Casey Kotchman met with the Seattle media down at Safeco Field today. He says he’s excited about the opportunity to play first base for the Mariners, which he is going to get a shot at doing.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik sounded very much like a man who had moved beyond Russell Branyan when he spoke about the team’s first base plans. So much so that I had to walk up to Zduriencik and ask whether he’d “closed the book” on Branyan.
No, he told me. That’s not yet the case. Stuff could still happen.
Yes, and I can theoretically still make my case with readers on this blog that Edgar Martinez was not a lock for the Hall of Fame. Not very likely to happen any time soon. Same here with Branyan returning. Listen to what Zduriencik told a scrum of reporters when the subject of landing Kotchman for the first base job came up.
“The easiest way I’d answer that question, in fairness to all parties concerned, we did our due diligence,” Zduriencik said. “I think I’d leave it at that.”
Later on, he was asked whether he was done upgrading the club.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Our ears are always open. We did our homework. We did a lot of work on a lot of players. We really left no stone unturned. But at the end of the day, for some of the things we were looking for, with this acquisition right here – and then you look at Figgins and everything else we have on our ballclub, and Jack Wilson being healthy – this could really be a fun club to watch defensively.
“Are we going to be a club that sits back and whales? That’s not necessarily going to be our game. I think we’ve done some things to help our pitching, and I think we’ve done some things to help our defense. We’ve acquired a guy that doesn’t strike out. We’ve got a guy that led the league in walks. And we’ve got a guy that a few years ago was an All-Star outfielder. We’ll take our chances and we’ll see where we go with this.
Do you see team winning a lot of close, low scoring games: I could see it. It’s hard to say. You don’t know what other clubs are going to do from this point on…With what we have right here, I think we’re going to be real competitive.”
Zduriencik also spoke about the importance of defense at first base.
“I think it’s very important. I go back way back years ago when I worked with Dick Gernert, who was an ex-Red Sox first baseman. He used to get mad when we’d say, ah, you can put anybody over there. He’d say, it’s tougher to play first base than you think. It really is. The thing I like about this right now is a left-handed first baseman. He can go to the hole a little better, gives you a little more range over there, and the guy can really throw as well. That something that sometimes goes a little bit unnoticed.”
Zduriencik did speak a lot about Kotchman and some of the personal struggles he’s gone through the past two years.
“What I know about Casey, there were some personal things that affected him, had a major affect on him as a person, certainly none of his own bringing on,” he said. “It’s life. You go through things in life. He did have a difficult stretch. The fact he was acquired in Atlanta – it’s a tough park for a left-handed hitter. Boston is a tough park for a left-handed hitter. A series of couple little nagging things here and there. Sometimes it can set you back. He’ll be the first to tell you.
“We went to dinner last night and talked about it. I said tell me about yourself. He was reluctant to do it. He said I’ll have to talk on the field in the spring. That’s when you prove who you are. Right now, I’ve got a lot of prove.”
What happened to Kotchman is that his mother, Sue, had a brain hemmorhage in mid-August of 2008, shortly after he’d been traded to Atlanta by the Angels. She was given only a 50-50 chance of surviving the ambulance ride to the hospital.
Kotchman was in New York on a road trip when he got the news. He immediately went on bereavement leave and flew to the Tampa, Fla. area to be with her. She spent 15 days in intensive care in a hospital six blocks from Tropicana Field.
Her family would have to wake her every two hours to ensure she didn’t slip into a coma.
Finally, she recovered to the point where she told a shaken Kotchman to rejoin his team. Safe to say, the ordeal left a bit of an impact on the ballplayer.
“It’s going to do something to a person, whether it’s your mother or your wife,” Kotchman’s father, Tom, a longtime minor league manager for the Angels, told me in a phone conversation an hour ago. “When the surgeon tells you your Mom has a 33 percent chance of living and she’s never been sick a day in her life, it’s a numbing feeling.”
Kotchman’s mother survived her ordeal. But she had to retire from her job as an elementary school principal to relieve stress. She also gets fatigued quite quickly these days, an after-effect of what happened to her. Doctors say it’s almost 99 percent certain that this won’t happen to her again, but it’s still been a trying time for her close-knit family.
His dad sent me this video from a local Fox affiliate in Florida, done last Mother’s Day.
On the field, Kotchman’s numbers were already declining in 2008 and he took a nosedive to a .721 OPS last season. He was asked whether his family issues, which he did not go into in detail, had an impact on his play.
“I don’t know that anything can be pinpointed on one thing,” Kotchman said. “The numbers are what they are and I’m obviously looking to improve upon them as every player is.”
I then asked him if, as Zduriencik suggested, he felt he had something to prove.
“I think as a player, when you’re competing, you’ve always got stuff that you’ve got to prove,” he said. “That’s what you play the games for. Talking about it doesn’t do you any good. You’ve got to go out there and do it.”