Mariners look to the community for a little extra help in the outfield

Feb 28, 2016, 8:28 AM | Updated: 11:10 am

If you looked closely last week during one of the Mariners’ batting practice sessions, you may have noticed an unfamiliar face or two in the outfield.

No, it wasn’t Mike Baxter or Daniel Robertson or one of the eight non-roster invitee pitchers shagging during batting practice. These guys weren’t on any roster. They weren’t in uniform either, rather they were wearing Mariners spring training “Train to Reign” T-shirts and blue shorts. These guys were part of the Mariners’ new Shaggers Program, people who signed up to come out and help retrieve balls hit to the outfield and throw them in during batting practice.

“We’ve done this in some of the places where I have coached before,” said bench coach Tim Bogar, who helped put the program together. “We let them go out in the outfield and hang out in the outfield and help us with that activity.”

While some of the programs Bogar has seen in the past had as many as 28 volunteers, the Mariners’ program is just getting off the ground with only a few volunteers reporting each day. They are given a hat, T-shirt and shorts, and then an assignment.

“They are told to stand on the warning track, stay out of everybody’s way,” said Bogar. “If the ball comes to them they can catch it, if not pick ’em up off the ground and throw them back in.”

For safety reasons – both the safety of the volunteers and the players who might also be in the outfield – the shaggers are kept as far back as possible. They are on the big league field, however, and there are opportunities to make catches. While this is fun for the volunteers, it is also helping the Mariners.

“It actually helps us quite a bit because it keeps our pitchers (who usually shag balls during batting practice) off their feet. It’s good for their health,” said Bogar. “It gets the community involved and lets them get to know some of these guys a little closer. We’ve done it in some of the places where I have coached before and some of the relationships that you build from it are pretty neat. I think it is a good thing for everybody.”

So who can take part in the program? According to the application, you need to have experience playing high school baseball, softball, or fastpitch softball, and you must sign a waiver. Beyond that?

“Obviously they have to be able to defend themselves, but it can be just about anybody,” said Bogar. “We have talked to firemen, policemen, some military guys and then the general public. Whoever wants to come help us shag.”

What about the gals?

“Sure!” said Bogar. “We have had some girls out there, they are very welcome to come out.”

Age is not a matter, either. According to Bogar the majority of the participants in the program he saw while with the Rangers were retired servicemen from the area in the 50-70 age range.

“They would just stand out there and hang out. They weren’t young guys trying to run around and catch everything,” he noted. “There were some younger guys, but we are trying to stay away from them trying to be too over-exuberant, trying to go get everything. We try to keep them as far back as possible for safety, but the players seem to want to interact with them so it’s kind of neat.”

On Thursday, three volunteers were assigned to one of the Mariners’ batting practices taking place on a lower field. Two were area firemen and the other was one of their dads, a former area baseball coach. They stood in the outfield and got to see what the big leaguers see when the likes of Nelson Cruz or Robinson Cano step up to the plate.

“If you think about it, you get to come on a Major League field and actually watch batting practice from the field with some of the best players in the world,” said Bogar. “It’s a pretty neat experience. I just think it’s a really great opportunity to connect with the community, too, and just let them know that we’re baseball players, but we are people first.”

For information about the volunteer Shagger Program, click here.

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