Classic Mariners ‘preview’: Notable debuts highlight 2014 M’s home opener
With the Mariners’ 2020 season postponed until further notice, 710 ESPN Seattle is airing a different classic M’s game every night at 7 p.m. (full schedule here). Below, Mariners insider Shannon Drayer provides a preview of the next game.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The Mariners make their first appearance of the season at Safeco Field after an eventful spring training and first week on the road.
There was a new skipper in town for the Mariners, who went old school with Lloyd McClendon replacing Eric Wedge, who had declined an extension at the end of a turbulent September 2013. In the offseason, general manager Jack Zduriencik made the biggest of splashes (with ownership’s approval), signing Robinson Canó to a 10-year, $240 million dollar contract. What they didn’t do was sign Nelson Cruz, who Cano lobbied for in spring training but instead hit 40 home runs that year for Baltimore. Seattle’s move to sign Cruz was still a year away.
On the field, 2014 was the first year of expanded video replay with managers being able to challenge calls for the first time. There was a major rule change as well with home plate collisions now not allowed.
The Mariners were coming off a year where they committed to playing more youth, and the results were a disappointing fourth-place finish in the American League West Division with a 71-91 record. While Canó was added in the offseason, he wasn’t seen as the immediate fix-all – they were still very young – but rather a strong step in the the right direction. Still, overall improvement in the team was expected in 2014.
There were challenges from the get-go. Hisashi Iwakuma, who was coming off a 2013 that saw him post a 2.66 ERA in 33 starts and finish third in American League Cy Young voting, strained a tendon in his right middle finger when it got caught in a net during a drill. He would miss the first month of the season. Taijuan Walker would miss much more time as he dealt with shoulder bursitis.
With openings in the rotation, veteran southpaw Randy Wolf was brought to camp as insurance but ended up walking after refusing to sign the 45-day advanced consent after missing the previous year and a half. To say he left camp bitter would be an understatement.
“The day should have started with a handshake and congratulations instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D-cell battery,” Wolf said at the time.
The opening day rotation had Félix Hernández in the number 1 spot followed by Erasmo Ramírez, James Paxton, Roenis Elías and Chris Young.
New to the lineup was first baseman Logan Morrison, acquired in the offseason, and Brad Miller, not new but now every day after he won the battle at shortstop over Nick Franklin in camp. Mike Zunino, less than two years after being drafted, was inserted into the everyday catcher role.
The team opened on the road in Anaheim, where they saw Angels hitting coach Don Baylor break his leg catching the ceremonial first pitch from Vladimir Guerrero. It was then on to Oakland and one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in the game: the no-rain rainout.
All seemed normal when we arrived at the park but shortly before batting practice, McClendon, A’s manager Bob Melvin and the head groundskeeper walked out to the middle infield where they had a long conversation. Watching the conversation and their movements, it didn’t take too long to figure out. The field was not playable. What happened? The groundskeeper did not put the tarp on the field the previous night and there had been a downpour. He eventually came back to the stadium and got the tarp put on but the damage had been done. Game postponed.
After all of this, the Mariners were happy to be home arriving with a 4-2 record. The pomp and circumstance of opening day had a little bit extra as members of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl championship team were on hand, with Russell Wilson throwing out the first pitch to Félix.
Kole Calhoun, RF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, 1B
David Freese, 3B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Raul Ibanez, DH
Chris Iannetta, C
Erick Aybar, SS
Hector Santiago, P
Abraham Almonte, CF
Brad Miller, SS
Robinson Canó, 2B
Justin Smoak, 1B
Corey Hart, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B
Stefen Romero, RF
Dustin Ackley, LF
Mike Zunino, C
James Paxton, P
Paxton would not be long for this season, exiting the home opener in the sixth inning with what would turn out to be a strained lat. He would not pitch in a big league game again until August 2.
Can we talk about that outfield for a minute? Ackley, Romero and Almonte. Not one of the better outfields in team history. Zduriencik was a big believer in Almonte and thought he could be on the verge of a breakout season. That didn’t happen although kudos to him as he is still active in MLB, having played in major league games in every season since then. When all was said and done, the outfielders that saw the most time in 2014 included Ackley, Michael Saunders and James Jones, who is now a reliever in the minors for Texas.
One more note to point out about 2014 and this game. Fernando Rodney had signed a two-year deal with the Mariners in the offseason and was brought in to close this on out. Let’s just say on that night we got the full Fernando Rodney experience.
Read Shannon’s Get To Know Your Mariners series
• How Marco Gonzales ‘became a different guy’ on the mound in Seattle
• Plenty to learn about the life of lefty reliever Taylor Guilbeau
• How Austin Nola found change he needed
• Patrick Wisdom has long history with Marco Gonzales
• Logan Gilbert’s swift rise up the ranks
• Dan Altavilla looking for healthy, productive 2020
• Cal Raleigh has been on the baseball path since Day 1
• OF Jake Fraley could be the gem of Zunino trade
• If anyone can relate to top Mariners prospects, it’s Taijuan Walker
• Julio Rodriguez looks the part of future superstar on and off the field