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March 2, 2010 at 8:30 AM

Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee throw bullpens; Franklin Gutierrez to DH during today’s intrasquad game

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Felix Hernandez lets one fly in the photo above during a bullpen session that was still going on when I sat down to write this. Cliff Lee (photo below) is also throwing in the bullpen while other Mariners are out on the field partaking in a pop-up drill (photo opposite page).
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There will be a five-inning intrasquad game later this morning and Franklin Gutierrez is indeed in the lineup, playing DH for the “Visitors” team. One guy I’m interested in is the home team third baseman, Alex Liddi, who had a dream season for Class A High Desert last season. Liddi is a native of Italy, not something you see everyday in professional baseball. There is talk his big offensive numbers had a lot to do with the California League, known as an offensive haven.
That may be a tad unfair. But it’s a reason why a lot of eyes will be on him this season.
You can see lineups on the opposite page.
In case you missed our newspaper story today, I wrote about Tom Wilhelmsen, a onetime Class A phenom for the Brewers who throws 97 mph but hasn’t pitched in a professional game (outside a short independent league stint last year) since 2003. There are plenty of items I’d have loved to include in a longer piece but could not. I’ll share them with you now.
One reason I wanted to get back into this is that a quick Google search tells you he was suspended for the entire 2004 season by the Brewers for a second violation of the team’s substance abuse policy. What you don’t see is that the substance in question was marijuana. Now, I don’t want to get into a whole ethical debate about “good” drugs and “bad” drugs. Obviously, marijuana was against team and league rules and he broke them.
But where things get tricky is that Wilhelmsen, a 19-year-old at the time, was forced to undergo a 28-day treatment program in a rehab facility where he was side-by-side with hardened users of drugs like oxycontin. I assume cocaine and heroin as well, but didn’t get into too much detail and was told a lot of the people he was with were serious oxy addicts.
Anyhow, while I know studies have shown that those who use marijuana are prone to heading into use of harder drugs, there is a real gray area here about whether a 19-year-old fresh out of high school should have been thrust into an environment like this. Wilhelmsen said he was burned out when he left the treatment program and told the Brewers he needed a year off. He got it because they suspended him for the year.
He came back and no longer had a passion for baseball.
So, whose fault was it? Obviously, Wilhelmsen broke the rules. He understands that and accepts the consequences. He has no regrets, he says, about walking away from baseball in 2005 because he simply wasn’t ready.
Here’s what his father, John, told me.
“I think the rules and regulations about baseball surprised him,” he said. “He got in trouble for smiling, in trouble for playing hackey sack, for singing and dancing. It wasn’t just for smoking pot. He was right out of high school and he was treating the minor league player director like he was the high school principal. You don’t do that.”
Not if you want to last in this game. And Wilhelmsen did not, 97 mph fastball notwithstanding.
His father regrets a lot of the decisions he made in regards to his son back then. John Wilhelmsen was a Little League coach, then a high school coach who focused heavily on pitching. He worked closely with his son and groomed him to be the player he was on the verge of blossoming into.
Now, his father admits that the baseball dream, at least back in 2005 when his son walked away from the game, may have been more his than anyone else’s. Today, he says, the dream is his son’s alone and he’s stepping back and focusing on being a father and giving advice about off-field stuff. He wishes he did not allow his son to be placed in the treatment program and that he’d done more to ensure he was adequately supervised in Class A ball.
The Brewers had apparently assured him that Wilhelmsen would be eased into Rookie Level ball where he’d be billeted with a host family. Instead, they saw his heater, quickly shot him up to Class A ball and had him rooming with an older player. When I say “old” we’re talking about college age kids or slightly older. Not wisened vets. Guys who are into more serious partying than your average high school kid.
But again, this is a gray area.
The Brewers paid Wilhelmsen $250,000 to sign. He was an adult and expected to perform on the field. Ultimately, when you get a quarter million dollars, you have to produce and the Brewers had every right to expect on-field performance at whatever level they deemed fit. They were not required to be babysitters. And ultimately, they were the ones who lost the quarter million on their investment when Wilhelmsen walked away from the game.
So, tricky questions on a difficult subject. I find this story fascinating on so many levels.
Please understand that Wilhelmsen himself is not the one bringing up these other issues. He understands he messed up and that he wasn’t ready. He knows now what he has to do to make it in baseball and is prepared for it. But he also wants people to know he’s “not some needle junkie” because that’s how the bio about being suspended twice for substance abuse violations tends to read.
Fair enough.
One other thing his dad told me.
“Did you see the size of his hands?” he asked me. “His hands are so big he can practically wrap them around the baseball. That gives him some really good rotation on his curveball and other pitches.”
Should be interesting to watch.
The Mariners are going to give Wilhelmsen all the time he needs for his arm to heal from some pinched nerve and tendinitis issues before he starts a throwing program. After that, if they see the same heat he was throwing in the independent league last summer, he’ll be given the same chance he had back in 2003.
And this time, Wilhelmsen assures me, he’s not going to waste it. We’ll see.

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LF Michael Saunders
2B Dustin Ackley
RF Michael Wilson
1B Mike Carp
DH Tommy Everidge
CF Greg Halman
SS Chris Woodward
C Eliezer Alfonzo
3B Alex Liddi
LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith
DH Franklin Gutierrez
CF Corey Patterson
2B Jack Hannahan
3B Matt Tuiasosopo
RF Ryan Langerhans
1B Brad Nelson
SS Josh Wilson
C Guillermo Quiroz
LF Ezequiel Carrera
RHP Sean White
By the way, we will have Geoff Baker Live! on time at 6 p.m. Pacific time today. I promise. No delays. Here’s the replay from last night.

Comments | Topics: Chris Woodward


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