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April 15, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Chone Figgins refelects on past and present as Mariners prepare for Jackie Robinson Day

Greetings from Safeco Field, where the Mariners will try for a series win today against the Oakland Athletics. It’s also Jackie Robinson Day throughout major league baseball as teams celebrate the man who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Being from Montreal, Robinson has a special meaning for me and my former city’s sports history. Before Robinson played for the Dodgers, he spent 1946 with the Montreal Royals — the Dodgers’ Class AAA farm team. We learned about Robinson in our history classes growing up and how our city was used to ease his transition into more mainstream professional baseball.
I spoke to Chone Figgins about Robinson today, figuring he’d have some perspectives on it as the M’s only American black player and having grown up in Georgia.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Being from Georgia, my mom and dad actually went through segregation. So, they taught us a lot about values and what they went through. I didn’t realize until an older age that they had black and white bathrooms. I didn’t know that. I thought it was more my grandparents, but no, my parents went through that.
“And just for Jackie to be able to go through that and play baseball…going through things where him and his wife went on road trips and had to sleep in different hotels, it’s like a red carpet for us. As different generations move on, it’s become a lot easier.”
Figgins said he tries to speak with Dusty Baker and older former players about the things they went through coming up. And while Robinson is more highly publicized than ever, he doesn’t think today’s generation of players is as appreciative as they could be in regards to how good things are.
“I just don’t think they understand their freedoms,” he said. “They’re excited about being able to go out to restaurants and eat with their friends. That’s the way it should be. But at that time, it wasn’t. And it’s not that long ago.”
He said he never really experienced any racial problems growing up, but had also been taught by his parents to avoid problematic situations.
“People say stuff,” he said. “People are going to say what they want, put until they put their hands up to you or come up to your face, you try to avoid confrontation.”
Interesting side note: if you read the Robinson story I linked to above, you’ll see how the police chief of Sanford, Fla. in 1946 threatened to bar all spring baseball involving the Dodgers if Robinson didn’t cease training there. As a result, he had to leave the city and head back to Daytona Beach.
Sanford is better known these days as the place where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed last month. George Zimmerman is charged with second degree murder in a case that’s polarized opinion across the country in a debate about racism that’s even drawn U.S. President Barack Obama into the fray. So, while some things do change over time, it isn’t always as different or harmonious as we’d like to think.
Figgins feels pretty good about how his season has gone so far. He says “there are still some things that are off” with his swing, especially during a recent slide the past few days that knocked his on-base-percentage down to .302. He’s still hitting .268, which is worlds better than last year’s sub-.200 average. For now, he wants to concentrate on not swinging at some of the bad pitches he knows he needs to lay off of.
But he agrees that he is taking a different approach this year hitting leadoff than batting second.
“I think that’s the thing,” he said. “I look at leading off the game as ‘Let me see what he’s got for the day’,” Figgins said. “And as the game goes on, depending on the situation, I’ll be aggressive versus not being as aggressive. But at first, I’ll try to set the tone for the team.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge feels the move to the leadoff spot has helped Figgins improve. There is a degree of thinking by some who analyze the game that a player’s spot in the batting order doesn’t really matter much, or shouldnt make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Wedge disagrees.
“Well, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” Wedge said. “So, whoever they are, you can tell them that I said that.”
Listen here for the full audio of the exchange.

Figgins and Wedge both agree that he’s driving the ball more and that his healthier hip has plenty to do with it. Wedge said he started noticing Figgins driving the ball better while hitting in the indoor cages up in Seattle in Janaury.
“I think that’s a big part of it,” Wedge said. “He’s healthy. His core is in better shape. He’s more flexible, stronger.”
Figgins feels that his ability to drive the ball is the biggest difference between this season and last.
“That’s what I’m back to,” he said. “I’m getting to drive some pitches and back guys up, so when I do hit some soft liners, they fall in.”
We’re only 10 games in, so there’s a lot of baseball still to play before we know for certain where Figgins and his numbers will start to level off at. He and Ichiro both have the exact same batting average, though after a four-hit debut, Ichiro is hitting just .194 ever since out of the No. 3 position.
So, as we keep saying, it’s still too early to get a definitive read on numbers. You have to look at things like the quality of at-bats and the way the ball keeps coming off the bats of those two players.
With Figgins, his working of counts and ability to hit the ball harder and further does bode well, espeically if he can lay off some of the bad pitches he’s chased. We’ll have to wait and see.
We’ve got the standard lineup out there today, with Miguel Olivo back in at catcher. Only difference is, he’s hitting eighth while Michael Saunders is seventh.
LF Chone Figgins
2B Dustin Ackley
RF Ichiro
1B Justin Smoak
3B Kyle Seager
DH Jesus Montero
CF Michael Saunders
C Miguel Olivo
SS Brendan Ryan
RHP Blake Beavan

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero


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