MIKE SALK

Salk: 3 reasons the Mariners’ vibe is different this spring training

Mar 7, 2023, 11:52 AM

Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez of the Mariners signs autographs before a spring training game against the Padres. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

I might have said this before, but this trip to Mariners spring training was my best yet. The weather didn’t exactly cooperate, but even that couldn’t stop the joy and good vibes emanating from the Mariners’ little slice of paradise in Peoria, Ariz.

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Spring training is awesome. It’s relaxed, informative, hopeful and energizing. It marks not only the start of my favorite sports season but the eventual arrival of warmer weather.

The players are available – none are frustrated or hiding because of a slump or a bad game.

The manager is happy – he isn’t being second-guessed for last night’s mistake or dealing with players who have been together too long and are getting on each other’s nerves.

Everyone is happy to see each other again and they usually believe (at least to some extent) that they have a chance.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hope and the hype. It’s easy to love spring training. And it’s easy to walk away from a weeklong visit ready to make grand proclamations about the team’s future. I know all that. But this was still my favorite spring in Peoria for four big reasons.

1. This is the most “interview-able” Mariners team in my memory.

We did 11 interviews and could have spoken to any number of others, as well. Again, this doesn’t mean anything when it comes to judging the Mariners’ chances to win a World Series. But after spending many years wondering who the heck we were going to talk to, this was a welcome change.

Part of the fun of being a sports fan is liking the players on your team, and this group has plenty of likable characters. They obviously enjoy each other, and with the weight of the postseason drought lifted, many seem to feel more comfortable letting down their guard. Cal Raleigh may have spoken more in one answer than he did all of last year! Paul Sewald has a mature and analytical view of how the bullpen functions. Eugenio Suárez brings such joy to any room he enters. Jarred Kelenic is as interesting and intense as any player I have been around. And of course there’s Julio Rodríguez – the charisma you can’t teach and the aura that just screams out “superstar.”

Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto have spent time cultivating these kinds of players and this kind of environment. It shows, and it should make this run even more entertaining.

2. This is the most interest in the team that I can remember.

We have gone to spring training maybe 10 times and often it felt like a hobby. Sometimes we would talk about the Seahawks more than the team we were there to cover. We had to balance a lack of interest in the team with the extreme interest we had in them improving. Our ratings during those weeks didn’t exactly pop. And as a host, you can feel when your audience isn’t invested in the conversation.

This year was 180 degrees the opposite. You were all over it. You were reacting to every interview, every comment and every nugget we could glean. You wanted to know as much as possible about this team because you can feel that they are on the precipice of something even more special. That made it even more rewarding.

3. These Mariners are good, and they know it.

Last year, the Mariners knew they were close. They had nearly made it to the playoffs in 2021 and they wanted to take the next step, but they didn’t have the confidence of having had the experience that this group went through. There were questions from players about how serious the organization was about trying to win, with one even asking me why they couldn’t have “gone for it” like Toronto was doing. A year later, and after having beaten Toronto in the playoffs, no one on the roster is doubting the commitment.

We have also seen teams that got a little ahead of themselves. After Robinson Canó, Félix Hernández and company got close to the postseason, there was a confident vibe at camp. But it didn’t come with the hard work we saw this year. It didn’t come with the “all-in” approach that we see in this clubhouse that has no cliques, feuds or jealousy.

This team is going to be good. It was good last year and got better on paper, so there is every reason to have high hopes and the expectations that come with them. They know it and so do we, and the confidence that gives them is evident. It is worth being vulnerable and letting ourselves dream about wild success because the team is talented and experienced enough to justify it.

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In a few weeks, the 2023 season will start and this Mariners team will try to complete the mission they started last year. They’ll try to pass the Astros, fend off the Rangers and Angels, and advance farther than last year’s trip to the ALDS. For now, they are prepping the right way at the best spring training I’ve ever attended.

Bonus: This was the first time the whole “new” Brock and Salk crew went together.

I understand this has nothing to do with the team or its chances, but trust me when I tell you it mattered to me. The last few years have been a little turbulent for me. Not bad, just unsettled. Getting back on the air and starting The Mike Salk Show was a blast. Getting to know Justin Barnes and Maura Dooley has been tremendous (even when Maura is mean to me). But adding Brock Huard back into this mix has really made a good thing that much better. Or maybe it was adding Justin and Maura into the Brock and Salk mix? Who knows and who cares?!

But I really enjoyed spending time in Arizona with this crew (and Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for Seattle Sports). We got some fun bonding time and learned more about each other. It was also cool to see Maura take spring training in for the first time and Justin return with some experience. And it’s even fun when Brock ogles the players and makes strange comments about their bodies. What can I say?

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