Lifelong Mariners fan Cooper Hummel has built career on defying cynics

Jan 30, 2023, 12:50 PM | Updated: 9:23 pm
Mariners Cooper Hummel...
Cooper Hummel and umpire Sean Barber laugh after Hummel reaches second in an Aug. 14, 2022 game. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Cooper Hummel, one of the newest members of the Seattle Mariners roster, is living the dream, but he had to fight his way to get here.

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The 28-year-old Hummel debuted in the big leagues last year with the Arizona Diamondbacks after five-plus years in the minors, something he says many people he has met in his time playing the sport told him would never happen. Now those people will see Hummel play for the same team he grew up rooting for.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Hummel, an Oregon native, on Seattle Sports’ Mariners Hot Stove last week. “I grew up with the Seattle Mariner logo painted on my bedroom wall, teal baseboards, navy wall. I was a diehard fan growing up, so to put the colors on and put the uniform on is gonna be really special for me. I’m very excited.”

Hummel, who was acquired from Arizona in a November trade that sent Kyle Lewis to the D-backs, was always passionate about baseball. His goal of making it as a pro player, however, was met with skepticism even from his early days in Lake Oswego, Ore.

“Freshman year, I was straight up told I’ll never amount to anything in baseball, literally to my face (by my coach),” Hummel said. “… As a freshman in high school going into sophomore year, that’s something that, you know, it kind of breaks you. I was told, ‘You have to give up switch-hitting, you’re not big enough. You’re just not going to do it. You’re not going to make anything of it in baseball.'”

Hummel said that coach would later admit he was wrong.

“I went to the rival high school, and the next year – sophomore year – was really good. That coach actually came up to me the next year and was like, ‘OK, I’ve kind of made a mistake.’ He ate his own words, I’m good with him now… It was quite a situation when I was told I would never amount to anything in baseball. Those words have stuck with me every day.”

It was far from the last time Hummel hit a bump in the road, something he said happened all the way from little league to even during his college career at the University of Portland and after the Brewers made him an 18th-round MLB Draft pick in 2016.

“It kind of started earlier than even high school. I felt like it happened in little league,” he said. “… Like, I was talented and I tried, I was a hard worker. Even from when I was little, my dad always joked that he fed the monster as much as he wanted to be fed, meaning he would go throw balls for an hour, two hours if I wanted to hit. I was the shortest one when we were with the All-Star team, I wasn’t always the one playing all the time so I had to find a way to get on the field more.

‘Even later in high school, when I’m raking my junior and senior year, I’m first-team All-State, I was Player of the Year for our league, and I had college coaches basically be like, ‘You’re not big enough to play Division-1 baseball, you’re not good enough.’ Santa Clara’s coach straight up told me, like, ‘You don’t do anything well. You’re not special… You need to be 30 pounds heavier.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know if we just watched the same game, but I’m a junior, senior in high school and I’m hitting balls off the wall like it’s nobody’s business.’ Like, ‘Why don’t you get me into a strength program in college?'”

Hummel said all of that was important in him eventually reaching the big leagues as a 5-foot-10, switch-hitting catcher/outfielder.

“I always believed in myself, but it just took one guy to give me a chance,” he said. “Even in college at UP, you know, things happen. I was dealt a bad hand a little bit my freshman, sophomore year, had to fight for more playing time. Even in the minors, different things have happened. I don’t think anything has ever been handed to me, and I’m very blessed that it’s been that way because I wouldn’t be the player I am if it wasn’t because of that. I’ve had to fight for different things in pro ball. I was inactive for 40 games my first year in pro ball. I thought I was getting released, and here I am.”

And “here” is a pretty special place for someone who grew up a Mariners fanatic.

“I was born in Portland (but) we moved up to Seattle for a year – I actually remember going to the Kingdome,” Hummel said. “I have this vivid memory of being in the Kingdome with a white Alex Rodriguez player T-shirt, and I wore that thing until it had holes in it. I mean, I’m telling you it was like three sizes too big. I was like 2 or 3 and then wore it until it was ratty.”

Hummel said he made several trips to T-Mobile Park (back when it was called Safeco Field) as a kid to see his favorite players in person, one of whom he’ll get to know personally – Ichiro Suzuki, who can still be seen on the field at times helping out the M’s during practice sessions in spring training and during the season.

“Ichiro was my favorite player,” Hummel said. “… Those early 2000s players – the Mike Camerons, the Ichiros, the John Oleruds, Jay Buhner – those were the guys that I followed. I had, I mean I’m telling you like every player T-shirt. My mom and dad just moved recently and they were pulling old boxes out and I’ve got, you know, a Jamie Moyer T-shirt, an Ichiro T-shirt, Kenji Johjima – I had the whole lot. Freddy García. But Ichiro was my guy. I loved watching him, loved the way he played. Great to watch him and pretty cool that I’ll get a chance to work with him this spring.”

The conversation with Hummel also includes his thoughts on his role with the Mariners in 2023, the teammates he’s been working out with this offseason, and much more. You can hear it in the podcast at this link or in the podcast below. The Mariners Hot Stove airs from 7-9 p.m. each Tuesday night on Seattle Sports 710 AM leading up to spring training, when it will be replaced by the weekly Cactus League Report.

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Lifelong Mariners fan Cooper Hummel has built career on defying cynics