By Shannon Drayer
Seattlites had baseball on their minds this weekend. A record 17,952 fans came through the turnstiles Saturday and Sunday at Safeco Field as the Mariners almost doubled their Fanfest numbers from the previous year. The previous high for a Fanfest came in 2010 when 17,299 turned out.
I think it is safe to say that those who attended this year did not leave disappointed. The Mariners put on a good show.
It was impressive to see the number of players that participated this year and also great to see the Mariners get creative in getting them out with the fans. In addition to the traditional autograph and dugout dialogue sessions there were also opportunities to meet the players on the main concourse at social media and photo booths as well as on the field.
If you missed the Dugout Dialogues they can be seen on Mariners.com. The highlight for me was hearing Tom Wilhelmsen and Casper Wells sing "Build Me Up Buttercup." The guys were clearly having fun.
I was there both days and had duties that kept me away from the media sessions, but between the show and seeking out guys between events I was able to touch base with just about everyone who made the trip to Seattle for Fanfest.
It was interesting to watch the interactions between the players. This is the first time this year's team had a chance to kind of come together. There was a lot of genuine excitement and enthusiasm to be in Seattle and be together. Michael Morse brought the energy, confidence and optimism that we saw from him in his first go round here. The only difference is he is much bigger, something that several players and media commented on. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he's kind of hard to miss. Michael Saunders probably summed it up best.
"The guy is an animal. He's Beast Mode for a reason, right?" Saunders said, referring to the nickname Morse picked up with the Nationals.
I had a chance to chat briefly with the two players I was most interested to see coming out of the offseason. We have all heard about the running and fitness program that Eric Wedge put Jesus Montero on and he did look a bit trimmer than he did this time last year. As for the speed, Montero is making no promises. He said that he focused on making his running "a little more beautiful," but conceded that he would never be a speedster.
He also said that his focus would be to stay in good enough condition both mentally and physically to stay on the field.
"Everybody knows sometimes I get tired," he said. "Everybody gets tired. But you just try to do your best all the time. I'm going to try to be behind home plate every single time."
A lot will be put on Montero's shoulders this season but the help is there. Another catcher will most likely be signed soon and he will get extra attention from Wedge and the coaches. His development behind the scenes will be almost as important as his development on the field as they look to start to move him out of young-player mode. I get the feeling that some kid gloves will be taken off in the handling of Montero this year despite the fact that he is just 23.
The other player I was curious to see was Franklin Gutierrez. Guti looked happy and healthy and sounded like someone who had something to prove. Staying on the field obviously is the first step he must take. I have written in the past that he could be a huge factor in this team moving forward in terms of wins and losses if he can stay healthy.
That goes beyond this year. The club has an option on Gutierrez for just $7.5 million in 2014 with a $500,000 buyout. A ridiculous bargain considering what Michael Bourn is said to be asking for and what B.J. Upton received. Heck, the qualifying offer this year was $13.3 million. A healthy Gutierrez would be a very, very good thing for the Mariners.
I had suspected – and Gutierrez confirmed – that he left his family at home when he played in Venezuela this winter. Gutierrez and his wife live in Florida and had their first child in October. Gutierrez said it was very hard to leave them but he knew he had to do it. This speaks to his commitment level and is consistent with what I saw from him at the end of last year. As much as we want to see him healthy, he wants it even more.
As for the other players, Blake Beavan looked like a mountain man, Carter Capps seemed a little more mature, Kyle Seager was Kyle Seager – as steady and confident as ever. It was fun to watch Hisashi Iwakuma both on the dugout for the talk with the fans and up in the concourse checking out the construction in the outfield. He even joked a bit with Brendan Ryan during the Dugout Dialogue. He was definitely more comfortable in his surroundings and hopefully more comfortable knowing the demands of a Major League season.
Several of the prospects were there and they appeared to thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to be seen by the Seattle fans. James Paxton and Nick Franklin joined us on the "Hot Stove League Show" and both seemed more comfortable and confident in the interview situation than they did a year ago.
To hear more from the players, the "Hot Stove League Show" podcast can be found here.