Results tagged ‘ Mariners Magazine ’
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.”
“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].”
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.”
“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.”
Scott Holter is a freelance writer based in Seattle.
Mariners players provide insights into the lessons learned, advantages gained and lasting value from playing multiple sports while growing up.
By Kieran O’Dwyer
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.
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
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
There is just 6 games remaining in June, starting with tonight’s homestand opening game vs. the Oakland Athletics. That means you have 6 more days to get your June copy of Mariners Magazine (Volume 23, Issue 3) featuring this article on outfielder Michael Saunders and his reinvented swing (article written by Kieran O’Dwyer). 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.