Drayer: Unafraid to speak his mind, Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic makes no apologies for who he is

Mar 22, 2021, 5:41 PM | Updated: 6:36 pm
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic...
Ultra-confident Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic is not afraid to speak his mind at any time. (Getty)

With prospects, you typically get to know them on paper before you get to know them in person.

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As a reporter, you see the numbers, follow the day-by-days, read reports, have the occasional conversation with those who have seen him in person. You might even talk to the player via phone or Zoom. If you do your homework you can get a good picture of what this player is, on paper. In spring training, you often get the chance to get those players in front of you, see how they interact with teammates, collect pieces of the puzzle to help get a more complete picture.

In the case of Jarred Kelenic, there are lots of pieces. The Mariners haven’t seen a player or personality quite like his in a long time, and it is clear the player and the personality are a package deal.

As evidenced by his “smell you later” comment last summer, which followed the play-by-play of his at-bat and resulting home run against teammate Nestor Cortes in a Mariners summer camp intrasquad game, to his reaction in a USA Today article to comments made by former Mariners CEO Kevin Mather about service time, to later telling the media in Arizona that he believed what he did in 2020 “was enough” to show he was ready for the big leagues, Kelenic has always been one to speak his mind.

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Never mind his age, his experience level or the unwritten rules of what should and shouldn’t be said in baseball. Jarred Kelenic is not one to tiptoe around any situation.

“People ask me questions and I will answer them,” he said last week in Arizona.

It’s not limited to just the words. It’s the actions, as well.

Looking around to see if reporters recorded a home run he hit on a back field at the Mariners’ spring training complex, then walking to the fence to ask if they did indeed get the video.

Are you ready? “I’ve been ready for days.”

After missing 10 days with an adductor strain in his left knee, being asked to test out the leg in front of his manager, busting out of the box, cutting an aggressive turn at first base and then sliding into second and popping up declaring himself “Safe!” Hardly subtle.

Entertaining for the fans but potentially off-putting for others on occasion, he is who he is and for that he makes no apologies.

“I’m consistently like that,” Kelenic said in an interview last week. “I’m very open, I tell people exactly how I am feeling and what I want, and that comes from the work that I put in and the people I am surrounded by, and all I want to do is come in here and help this team win. Go to the World Series and cover my hands with rings. Not only for me, but I want to do it with those guys and the fans because they haven’t been there since I was born.”

While there is no question he enjoys the spotlight and at times seemingly does things to put himself in that spotlight, the conversations with him are rarely about only him. “The guys,” “the fans,” Kyle Lewis, Kyle Seager, you name it.

Even in the most challenging of spring trainings for reporters with zero clubhouse access, it’s clear to see he is hardly on Kelenic Island, and this is an important observation. There appears to have been veteran acceptance, with one clubhouse insider saying that there is immense respect for the work he puts in.

Catcher Tom Murphy, who has pulled off feats of strength that are near legendary in Mariners weight room lore, is one who has taken note. When asked who the second-strongest Mariner was, Murphy was quick with his reply.

“That goes to Kelenic,” he said. “Mr. Kelenic is a very strong individual. Reminds me a lot of myself at that age in the weight room. He gets after it and definitely loves it in there.”

Gone are the days of “rookies should be seen and not heard.” Nowadays many vets look at young players as players who can help them win, and the sooner the better. While Murphy and Kelenic have yet to play on a team together, they have bonded over workout fanaticism and a love of hunting.

“We talk a lot,” said Kelenic. “He actually sent me some of his videos in the winter back home of his swing and asking me different things to do. That’s what’s so special about this group is that regardless if you have veteran guys or guys who have been in the league for a year, we can all lean on each other.”

To that end, Murphy has done his part to fill in some of the blanks in areas Kelenic, nine years his junior, has yet to experience.

“I try to give him the best guidance on the mental game as possible because I understand that’s the most challenging part for a young player,” Murphy said, “because physically he is as good as anybody I have seen at that age for sure and I think this game is extremely challenging mentally, way more than physical at this point. Anything I can share with him about how to advance his game that way, I’m going to try to help him with.”

The baseball side of things will take care of itself. From negotiating with his father as a youngster that he would let him watch Milwaukee Brewers games after work if he pitched to him from his recliner throughout the game, to hitting the line drives across his basement doing damage to a chandelier, to offseasons of tireless work spent at his baseball facility, Jarred Kelenic has a lifetime – albeit a short one – of baseball experience to lean on.

The mental side, as Murphy notes, could present a challenge as he hasn’t faced major league pitching day in and day out, hasn’t slumped on a team where winning mattered, and, by his admission, never, ever, found himself needing a break from the game.

“No, I love this game,” Kelenic answered when asked if there was a time where he had had enough baseball. “When COVID hit and the game was taken away from all of us, that was a difficult time. We came into spring training and that is always an exciting time, and all of a sudden in a matter of one to two days the game was taken away, the whole world was basically paused.

“It’s human nature to take some things for granted that are repetitive. Us as baseball players, we are here every single day and it’s a grind, but when it gets taken away from you I think you really realize how lucky you are and how special this is. To be able to compete with such a great group of guys is something that means a lot to me and is something I want to do for as long as my body and as long as anyone will let me.”

There is an earnestness that comes with his words. While there have been times when it seems he is saying the right words to suit the situation, there is no doubting his passion for the game, drive to succeed and desire to bring others along with him. He is who he is and being oneself has been a tenet Mariners manager Scott Servais has stressed from day one.

The edge Kelenic brings would appear to be accepted by those around him. At Seattle’s alternate site in Tacoma last summer, it was noted that Kelenic was a leader, would get on guys when needed and could do so because he himself was putting in the work and setting the example. Whether his arrival date to the big leagues is April 1 or sometime after, he will be ready to contribute more than just numbers.

Desire for spotlight aside, Kelenic speaks about his team with the same passion he speaks of with his hitting. In that respect, Kelenic sees good things on the horizon.

“What gives me the most confidence is I think when you look around at your teammates, every single guy in that clubhouse works his tail off,” he said. “I take pride in how hard I work to better myself each and every day and when you can look around and there’s not one guy you can say, ‘You need to pick it up. You need to start working harder. Why are you slacking?’ There’s not one guy in there I would say is slacking. That’s a special thing. It’s easy to take a day off and say I’m not feeling it today, I’m just going to take it slow. There’s not one guy in there that’s doing that and that’s what gives me the confidence.

“Every single guy in that clubhouse is going to have a bad day (eventually). I don’t care if it’s Kyle Seager, if it’s Kyle Lewis, if it’s me. We’re all going to have bad days. But when you have those bad days, the reassuring part is he’s still putting in his work. He didn’t get pitches to hit tonight or he swung at bad pitches tonight, but you know what, he’s working his tail off in the cages to get better. You can’t fault him for that. As a teammate it makes you encouraged and you want to just say, ‘It’s OK. You’re good, man. Because you’re working your tail off, it’s going to turn.’ That’s what gives me the most reassurance.”

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Drayer: Unafraid to speak his mind, Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic makes no apologies for who he is