By Shannon Drayer
The final spring game is in the books as the Mariners beat the Rockies 4-3 in Salt Lake City Saturday. The game was as unremarkable as most spring games are. Guys got work and, most importantly, stayed healthy. A roster move was made in the release of Ronny Paulino and one more is to come in the outfield. Felix Hernandez is in Oakland ready to go Monday. All eyes will be on the team to see just how much the regular-season version of the Mariners resembles that of this spring.
As the team has gone about its business of getting ready for this season, it has been interesting to watch Eric Wedge. To me it seemed like he had his game face on weeks before previous springs. There were very few smiles after games in meetings with the media, and nothing – not even a Jesus Montero triple – was viewed as any kind of a joking matter.
The intensity M’s manager Eric Wedge showed during the spring is a departure from the calmer demeanor he usually has before the regular season begins. (AP)
Wedge has always had a certain level of intensity about him, but it has not been quite what you may have expected. After arriving in Seattle like a tornado straight off of an Indiana plain – eyes blazing, mustache twitching, words punctuated with such conviction that they would force you to move your seat across from him back a couple of inches – it was a bit of a surprise to find that once spring had started and he had an actual team in front of him, his day-in, day-out demeanor was more measured than one of unrelenting intensity.
It made sense because too much fire can cause a team to tune out, but it still was a little surprising. I have asked a few times over the last two years about this and he explained that there would be a time to turn up the intensity, but with so many young and developing players on the team, the time then was not right.
The team is still young, but additions that Wedge specifically asked for – maybe not by name in each case but by profile – have been given to him. This seems to have changed the equation for him. I believe this in part has caused him to up the intensity somewhat, but it isn’t the prime reason.
I think Eric Wedge believes this team can compete.
This is nothing more than my gut feeling from what I have seen this spring. While he won’t put a number on wins he thinks this team should achieve or talk in any kind of specifics about expectations, I think he has raised the stakes in his mind.
“Now that we have got a few veterans from a position standpoint, you need to have that,” Wedge said before Saturday’s game. “The guys need to look to the right and look to the left to have teammates that have been there, done that and had the type of careers that they are hoping to have. That is definitely a plus for us.”
I think the presence of these veterans — not veterans that he hopes will be able to step up and lead both on and off the field (as was the case last year), but veterans that he knows what he can expect from them — has in part raised the stakes. I think what he saw early on this spring may have raised them higher.
“Before we even went to camp I felt good about the talent we had and just how far these young kids have come and what I was hoping we would see from the veterans, and we have seen that,” he said.
Of course he and Jack Zduriencik will be looking for improvement both in play and results this year. How much is still a question, but I get the feeling that the first month won’t tell the tale. I think they see this as a team that can get better as the year goes on, be it by the improved play of some or by addition of others from the minor leagues. They also are starting this year at a different point, according to Wedge.
“From my standpoint we have come leaps and bounds from our first spring training here,” he said. “I think we can do a little more. You trust your younger players a little more, with the experienced players you know what they are all about and what they are capable of doing, and with that you are able to do a little more.”
I get the feeling that “a little more” is just a starting point. We shall find out over the next six months.