Archive for the ‘ Mariners Magazine ’ Category

Mariners Magazine | Nelson Cruz a Difference Maker

For Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz, achieving success between the lines has allowed him to make a meaningful impact off the field.

By Kirby Arnold

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The following article is from the April issue of Mariners Magazine. Pick up yours today at any Mariners Team Store, or subscribe to receive all six issues (April-September), plus a free 2016 Mariners Yearbook, delivered to your home or office. Each issue is filled with great action photography, up to date news, player stats and feature interviews.


With every weight Nelson Cruz lifted in the offseason, every ball he hit off a tee and every stride he took to keep his body in shape, the Mariners star slugger pushed himself with much more than his baseball career in mind.

Sure, the cheers of the crowd and high-fives of teammates are a sweet product of his powerful swing. But so is one heartwarming word he loves to hear, perhaps more than any other: thanks.

Thanks for providing a wheelchair that allows a person the freedom of mobility. Thanks for buying the fire truck that protected a home from burning down in his hometown in the Dominican Republic. And thanks for the ambulance that helped transport the sick to a hospital when there was no such transportation before.

Those things drive Cruz to keep his game at the highest level. He connects his success on the field with the impact he is able to make on his community, especially in Las Matas de Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic, where fire, ambulance and medical services are badly needed.

Without baseball, Cruz wouldn’t be able to provide for his community. And because of community, he has an even greater reason to keep his game at its peak.

Cruz made a donation though Major League Baseball’s “Baseball Cares” initiative to purchase wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and canes for disabled residents near his hometown.

Cruz made a donation though Major League Baseball’s “Baseball Cares” initiative to purchase wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and canes for disabled residents near his hometown.

“Games are important, but we are talking about people’s lives,” Cruz said. “That is more rewarding than anything I can do on the field. But I work harder every year to make sure I stay in the game longer so I can help more people.”

Cruz feels such a responsibility to his teammates, fans, family and those back home that it drives him through a diligent workout regimen designed to make this season better than last. It’s a lofty goal because many of Cruz’s 2015 numbers, including 44 home runs, 178 hits and 90 runs, were the best of his career.

“I want to be even better this year,” he said. “I want to be one of the best, and to be that I have to work. Some guys have God-given talent, but that’s not my case. I have to work hard and I’ve been doing it that way since I can remember.

“But I don’t do it only for myself. I do it for the Mariners, the city of Seattle, my family, the Dominican and the fans of baseball who are always expecting good things. I know they’re always watching and when I have a bad day, it hurts.”

Cruz will turn 36 on July 1, but with age has come an understanding of how far he can push his body. And he pushed it hard during the offseason with a daily regimen that kept him on the field and in the gym nearly nine hours.

“I try to push my body to the limit and see how it reacts,” Cruz said. “With age comes experience. You know what can help you and you know what can hurt you. You stick with the things that have helped you in the past and try to find new things and see if they give you good results.”

Model Person and Teammate

Cruz learned the value of hard work early in his athletic life not only in baseball but also as a basketball player in the Dominican Republic, where he played on the junior national team. The example set by his father, Nelson Cruz Sr., a teacher there, taught him to treat others with respect and serve those less fortunate.

Along with his ability to hit a baseball a long way, those values make Cruz the consummate teammate.

“He has a real teddy bear feel about him. He’s a big guy, but he’s really approachable,” said outfielder Stefen Romero. “He has a phenomenal presence and a phenomenal work ethic. He’s a great example of a guy who has his routine down and comes with a mission, a plan, every day.

“For a young player like me, I see that and try to emulate some of the patterns that he follows. More times than not you want to imitate guys you want to be like, and he’s really a good role model in that aspect.”

Rick Griffin, the Mariners head athletic trainer, considers Cruz one of the two or three nicest players he has worked with in 34 years with the organization.

“Every day he comes to the clubhouse, he says hello and greets everyone,” Griffin said.

Rick Waits, the Mariners minor league pitching coordinator who was the Big League pitching coach last year, marvels at how respectful Cruz is to others.

“He reminds me of David Wright when I was coaching with the Mets,” Waits said. “I told him he didn’t need to call me Mr. Waits every time he saw me.”

For Team and Community

Cruz learned from his father about the importance of devoting his talent and wealth to help make his community a better place.

“I saw him help people in any way he could – kids, any charity that needed help,” Cruz said. “He was always there for them.”

The need to help others became personal to Cruz four years ago when a friend in the Dominican Republic lost his home because there wasn’t sufficient firefighting equipment to respond. Cruz, playing for the Texas Rangers at the time, was determined to find a fire truck for his community.

“I saw him help people in any way he could. He was always there for them.”

– Cruz, on his father’s influence on him

At Spring Training before the 2012 season, he and some of the athletic trainers with the Rangers grabbed a computer and began their search, starting with a simple question via Google: How do you buy a fire truck?

They searched for two weeks and found a lot of information, most of it delivering the reality that firefighting equipment is expensive.

“The prices were sky high,” he said. “We saw one that that was $180,000 to $200,000.”

The Rangers put Cruz in contact with fire officials in Arlington, Texas, and together they found not only a fire truck – a used one that Cruz said cost about $40,000 – but also two ambulances that were badly needed in his hometown. The vehicles were delivered in September 2012.

“The ambulances were very important,” Cruz said. “You don’t know how important something like that is until one of your relatives gets sick and they need a vehicle to take them fast to the hospital. I live one hour from a big hospital, so that is definitely huge.”

Cruz says it’s difficult to imagine here how great the need is for such equipment in the Dominican Republic.

“I know people whose house burned completely because they didn’t have a fire truck. Now, they can know their house is safe,” he said. “The challenge in my hometown is that the roads are not that good. We had to find trucks that could fit on every road and go into the small communities. We had to find trucks that could go over good roads, bad roads and places the big trucks don’t go.”

Last year, Cruz worked with officials from the Seattle Fire Department to have rescue equipment, including uniforms, helmets, boots and gloves, sent to the Dominican. Seattle fire chief Harold Scoggins also has offered to host firefighters from Cruz’s hometown for training.

“These are things that were needed not only in my community but all over the Dominican,” Cruz said. “They sent a lot of things and I totally appreciate everything they did.”

Cruz worked with officials from the Seattle Fire Department to have rescue equipment, including uniforms, helmets, boots and gloves, sent to the Dominican.

Cruz worked with officials from the Seattle Fire Department to have rescue equipment, including uniforms, helmets, boots and gloves, sent to the Dominican.

In January, Cruz made a donation though Major League Baseball’s “Baseball Cares” initiative to purchase wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and canes for disabled residents near his hometown.

“Without wheelchairs, there are people who don’t have any transportation,” Cruz said. “We found a way to get a few of those. The first time we got 12 wheelchairs and I thought that was enough, but it wasn’t even close. So this year we bought 26 wheelchairs. We also did some clinics, went to schools and talked to the kids there who got good grades.”

The words of appreciation touch Cruz as deeply as any adulation he gets for his heroics on the baseball field.

“I have been stopped by people who’ve said, ‘Thank you. Because of the ambulance my parents are still alive,’” he said. “That is something that makes you want to keep doing good things.”

“I have been stopped by people who’ve said, ‘Thank you. Because of the ambulance my parents are still alive.'”

– Cruz, on the importance of giving back

Primed to Produce in 2016

Speaking of doing good things, Cruz is looking to continue the tremendous success on the field that he achieved last season for the Mariners. During Spring Training, manager Scott Servais said that he wants to play Cruz 150-160 games this season, including time as designated hitter for many of those. Cruz is open to anything that helps the team, but admits the DH role is a challenge.

He batted .337 in 313 at-bats last year while playing 80 games, in the outfield compared with .263 in 278 at-bats over 72 games at DH.

“I just want to play. It doesn’t matter where he puts me,” Cruz said. “I don’t worry about me, I worry about my team. Whatever they call me to do, I’ll be ready for that.”

Cruz hopes to find a game-day routine that allows him to settle better into the DH role, and he has spoken with some of the best about it – Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Victor Martinez and, of course, Mariners hitting coach Edgar Martinez.

“Everybody is different,” Cruz said. “They all had to pick from their routines the things that helped them. It’s kind of difficult, especially if you struggle. You can think too much about hitting, and in this game if you think too much it’s not good. You have to trust what you have and let your ability and talent take over.”

Cruz visits with students at a school near his hometown.

Cruz visits with students at a school near his hometown.

Martinez is confident Cruz will adapt well to DH duty because he knows his swing and remains consistent with his preparation.

“The key is to stay in the game mentally, anticipate situations and be involved in the flow of the game,” Martinez said. “I had to have routines and I stuck with them every day, and he does the same thing. Nelson is very consistent in his approach, he knows his mechanics well and he sticks with it. He studies the pitchers and works really hard on his swing. He is very consistent in everything he does. Everything has a purpose.”

Cruz says he has personal goals for this season, although he prefers not to talk about them. His main objective is to help the Mariners win, which will make any individual accomplishment more worthwhile.

“You definitely want to develop and compete, not only as a team but as an individual,” he said. “The numbers look better when your team wins.”

When Cruz can help his team win, and then focus on real-life issues that benefit people in need, there’s no better feeling.


Kirby Arnold, a sports writer and editor for 42 years, covered the Mariners from 1999-2011 for The Herald in Everett, WA.

 

Mariners Magazine | Carson Smith Gaining Experience

In his first full season in the Majors, reliever Carson Smith has pretty much handled everything thrown his way.

By Kirby Arnold

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The following article is from the September issue of Mariners Magazine. Pick up yours today at any Mariners Team Store, or subscribe to receive all six issues (April-September), plus a free 2015 Mariners Yearbook, delivered to your home or office. Each issue is filled with great action photography, up to date news, player stats and feature interviews.


It’s the ninth inning, the Mariners have a one-run lead and Carson Smith steps to the mound knowing what’s at stake. One bad pitch, or one good swing on a good pitch, or one unlucky bounce can unravel everything his team has worked to accomplish the previous eight innings.

Bring on the responsibility, Smith says. It’s the pressure-filled world as he lives it – and loves it – as the Mariners rookie closer.

Smith simplifies the situation, believes in himself and knows that the joy of a game won, or the anguish if it gets away, will last only as long as it takes to prepare for the next day.

“I’ve just got to stay focused on what I can control,” said the 25-year-old from Dallas. “You can’t control a lot of things in this game. After the ball leaves your hand, there’s nothing you can do about it. I just focus on what I can do when they put the ball in my hand. And that’s delivering quality pitches, hoping to get ground balls and if I get two strikes, hoping to put the hitter away. That’s my outlook.”

“I know that no day is guaranteed here. Anybody who takes a day for granted here is mistaken.”

– Carson Smith

“I’ve just got to stay focused on what I can control,” said the 25-year-old from Dallas. “You can’t control a lot of things in this game. After the ball leaves your hand, there’s nothing you can do about it. I just focus on what I can do when they put the ball in my hand. And that’s delivering quality pitches, hoping to get ground balls and if I get two strikes, hoping to put the hitter away. That’s my outlook.”

Carson Smith has appeared in a team-high 64 games this season.

Carson Smith has appeared in a team-high 64 games this season.

Shifting Roles

It’s an approach, along with the fastball, slider and sinker that can be wicked to hitters, that worked well when the Mariners turned to Smith as their closer in June.

He converted nine straight save opportunities from June 6-July 24, three of them while protecting one-run leads and two others with the Mariners leading by two runs. They’re high-leverage moments that can clutter a young pitcher’s mind, but Smith keeps his as clear as his approach.

“I try not to get overwhelmed by the intensity of the situation,” he said. “If anything, I try to feed off it.  The good relievers can really feed off pressure-packed situations. I’m young in this game and hopefully I can continue to feed off the energy of the crowd and the situation.”

Smith recorded 40 saves in his three minor league seasons, and he pitched in nine games for the Mariners last September after they gave him a first taste of the Major Leagues.

“I’m not going to say it was easy by any means,” he said. “Playing in front of 30,000 in Oakland in my debut, the nerves were going.”

He threw two pitches in that game on Sept. 1, getting Josh Donaldson to ground out. It became the launching point for an impressive month, when Smith allowed two hits and struck out 10 in 8¹⁄³ scoreless innings.

Smith started this season spectacularly, helping secure the Mariners 4-1 season-opening victory over the Angels by striking out Mike Trout with two outs and two runners on base in the eighth inning.

“I’ve been able to transition into not being as nervous about it, knowing I’m capable of getting guys out in this league,” Smith said. “As long as you have confidence out there and you don’t let anybody see through you, you’ll be able to pitch a long time.”

It’s only the beginning of Smith’s Big-League experience, but so far he has given the Mariners bullpen a needed late-inning lift. He took over the closer job after veteran Fernando Rodney struggled, and he found immediate success.

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Mental Strength

Smith’s strong arm and the late life to his pitches impressed everyone, but the guys closest to him saw an intangible that the best relievers must have – a mental approach strong enough to withstand the pressure of a close game.

“I’ve been around a while and I’ve seen numerous guys come up and make their debuts with the good stuff that they have,” said former Mariners reliever Mark Lowe, who became a mentor to Smith before he was traded in July to the Blue Jays. “A lot of guys have good stuff, but not a lot of guys have the psychological aspect to be a good reliever. When I see Carson, I see the stuff and I see the psychological aspect. I see the short mind where what happened the day before is gone the next day.

“I’ve told him numerous times, ‘If you stay healthy, you will do this for a long time because you just have it.’”

Lowe’s first grand impression of Smith came from an interesting perspective – watching him on TV in April.

Lowe and Smith competed in Spring Training for a spot in the bullpen, but both were sent down to Class AAA Tacoma one week before the season opener. Four days later, the Mariners called up Smith while Lowe remained with Tacoma until he was called up in early May.

“When I was in Tacoma I saw him throw on TV and I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, there’s no reason that guy should ever be in Triple-A,’ ” Lowe said.

When the Mariners called up Lowe on May 4, he quickly learned that Smith had much more than a live arm.

“He wants to win every day. Every time we score a run he’s the first one screaming his lungs out in the bullpen,” Lowe said. “You appreciate that because a lot of guys may have the talent but it might just be for themselves. When you have a guy who has the talent and he wants to win, it’s only going to make him better and it’s going to make the team better, and hopefully other guys feed off that.”

Smith treasures the advice of the Mariners veteran relievers and credits them for his growth.

“It’s special that everybody is pulling for each other and trying to learn from each other,” he said. “That’s something I’m doing every day with these guys who’ve been around the game a long time.  I’m just taking it day-by-day and enjoying it while I’m doing it.”

Along with sage advice, Smith has absorbed plenty of good-natured ribbing from his bullpen elders. Much of it centers on Smith’s unconventional throwing motion, a drop-down fling from the side.

When Mariners reliever Joe Beimel first saw Smith playing catch in the outfield last year, he thought the youngster was kidding around. Every time Smith and Lowe played catch together this season, Lowe would shout sarcastically, “Get that ping-pong paddle out! Get the arm loose!”

Lowe described Smith’s arm slot as the perfect motion for playing ping-pong.

“In the offseason, everybody else has to work out,” Lowe said. “But all Carson has to do is play ping-pong and hit forehands over and over and over, and then he’s done. When he comes to spring training he’s ready to go. The mechanics are down and the release point is there.”

Every Experience Helps

Late-inning duty can deliver the ultimate high when Smith protects a lead, but the most bitter disappointment when he doesn’t. He has experienced it all – striking out Trout in the season opener and recording eight straight saves, but also suffering two losses and a blown save in a seven-day period in late July and early August.

“It’s tough to say what the high point has been because I have such a small sample size,” Smith said. “But if I had to pick a game, it’s my first appearance this year with Mike Trout up. That was special because a week prior to that, I thought I was going to be in Tacoma. But to be put into a situation like that, where the Mariners had the trust in me to get the job done, that was a pretty big turnaround for me in seven days.”

Smith has learned to handle the times he has struggled with the advice of his veteran teammates.

“I got onto him a couple of times, in a nice way of course, after he came in a couple of times and gave up a few hits but no runs,” Lowe said. “He expects so much of himself that he’s upset about the two hits he gave up. I would tell him, ‘This is the Big Leagues. You threw up a zero. That’s a good day. This is the highest level you can possibly pitch at. So what are you mad about? It’s over, it’s done and you did your job.’”

Confident as he is with his ability to handle the late-game pressure, Smith appreciates everything about being in the Major Leagues, including the successes and failures.

“I know there are going to be struggles,” he said. “That’s what this game is all about, struggling and then how you rebound. I’m just scratching the surface learning this game.

“I know that no day is guaranteed here. Anybody who takes a day for granted here is mistaken. I’ve been told by a lot of people that it’s easy to get here but it’s tough to stay.

I try to appreciate every little thing, from pulling up to the stadium in the afternoon, to the food here that is night and day different than the minor leagues, to the veterans I learn from. From that aspect, I hope I never get comfortable.”

Seattle Mariners opening day on Monday, April 6, 2015. (Photo: John Froschauer)


Kirby Arnold, a sports writer and editor for 42 years, covered the Mariners from 1999-2011 for The Herald in Everett, WA.

 

Mariners Magazine Preview | Back in Action

After a season away contemplating life and baseball, Franklin Gutierrez is back playing the game he loves.

By Scott Holter

 


The following article is from the September issue of Mariners Magazine. Pick up yours today at any Mariners Team Store, or subscribe to receive all six issues (April-September), plus a free 2015 Mariners Yearbook, delivered to your home or office. Each issue is filled with great action photography, up to date news, player stats and feature interviews.


With 20 minutes worth of batting cage sweat still dripping from his brow, Franklin Gutierrez leans back in a chair, hands buckled behind his head, and flashes a trademark smile.

It’s three hours before first pitch and the 32-year-old outfielder nods to his clubhouse neighbor and fellow Venezuelan Felix Hernandez as he explains how grateful he is to be back in baseball and back with Seattle.

 

“To see my friends and to be playing with them again, it’s huge for me.”

-Franklin Gutierrez

 

“It’s just a blessing to be playing professional baseball again, and especially with the team I love,” said Gutierrez, who joined the Mariners in late June after spending the first three months at Triple A Tacoma. “I don’t have the words to explain it: all the fans, the city, the ballpark. I just want to win here. They treated me so well. I feel comfortable [in Seattle].”

Guti celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam vs. the Tigers. (Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Guti celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam. (Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images)

A Year in the Making

Gutierrez was feeling anything but comfort when he informed the organization just before the start of Spring Training in 2014 that he would have to miss the season due to a chronic arthritic condition that had zapped his strength, his balance and his ability to bounce back on a daily basis.

So instead of spending the season in Seattle with his friends and teammates, the native of Caracas, Venezuela was at home in Boca Raton, Fla., getting in quality time with his wife and son rarely afforded to baseball players. At the same time, he was longing to get back on the diamond.

“I went to the gym every day and kept up with the team, but I didn’t do anything [baseball related] until about August,” he recalled. “Then I started swinging the bat again, running and getting my body ready for winter ball. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could play baseball again. I thought if I could get on the field, a team might want to sign me.”

That team was the one that knew him best. The Mariners again inked Gutierrez to a minor league deal last January, ticketing him for Tacoma in hopes of kick starting his journey back to the Big Leagues.

“When [camp] first started, it was hard,” admitted Gutierrez. “Waking up early every day and getting into the routine again. I knew that I had to go to Tacoma before I would play [in Seattle], to work on my hitting, my body and my legs. I guess the hard work paid off.”

Gutierrez hit .317 in 48 games with the Rainiers, with seven homers and 31 RBIs, while mostly patrolling the corner outfield positions.

 

“He’s finding ways to contribute and has really been a huge bonus for us.”

-Nelson Cruz

 

“When I got the call up I felt like a rookie again,” said Gutierrez. “There were a lot of emotions going on. When you work hard and accomplish something you set out to accomplish, it’s great. To see my friends and to be playing with them again, it’s huge for me.”

Return to Form

Gutierrez is now a platoon corner outfielder, finding his way in the starting lineup exclusively against lefties. Still, he prepares the same way as when he was known as “Death To Flying Things,” the moniker bestowed on him by legendary announcer Dave Niehaus for Gutierrez’s ability to chase down baseballs in Safeco Field’s outfield.

His appearance is similar to when he first joined Seattle in a trade from Cleveland in 2009 — lean and muscular — though he admits being up 15 pounds to about 210. His current pregame routine is a series of exercises geared to keep his body loose and mind at ease.

“I don’t do weights as much as before because I get too stiff,” he said. “My body has changed a bit. I do light weights and a lot of balancing exercises, working on the small muscles as opposed to the big muscles.

“I still have to deal with stiffness every day, sore heels, lower back. But I know I have to keep going. I know my body a lot better and I know what I have to do to recover.”

Though he hit 18 home runs for the Mariners and knocked in 70 runs six years ago, Gutierrez actually feels like he has more power these days. Two particular round-trippers are already at the top of the Mariners 2015 highlight reel: a pinch-hit grand slam to help beat the Tigers on July 21, and a 10th-inning game-winning homer over Toronto five days later.

It’s not hard to find praise for his efforts from teammates. Nelson Cruz is happy to be playing alongside Gutierrez after admiring his game for years from the other dugout while a member of the Texas Rangers.

“It’s great to have him out here, especially knowing what he went through to get himself ready to play,” said Cruz. “He’s finding ways to contribute and has really been a huge bonus for us.”

Gutierrez reflects on this season’s memorable home runs “because they really felt good, not only for myself but because they helped my team win. That’s what it’s all about. I know that if I contribute to winning, I’ll find myself on the field more often.”

Defensively, Gutierrez may not flash the gazelle-like grace of four years ago, but he remains a solid Major League outfielder with a flair for tracking down line drives and an arm that base runners still must respect.

“Being in the corners is not easier, but it does allow you to take care of yourself a lot more than if you’re in the middle,” said Gutierrez, about playing left and right field, as opposed to center. “Still, if I have to go after a ball, I’m going to do it.”

Appreciating the Opportunity

On this day Gutierrez took some early work in the batting cage, a routine that he started early in the season to reacquaint himself with his craft. He remembers it not taking long to feel comfortable again in the batter’s box.

“It was just remembering to watch for the fastball first,” he said, “because if you can’t recognize the fastball, then you’re in trouble.”

It didn’t hurt that Gutierrez joined the Mariners four days after another familiar face — Edgar Martinez — joined the organization as hitting coach. A month earlier Martinez visited Tacoma and offered advice to Gutierrez about his daily routine in the batting cage.

“What can I say about Edgar?” said Gutierrez. “He’s not only a great guy, but he has so much knowledge about hitting. He teaches us about preparation before every at-bat and works individually with everybody. You really appreciate all you can get from a guy like that.”

Appreciation is a familiar word these days in Gutierrez’s vocabulary, mostly for what he has accomplished in a season where many doubted that he’d ever see the Big Leagues again.

“When I got to Tacoma in the spring, I wasn’t thinking about anything,” he said. “I would just go to the ballpark, see pitches and swing the bat. I didn’t have to prove to anybody that I could play. I worked hard and made it back here, and I’m so happy because I love baseball.”

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Scott Holter is a freelance writer based in Seattle.

Multiple Benefits – Mariners Magazine Preview

Mariners players provide insights into the lessons learned, advantages gained and lasting value from playing multiple sports while growing up.

By Kieran O’Dwyer

Seth Smith believes his time on the football field provided helpful lessons that still apply to his approach on the diamond.

Seth Smith believes his time on the football field provided valuable lessons that still apply to his approach on the diamond.


The following article is from the August issue of Mariners Magazine. Pick up yours today at any Mariners Team Store, or subscribe to receive all six issues (April-September), plus a free 2015 Mariners Yearbook, delivered to your home or office. Each issue is filled with great action photography, up to date news, player stats and feature interviews.


When Seth Smith was a teenager attending Hillcrest Christian High School in Jackson, Mississippi, he kept busy during the springtime by leading the baseball team to back-to-back Class 4A state championships in 1997 and 1998, all while earning multiple honors at the local and state level. As for the rest of the school year? Well, during autumn he was firing the pigskin all over the gridiron – in his high school career he threw more than 50 touchdowns and accumulated nearly 6,000 passing yards at quarterback – while also earning state honors. As if that weren’t enough, he earned three letters in basketball as an all-conference player and five letters in soccer. Having conquered the high school sports landscape, Smith moved on to the University of Mississippi, where he starred on the baseball team and was a member of the football team that included future two-time Super Bowl winning QB Eli Manning.

When Austin Jackson was a teenager attending Billy Ryan High School in Denton, Texas, he helped lead the baseball team to the class AAAA Texas State championship game. Moreover, Baseball America named him the best 15-year-old baseball player in the nation. Pretty heady stuff. Much like Smith, however, Jackson wasn’t the type to rest on his baseball accomplishments. So when he wasn’t tearing it up on the diamond, he could be found schooling opponents on the hardwood. Ranked by some media outlets as one of the top point guards in the country, Jackson looked like he was headed to Georgia Tech – a member of the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference – to play baseball and basketball. Ultimately, his desire to pursue a baseball career won out and he decided to turn pro out of high school.

Austin Jackson's athleticism made him one of the top point guards in the country while attending Billy Ryan High School in Denton, Texas.

Austin Jackson’s athleticism made him one of the top point guards in the country while attending Billy Ryan High School in Denton, Texas.

Each year, only a select handful of youngsters achieve the level of successes across various sports that Smith and Jackson enjoyed. Yet, even though the championships and honors are fun to reminisce about, both Mariners, as well as their teammates interviewed for this feature, focused instead on how participating in a diversity of sports from elementary school through high school proved invaluable toward their development into well-rounded individuals and athletes.

“I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the different sports I played coming up,” said Smith. “Not only that, but [also] the different coaches and people that I was around that were part of my life. People I was able to learn from along the way who can kind of help propel you forward. As well as the different lessons that different sports teach you – whether it’s time management, working as a team, picking each other up, whatever it may be. All of that definitely came from playing a lot of different sports and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Developing Well-Rounded Athletes

It’s no secret that one of the hottest issues related to youth sports in recent years is the debate over whether youngsters should specialize in playing one sport year-round from an early age or play multiple sports while
growing up.

The vast majority of literature available on this topic suggests that the latter approach may provide a healthier long-term path, both physiologically and psychologically, for kids. Still, there are those who believe focusing on one sport and consistently fine-tuning the skill sets and mechanics needed to excel can give a kid a big advantage on the field or court over “seasonal players.”

That said, and without diving head-first into this debate now (including its related factors such as medical issues and financial costs), at least one thing is certain among those Mariners who played multiple sports: there is no debate.

“Growing up in Maine you’re forced to play two or three sports [because of the weather],” said reliever Charlie Furbush, who also excelled on the soccer pitch and basketball court through his high school years. “I was fortunate and think it was a blessing in disguise to get to play more than one sport instead of trying to be all-in in one. I think it broadens your physical and mental ability athletically.

“I’m not saying that [specialization] doesn’t work, but I certainly learned from playing soccer and basketball [about] the competitiveness and what it takes in each sport to do well. I took those things and translated them to baseball.”

Charlie Furbush looks for an open man while playing basketball as a teenager in Maine. Photo: Portland Press Herald.

Charlie Furbush looks for an open man while playing basketball as a teenager in Maine. Photo: Portland Press Herald.

Like Furbush, Jackson is quick to give a nod for his overall success as a baseball player today to having played more than one sport as a kid. Mariners fans enjoy watching the athletic center fielder fly around the bases, lay out for line drives in the gap and leap into the night sky to haul in deep fly balls. He believes the countless hours of work he put in dribbling and driving, and dishing and swishing on blacktops all around the Dallas-Ft Worth area proved beneficial to his overall athleticism.

“For me, being a point guard and having to focus on footwork and being quick was big,” he said. “Those things transition easily to baseball – the first step you take [on defense when the ball comes] off the bat, that first step after your secondary [lead] on the basepaths. That was pretty similar to the first step in basketball, making that move to beat the guy defending you. All those things helped, especially when I was going from basketball season straight to baseball. I knew I wouldn’t have to get back as much of my speed and quickness because basketball had already pretty much helped. With those things the fast-twitch muscles, the explosiveness, were pretty much already trained and ready to go.”

“Being a point guard and having to focus on footwork and being quick was big. Those things transition easily to baseball.”

-Austin Jackson

Fellow former hoopster Nelson Cruz agreed. As a youngster growing up in the Dominican Republic where baseball reigns supreme, Cruz wanted to “Be Like Mike.” Not Trout, of course. Michael Jordan. He even played basketball for his country’s Junior National Team.

Slugger Nelson Cruz was a member of the Dominican Republic Junior National Basketball Team.

Slugger Nelson Cruz was a member of the Dominican Republic Junior National Basketball Team.

“With basketball I think you have to have quick feet, quick hands,” the All-Star slugger pointed out. “You’re running and jumping, always moving. It all transfers to baseball – hitting, defense. I think it helped me become a good athlete.”

Transferring Skills Among Sports

Smith believes his time on the football field provided vital transferable lessons that still apply to his approach as a baseball player.

“As a quarterback, you have to prepare yourself in a certain way to be successful,” he explained. “You have to know what everybody is supposed to be doing, where they’re going on any given play. You have to be able to take charge in the huddle. Also, you can’t get too high or too low no matter what’s going on. You have to be the calming, steady influence for the offense. Things like that kind of mold your personality.

“Certainly, as you get into professional baseball, there is a lot of failure and a little bit of success and you have to find a way to stay on an even keel. You learn to understand that the hard times won’t last forever and, at the same time, neither will the good times.”

Should Smith ever want to talk football, he could easily bond with Pat Kivlehan. Like Smith, the 25-year-old infielder currently playing for Triple-A Tacoma starred in both baseball and football through high school and played both sports at the collegiate level.

“I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the different sports I played coming up.”

-Seth Smith

“I think playing different sports helped keep me a more well-rounded athlete,” said Kivlehan, who played safety and linebacker for Rutgers University for four seasons, and baseball in his senior year. Amazingly, after a three-year absence from competitive baseball, he returned to the diamond as a senior and thrived – so much so that he earned the first Triple Crown in Conference history and was named the Big EAST Player of the Year.

Mariners prospect Pat Kivlehan played football for four seasons at Rutgers University before returning to the diamond.

Mariners prospect Pat Kivlehan played football for four seasons at Rutgers University before returning to the diamond.

“Concentrating on just one sport, let’s say baseball year-round, you kind of get specific and geared into that sport and can lose your overall general athleticism,” he added. “Things you don’t do a lot in baseball, like running and jumping in a football or basketball way, you kind of lose that and the sense of ‘burst’ that you’d get playing those other sports. When you bring that over into your baseball season, you’re ahead of those guys who are just concentrating on a few baseball motions throughout the year, while guys who played basketball and football maintain that more athletic body frame.”

Kivlehan said the physicality and mentality of football also proved advantageous when it was time to move into the baseball season.

“I felt like I was physically stronger, and wouldn’t wear down as easy,” he noted. “Baseball workouts are obviously different than football where you’re looking to lift as much weight as possible. I learned the mentality of knowing there’s a guy over there trying to knock you over and you’ve got to knock him over first. It’s not really that kind of a mentality in baseball; it’s a more laid back approach. Still, when I took the mentality and physicality that I learned in football over to baseball I felt like that confidence and athleticism gave me an advantage.”

Beyond developing into well-rounded athletes, getting the opportunity to learn from various coaches and bond with other players, Furbush emphasized that there is another valuable – if less talked about – benefit to playing multiple sports when growing up. Indeed, it’s something that he said he and his Mariners teammates continue to seek comfort in as professional athletes: the opportunity to step away and catch your breath.

“It’s nice to talk to kids and tell them, ‘Hey, don’t be afraid to take a break. It’s ok if you want to let your mind and body recover from baseball. Play another sport or do something else for a while.’ As Big Leaguers, we play almost every day, so sometimes when we have those days off, they’re really valuable, not just physically, but [also] especially mentally. Just to be able to get away and shut it off. Then to come back fresh and ready to go.”


Kieran O’Dwyer is a freelance sportswriter based in New York.

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Mariners Magazine & 2014 Yearbook

The first edition of Mariners Magazine (Volume 25, Issue 1) featuring Robinson Cano is now available for purchase throughout Safeco Field and at any of the five Mariners Team Stores. You can also subscribe to Mariners Magazine and have it delivered to your home.

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The 2014 edition of the Mariners Yearbook featuring cover boys Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano has also been published and is available at Safeco Field and Mariners Team Stores.

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Be sure to pick up your copies of both publications, as well as the 2014 Information Guide, starting at tonight’s home opener vs. the Angels.

Mariners Magazine – Kyle Seager

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The third edition of Mariners Magazine (Volume 24, Issue 3) featuring Kyle Seager is now available for purchase throughout Safeco Field and at any of the five Mariners Team Stores. You can also subscribe to Mariners Magazine and have it delivered to your home.

The vintage cover shows Kyle in the throwback uniform of the 1909 Seattle Turks that the Mariners will wear later this month for the June 29 game vs. the Chicago Cubs.

Here is the feature article on Kyle that runs in the magazine:

Mariners Magazine – Hisashi Iwakuma

The second edition of Mariners Magazine (Volume 24, Issue 2) featuring Hisashi Iwakuma is now available for purchase throughout Safeco Field and at any of the five Mariners Team Stores. You can also subscribe to Mariners Magazine and have it delivered to your home.

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Mariners Magazine & 2013 Yearbook

The first edition of Mariners Magazine (Volume 24, Issue 1) featuring Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales is now available for purchase throughout Safeco Field and at any of the five Mariners Team Stores. You can also subscribe to Mariners Magazine and have it delivered to your home.

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The 2013 edition of the Mariners Yearbook featuring cover boys Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez, Raul Ibañez and Dustin Ackley has also been published and is available at Safeco Field and Mariners Team Stores.

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2013 Seattle Mariners Media Guide

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The 2013 Seattle Mariners Information Guide is a great resource for information on players (Major League & Minor League), as well as historical information about the franchise. We hope you enjoy this in-depth look at the 2013 squad as well as the history of the Seattle Mariners.

You can pick up a hard copy of the publication for $10 at any of the Seattle Mariners Team Stores, including the souvenir shop at Peoria Stadium.

Mariners Magazine – King of September

Beginning with today’s game vs. the Los Angeles Angels,  Mariners fans will have their first chance to pick up the September issue of Mariners Magazine (Volume 23, Issue 6) featuring Felix Hernandez on the cover. The cover and main article in the issue celebrate the 23rd perfect game in Major League Baseball history thrown by Felix on Aug. 15 vs. the Tampa Bay Rays.

Below is the featured article in magazine (King of Perfection) on the Mariners ace.

You can pick up Mariners Magazine throughout Safeco Field and at any of the five Mariners Team Stores. You can also subscribe to Mariners Magazine and have it delivered to your home.

– JE

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