Mariners CEO John Stanton joined “Brock and Salk” on 710 ESPN Seattle Friday morning for a 25-minute interview in which he shared his enthusiasm for the team, pointed out some don’t-miss series in the upcoming season and further defined the club’s 2017 slogan, “Whatever it takes.”
“This season is special. It’s our 40th year,” Stanton said. “This is also the 16th season since we have been in the playoffs. This team has never been to the World Series. This is a season where we need to do whatever it takes to win. But I think we have done it.”
Stanton pointed to the offseason moves that general manager Jerry Dipoto made and the fact that the Mariners have the highest payroll in team history as big steps toward the ultimate goal.
“This is a team that I believe is terrific,” he said. “This is about having the right guys, not just the right talented athletes, but the right combination of athletes. Having (Robinson) Cano and (Jean) Segura up the middle. Having these guys who really have affection for each other. Having the mentoring relationship that Robbie had with (Ketel) Marte last year was great, but now he has got a peer sitting on the other side of second base from him. Very exciting.”
Truth be told, Stanton finds everything about baseball exciting. It is not unusual for the Mariners CEO to stop by a T-ball game on the way to dinner. Not content to wait for the professional seasons to begin, he has already seen 15 college games this year and is heading to Oregon – “in the rain!” he said – to watch a few more this weekend. What he has seen in Peoria with the Mariners both on and off the field has further stoked his enthusiasm.
“I would start off with giving Scott Servais a lot of credit,” he said. “He loves to say culture beats strategy. I think you need to have both, but he has created a culture. The second thing is the way the veteran players are leading. Robbie and Nelson (Cruz) are obvious. Felix (Hernandez) has really stepped up in an incredibly positive way. Felix has historically been just a freakishly good pitcher, but he’s become a leader. He’s sitting in the middle of the room now, he’s encouraging other players in a way that is very positive.”
Stanton is bullish on the younger additions to the team, Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach. He predicts Drew Smyly is “going to be awesome” this year. When all is said and done he believes this team will play in the postseason this year.
“I think we’ve got the right guys. I think we do whatever it takes. What you have got to do now is respond if there are injuries, if players don’t perform, then you have got to respond, but I think we are well positioned to do that,” he said.
Responding in season takes resources. Stanton was asked if they would be available.
“We have the resources to do what we need to do,” he answered, “but I want to start by questioning your premise. I believe we have a team that can compete. I believe we have a team that can win 90 games. I think the difference between us making the playoffs, maybe the difference between 85 and 95 or between 90 and 100 is getting people in the ballpark. What do we need to do to get people in the ballpark?”
Stanton gave Brock Huard and Mike Salk pocket schedules that were personalized with games of interest highlighted for each host. He has some personal favorites, including opening day and the following Friday when the Ken Griffey Jr. statue will be unveiled. He also pointed to a series he thought would be of particular interest to Salk.
“This perhaps could be the best home series that we have ever had,” he said. “Yankees, Mets and Red Sox, third week in July. Anyone who plans to go on vacation anywhere other than Safeco Field in the third week of July is out of their mind. Sadly we only have seven home games in August. Take your vacation between the 15th and 31st of August.”
There is one series, however, that perhaps is a little personal.
“The series that I am passionate about is the Toronto series, dammit,” Stanton said. “We have got to get people in the ballpark June 9th, 10th and 11th.”
Last year, Blue Jays fans took over Safeco Field for the Toronto series in September and it was noticed.
“I walked the ballpark with some of our seating staff. It was astonishing how many of their fans came down,” Stanton said. “We appreciate the Canadian fans. We do have a big following in Vancouver, but you have got to give Toronto great credit for having marketed the hell out of their team up in the Vancouver area. People plan their vacations, have the dates circled on the schedule. Last year we averaged about 37,000 fans for those games. Let’s get the extra 9,000 people all wearing Mariners jerseys.”
With single-game tickets going on sale Saturday, Stanton said he would be at the Bellevue Square team store hoping to see a line out the door of fans buying tickets for that series. He also hopes fans will turn out in April when the team faces quite a few division opponents. He believes fans can be the difference with a team that needs to get off to a good start.
“It is going to be an awesome season,” he said. “The difference between winning and losing a few games in the season is going to be the enthusiasm in the ballpark. The players are young. We need our fans in the ballpark. If you are out of town for the Toronto series, change your plans. But if you can’t, we’ve got a ton of games.”