PEORIA, Ariz. – When Dee Gordon made a perfect throw to nail Cincinnati Reds outfielder Mason Williams at the plate Saturday, it wasn’t just the outcome of the play that was impressive.
Gordon’s athleticism alone could be expected to help him make plays in his first season in center field. This play was different, however. This wasn’t just a matter of finding a way to get the ball to the catcher in time. This was actually a picture perfect play from start to finish. The timing, the crow hop, getting through the ball – it was a textbook play.
“He’s really kind of coming into his own defensively,” Mariners outfield coach Chris Prieto said of Gordon. “He’s taking care of what he needs to take care of in between pitches. He’s communicating the right way. He’s talking the game with the corner (outfield) guys. He’s backing up. All the little things you work on early in the day, he’s doing them perfectly.”
The work of learning the outfield began well before spring training. Gordon posted videos of him catching balls in the outfield the week after he was traded from the Marlins. Ken Griffey Jr. worked him out soon after that. On two occasions, Prieto traveled to Florida to work with him.
Prieto was ready to take things slow but Gordon had other ideas.
“When we sat down initially it was, ‘Throw the book at me. Teach me everything I need to learn. I’m a sponge, I want it all,'” Prieto remembered. “So we did. We sat down, we practiced it. We went out to dinner and we talked about it and he was just question after question after question. It was so good to see a player of his caliber – All-Star caliber – want all of the information. It was great.”
While the learning has been a smooth and quick ride so far, Gordon knows he can’t force things. Valuable game experience will come, and it can’t be rushed. When it does come, he is sure to be ready. According to Prieto, Gordon does his homework and doesn’t shy away from the role of outfield quarterback.
“He’s already beyond expectations in that area,” Prieto said. “He really is taking that serious. He wants to sit down before the game and look at the hitters and figure out where to play them. If you watch him during games he’s moving on counts, he is just doing things that veteran outfielders would do.”
It is clear Gordon has high expectations for himself. He doesn’t want to just survive out there. He doesn’t want to be an average center fielder. Each day he looks more and more comfortable and less and less like the new guy. He made his throw on Saturday look easy. Perhaps that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“Every day he goes out there, it’s like a new day for him and he’s up for any challenges that come his way and that’s what’s great about him. Every day is a new day and he wants to be great every day,” Prieto said.
“What’s next is just keep doing what he is doing. I wouldn’t change anything. The future for him in center field is pretty good.”