Closing Time with Tom Wilhelmsen

Tom Wilhelmsen makes the journey from the bullpen to the mound to close out a Mariners win.

Tom Wilhelmsen just finished his last warm-up pitch in the bullpen, he takes a deep breath, Jimi Hendrix starts to play over the speakers, and Mariners fans start to cheer.

This could mean only one thing, It’s Closing Time.

After a handful of fist-bumps, and a short trek down the ramp to the bullpen gate, #54 appears through the opening in the outfield wall and then everything goes blank. For the next 289 feet, Tom has only his thoughts and a vast stretch of outfield grass before he takes his place on the mound to close out another Mariners victory.

In his first year as the Mariners closer, Wilhelmsen has been stellar converting 29 of 32 save opportunities since taking over the role in early June. With his success in the new role, we sat down with Tom to ask the former bartender a few light-hearted questions about what it is like to come into the game with the game on the line:

On the way to the bullpen gate, Tom collects his thoughts while Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child plays at Safeco Field.

You just finished your last warm-up pitch, and you are going into the game with a one-run lead. What are you thinking?
Quite honestly, I am trying not to think. Just take a few deep breaths, try to lock in and concentrate on the task at hand. Let everything else go and just think about throwing strikes.

This is a new role for you, so do you have any type of routine when coming out of the bullpen?
No, I just get focused, clear my mind and let the rest take care of itself.

You cross through the outfield fence and it is just you and the outfield grass on the way to the mound. What’s that like?
I would be lying if I didn’t say it was pretty cool. But you have to block that stuff out. I do hear some of the song that is played when I come out (Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix) and that kind of pumps me up. But really, whether the score is 1-0 of 5-3, I’ve got a job to do and that is usually get three outs.

So you come into home games to a song by Seattle native Jimi Hendrix. How did that come about?
I’ve always like Hendrix. How can you not? He’s the best, and it is just fitting that he is from Seattle.

Some closers run as fast as they can to the mound, some closers take their time. How would you describe your style?
Not slow, not fast…I don’t really know. Certainly not as fast as Heath Bell, but not as slow as Fernando Rodney. Just try to loosen up, clear my mind and get locked in. It is almost like a blur at times.

How would you describe that walk/run from the bullpen?
Really cool! I mean, what better spot to be in than come out and have the chance to lock up a win for your team. Whether it is the 2-3-4 hitters, or the bottom of the lineup, my focus is on getting three outs and shaking a lot of hands.

After throwing his final warm-up pitches, Tom gets locked-in and focuses on getting three quick outs.

– JE

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