hirabara, the L.A.-based researcher/translator/co-cordinator for this documentary-type show they are filming, which will look at how the American media is covering this Ichiro story on his quest to 200 hits. They are following me around here and have a crew at our Times offices back in Seattle. I’ll try to get some footage of the thing posted on the blog when it’s done. Really have no idea how long it will be or what it will really look like. And yes, it will be in Japanese.
Some more minor league notes, in keeping with today’s theme:
The Tacoma Rainiers were throttled, 8-2, at home last night by the Sacramento River Cats in the opener of their playoff series. Chris Seddon allowed seven earned runs over 6 1/3 innings in that one. On a happier note, Rainiers pitcher Gaby Hernandez — the guy picked up by Seattle from the Marlins in the Arthur Rhodes deal 13 months ago — was named PCL Pitcher of the Week for the week ending Sept. 7.
Hernandez went 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA over that week. Overall, he went 10-9, with a 5.23 ERA over 26 starts.
In Class AA news, West Tennessee outfielders Greg Halman and Ezequiel Carrera (the latter acquired in the J.J. Putz deal) made the 2009 Southern League post-season all-star team. Carrera was a first-half all-star as well and led the league with a .337 batting average.

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