The Mariners had a few of their recent draft picks at Safeco Field today to take batting practice, and the symbolism wasn’t lost on Mike Zunino.
“It’s crazy, seeing draft picks here hitting batting practice like I was a year ago,” he said. “To feel you’re actually a part of the Mariners is sort of unreal to me. I’m going to keep working hard, and try do my best, and hopefully bring a hard-nose attitude to this team, and help this team go.”
Zunino’s day began in Las Vegas, and it got a jolt with a mid-morning phone call in his hotel room from farm director Chris Gwynn. After they exchanged pleasantries, Gwynn asked him, “Why do you think I’m calling you?”
Replied Zunino, “I can think of two things.”
“I think it’s probably the better of the two,” Gwynn told him.
Zunino called his wife, Alyssa, who was downstairs, and told her to come up as fast as she could. After he broke the news to her, he drove with trainer Tom Newburg to the ballpark of the Las Vegas 51s, packed his equipment, rushed to the airport and caught a flight to Seattle (his family in Florida plans to fly to Seattle tomorrow). Zunino arrived in time to take batting practice in the final group.
“I don’t think I could have pictured this a year ago, that this is where I’d be,” he said. “It’s exceeded anything I ever dreamed of. I’m just going to embrace it and take it as it comes.”
General manager Jack Zduriencik said that the Mariners’ callup of Zunino was dictated by the injury to Jesus Sucre that left them short of catching at the major-league level. Brandon Bantz was envisioned as a short-term fill-in, but that changed when Sucre went on the disabled list.
“We had a little bit of a later target date (for Zunino), but when you look at we had an injury right now, there’s no harm in bringing him up,” he said. “Let’s see where we’re at. The move we made prior to this, we thought Sucre was going to be out for just a couple days and we were looking for short-term coverage. And we had a day game after a night game. So now that I think Sucre is going to be out a little longer, that predicated us looking at Zunino right now.
“We were all impressed with what he did in spring training. I don’t think anybody here is expecting miracles. We’re not looking like he’s the answer. We’re just looking as we put this together and where we’re at right now, we know he’s going to be a guy that is counted on going forward and it’s the right thing to do at this time for him. So we’ll bring him up here, give him a chance to play and see how it works out.”
Asked how he’s going to use him, manager Eric Wedge said, “Some of that will depend on him. He doesn’t have to come up here and play every day. That’s not something he has to do. But he’s going to play, and play consistently. We’ll just see how it plays out.”
Wedge added, “You look at his path and what we saw all spring, what we know he’s doing in Triple-A, we felt it was a good time to start his big-league career. He’s so comfortable in his own skin, he handles everything very well, he’s a complete player, so we felt it was time for him to take the next challenge. We feel like he’s going to be our guy in the future. You come up here, it’s a whole different set of circumstances. The sooner he can get to that, and get into that learning curve, for a guy we feel can be an every-day guy for us, the better off we’ll be in the future.”
Asked what he would say to those who feel he’s not ready, Zunino said, “All I can do is go out and play the best ball I can. If I can help the ball team win in any way, I think that’s being ready. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Zunino believes his struggles this year that brought his average under .200 at one point will help him in the long term. He’s now at .238.
“You learned about yourself as a ballplayer,” he said. “You have to go through struggles to have good times when you’re playing. Everyone is going to encounter those. I had great help from the coaching staff and my teammates to get back on track. You get down that low, it’s tough to climb back up, but I tried to piece together good at-bats, and continue to catch well, because I know that’s the most important part, and that’s all I could focus on. Pitchers adjusted to me, and I had to adjust back. it’s very easy to fall into a little spiral playing every day. It was a matter of putting the last game behind me and focusing on the next one.”
And now the next one for Zunino will be in the major leagues.