By Brent Stecker
The three seasons that Eric Wedge served as the Seattle Mariners manager were trying ones, to say the least.
The Mariners constantly lacked production in their lineup, and young players like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley struggled to find consistency as everyday players early in their Major League careers. It caused a lot of friction for Wedge and the organization, and he decided he wouldn't return to the the franchise after the 2013 season.
Ex-Mariners manager Eric Wedge told 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" that leaving the team's younger players was the toughest part of his decision not to return to the team after 2013. (AP)
Earlier this week the Mariners began their first regular season since Wedge's departure, and the results from those once-struggling prospects and the team in general have been promising. Considering the early success, which included a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim, and the manner in which he left Seattle, nobody has as interesting a perspective on the Mariners in 2014 as Wedge.
Now an ESPN analyst, Wedge is obviously keeping tabs on his former team, and he was plenty willing to address the Mariners' hot start and his reaction when talking to 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" on Friday.
"I've been excited for Justin Smoak and the early success that he's had. Mike Zunino and (Brad) Miller, all the kids, really," Wedge said. "That was the toughest part about me leaving, was just all the kids."
The treatment of those "kids" was the biggest reason Wedge left Seattle, and while he was quick to explain that he still believes the Mariners' core of young players will turn into a strength, he hasn't forgotten about what led him to leave.
"I've said time and time again that you have a solid group of young players there. Just because people weren't strong enough to be patient and believe in them like they should doesn't mean they're not good players," he said. "It takes time and baseball's a difficult sport."
That time may be here, or it may still be a year off. But Wedge believes that patience will pay off sooner or later in Seattle.
"I think this year and next year you're gonna see performances like you're hoping to see. Patience is rewarded in baseball. It just takes strong people to be able to have that patience, and then it's gonna pay off for the kids and the organization."
So, with the Mariners suddenly giving fans a reason to be optimistic, does Wedge wish he was still with the club?
"Absolutely no second thoughts," he said about his decision to not return to the team. "I left for all the right reasons. I talked to the kids about living by a code and that's what I do."
He's not above acknowledging that getting a fresh face in new manager Lloyd McClendon may have been the right thing for the franchise, though.
"I think that with the decision I made, it probably pushed them in a different direction, and maybe indirectly it's gonna help them."
Follow Brent Stecker on Twitter @BrentStecker.