Kyle Seager Game-Tying Grand Slam In Extra Innings

As a sportscaster, I’ve witnessed some really cool moments in my life. I was sitting courtside when Gonzaga’s Demetri Goodson hit a game-winning buzzer-beater against Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. I was in the bleacher seats at old Yankee Stadium when Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off grand slam against the Orioles. And now, I can add another memorable moment to the list — Kyle Seager hitting a historic game-tying grand slam in the 14th inning against the White Sox.

I was torn. Do I want to go to the game or not? I was thinking about it all morning. The Seattle Mariners were set to face the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field at 12:40pm. If I don’t go — I can get a ton of stuff done on my day off. If I do go — I get to enjoy a beautiful day at the ballpark. When I write it out, the decision is obvious, but it was tough to pull the trigger one way or the other yesterday. After much deliberation, I decided to head toward the ballpark.

Kyle Seager Grand Slam

My view from behind the plate early in yesterday’s game

I originally sat behind the plate in the sunshine, and downed a couple of hot dogs and a beer. The sun turned to shade in my section, so I moved to a sunny spot in the outfield. There weren’t many people at Safeco Field yesterday, so seating was pretty wide open. The 9th inning came and went, and the Mariners and White Sox were still scoreless. Fans started flocking out of the stadium. They’d either seen enough, or they needed to get back to work/school. Either way, the place started to clear out.

The sun vanished from my section in the outfield, so I moved to Edgar’s Cantina. The mass exodus after the 9th inning left plenty of room in the first-come-first-served standing area, and it was one of the few places the sun was still shining on. The 10th inning came and went without any scoring, and then the 11th, 12th and 13th innings passed without much action. At this point, there were only a few thousand fans remaining at Safeco Field, but the best was yet to come.

In the top of the 14th inning, the White Sox rallied for five runs. That’s right — five runs. No one could even score through 13 innings, but Chicago managed to rally for five runs in the 14th alone. The Seattle faithful who sat through 13-and-a-half innings of baseball had seen enough. More than half the remaining crowd walked toward the exits. It left all of maybe  2,000 people in the seats (and that number might be generous). I could have left too, but 1) I never ever leave a game early and 2) I had a feeling we were going to see something special in the bottom half of the inning.

Nick Franklin flew out to start the 14th inning for Seattle, but then the Mariners rattled off three consecutive singles to load the bases. Endy Chavez added another single to bring in Seattle’s first run, making the game 5-1. The next batter was Jason Bay. There were honestly no more than eight people standing in Edgar’s Cantina at this point in the game. The guy standing to my left turned to me and said, “If Bay hits a grand slam, we’re celebrating.” He hadn’t said one word to me the whole time we were standing there, but I agreed to a huge celebration. Well, Bay struck out to give the Mariners two outs, leaving Kyle Seager as Seattle’s only hope.

After falling behind in the count 0-2, Seager took a ball on the third pitch. I remember staring at Seager in the box and thinking to myself, “Let’s see something special, Kyle.” Addison Reed fed Seager a low slider, and Seager reached down and drove the ball toward right centerfield. The guy next to me immediately started celebrating, but I wasn’t convinced it was gone. I saw the outfielders stop giving chase, and the ball landed about three rows back in the seats. The game was suddenly tied at 5. Click here to watch the game-tying grand slam.

I couldn’t believe what I just saw. I turned to the guy next to me and he leaped into my arms. It felt like everyone in the Edgar’s Cantina converged on the same place. I was giving fives to people I had never even seen before. There were two older women standing behind me. They were screaming and hugging, looking at me with disbelief in their eyes. I honestly don’t remember yelling, but once everything settled down I realized my throat was sore. My heart was thumping through my chest, and I’m pretty sure I kept saying “holy [cow]” over and over again. It was one of the most unbelievable turn of events I’ve ever seen in a baseball game, and it will likely stay that way forever.

According to Elias Sports, Seager’s slam was the first game-tying grand slam in extra innings in Major League Baseball history. No team had ever rallied from five or more runs down to tie a game in the 14th inning or later, but the Mariners achieved the feat yesterday. The odds of that moment happening exactly the way it did is probably comparable to the odds of winning the lottery. It was incredible, and it was only witnessed by a handful of people who stayed long enough to see it happen.

Kyle Seager Grand Slam

The crowd at Safeco Field in the 16th inning

Kendrys Morales eventually flew out to end the 14th inning, both teams went scoreless in the 15th, and then the White Sox plated a pair in the top of the 16th inning. This time around, the Mariners couldn’t answer. 5 hours and 42 minutes after the game started at Safeco Field (the longest home game in Seattle Mariners history), Jason Bay struck out to cap a 7-5 Mariners loss.

Did I want to see the Mariners win? Sure. Did I witness a piece of baseball history? Definitely. The guy who jumped into my arms after Kyle Seager’s grand slam — I’ll probably never see him again. In fact, I never even got his name. But, I’ll never forget him for the rest of my life. For a few moments yesterday, we shared one of those unique sports moments. We witnessed the unthinkable, and we absolutely lost our minds in the process. Where was I when Kyle Seager hit the game-tying grand slam in extra innings? I was standing in Edgar’s Cantina experiencing an unforgettable moment. Let’s put it this way — I’m thankful I decided to go to the game.

Were you one of the fortunate few who saw Kyle Seager’s grand slam in person? Did you watch it live on television? I’d love to hear where you were and what your reaction was like. You can leave a comment below or connect with me on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Don’t forget to also check out All Around Tim for more great Seattle sports coverage!

 

Reese McGuire Ready For MLB Draft

Before Reese McGuire can think too much about the MLB Draft, he wants to lead Kentwood High School to another state championship. The highly touted catcher helped the Conquerors win the 4A (Washington’s largest classification) title last year, and another trophy would cap an unforgettable senior season.

Reese McGuire | MLB Draft

Reese McGuire (center) with Kentwood teammates

“The season is great,” McGuire told me. “We got first in league, so it was awesome. Our pitching stepped up and everyone has done their part to make the team better.”

Even though he’s focused on “the now,” McGuire isn’t afraid to look ahead to the MLB Draft in a few weeks.

“This next month is going to be pretty sweet,” he said.

There’s plenty of reason for excitement. McGuire, listed at 6’1″ and 195 pounds, is considered one of the best high school players in the country. He was named a preseason All-American and was also tabbed the USA Baseball Player of the Year after hitting .400 with 4 doubles and 11 runs batted in for Team USA at the IBAF 18U World Championship in September.

“This game is everything I’ve known,” said McGuire. “This was my favorite sport as a kid. I was playing basketball and football, but just always had that extra love and passion for this game. I’m truly blessed to come out to the field every day. I don’t take it for granted.”

Reese McGuire | MLB Draft

Reese McGuire taking batting practice in the cage

Baseball America ranked McGuire as the fourth best draft-eligible high school prospect (and the top prep catcher) in the nation before the season started. Some experts have him going early in the first round (as high as 6th overall to the Miami Marlins), while others have McGuire pegged late in the first round. One thing is in common — he’ll be snatched up quickly.

“As a kid I was like, ‘Man, I want to be a professional baseball player,’ McGuire told me. “I never really thought it could come after high school. Just growing up and getting that exposure, it opened up my eyes to a different route.”

McGuire’s original plan was to go to college. That’s why he committed to the University of San Diego. The Teroros would love nothing more than for McGuire to head south next season, but now he has a tough decision to make. Will he play college or professional baseball?

“It’s a win-win situation either way,” McGuire said. “As of right now, I have an awesome school lined up, and that was the path. If something special happens during the draft, which I hope so, then it’s going to be my decision with my family and my advisor. We’re going to do what’s best.”

Reese McGuire | MLB Draft

Reese McGuire taking infield at Kentwood

Scouts rave about McGuire’s tools. He has speed, he can hit for average and power (he hit .417 with 3 home runs and 16 RBI in 24 games at Kentwood this year), but nothing tops McGuire’s skills behind the plate. His high school coach Mark Zender, who’s been coaching for 30 years, says McGuire is the most talented player he’s ever had, and he believes Reese is “major league ready defensively right now.”

“When I’m behind the dish, I feel like I’m at home,” said McGuire. “I just think I have good leadership back there. I’m the only guy facing the field, and I get a good bond with the pitcher. That reverts to offense and being a leader with the bat too.”

There’s no arguing the future is bright for Reese McGuire. A defensive-minded catcher who can swing the bat is one of the most coveted jewels in the game. McGuire is humble, he has a good head on his shoulders, and more than enough talent to have a long, successful career in professional baseball.

Have you ever watched Reese McGuire on the baseball field? What did you think of him? Where do you think he’ll go in the MLB Draft? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. You should also check out http://allaroundtim.com for more on the world of sports, music and more!

P.S. This is a story I put together on Reese McGuire for my television station. Take a look for more on the MLB Draft prospect:

Seattle Mariners Top Prospects Grow Together In Minors

Seattle Mariners fans have waited patiently for a specific crop of young, talented prospects to make it to the big leagues. It’s been a long process, and one that’s weighed on the players as well.

Seattle Mariners Top Prospects

Seattle Mariners top prospects in Tacoma

“We’re doing our best,” Mariners pitching prospect Danny Hultzen told me. “Hopefully, that call will come at some point. Obviously, it’s our goal to get there as soon as possible.”

Now, many of the top prospects M’s fans have been itching for are just one step away for the major leagues. They’re all currently playing for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers.

“You have that extra motivation knowing that you’re close” said catching prospect Mike Zunino. “You have to go out and handle your business day in and day out, and hopefully it’s sooner rather than later that you can make that jump and help the ball club up there win.”

I’m sure you know their names by now, but I’ll remind you anyway. There’s shortstop/second baseman Nick Franklin, starting pitcher James Paxton and the aforementioned Mike Zunino and Danny Hultzen.

“I love our team,” Franklin told me. “We bond well and we have great chemistry. We’ve played with each other coming up through the minor leagues. We’ve had a few additions, but we’ve been nothing but great. I enjoy it.”

Baseball America ranks the star-studded posse as four of the M’s top five prospects. Zunino is ranked No.1, followed by Hultzen (No. 3), Paxton (No. 4) and Franklin (No. 5). You’d think there might be big egos, but there’s not.

Seattle Mariners Top Prospects

Seattle Mariners top prospect Mike Zunino

“The best part of it to me is that everybody works together,” said Hultzen. “Nobody is trying to be too flashy. No one plays for themselves, which is always a good thing.”

Thanks to that teamwork, the long wait for reinforcements in Seattle is almost over. It’s not just exciting for the fans, it’s thrilling for the prospects as well.

“It’s really exciting to think we’re this close,” Paxton said to me. “It’s just one phone call and a short drive away and we’re there. So, we’re all getting ready and we’re real excited to help [the Mariners] at some point.”

For these four players it’s not a matter of “if” — it’s a matter of “when” they get called up to the big leagues. Until then, they’re honing their skills together in the minor leagues. We probably won’t be able to say that for long though. These prospects should all debut at Safeco Field sometime this season.

This is the story I put together for my television station on the Seattle Mariners top prospects. Click below to watch Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen in action.

What do you think of the Seattle Mariners top prospects? Are they the answer at the big league level? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Don’t forget to read more about the Mariners right now on All Around Tim!

Danny Hultzen | Mariners Prospect One Step Away

Seattle Mariners fans have heard the name Danny Hultzen for years, but they’ve never seen him in the big leagues. It’s all been hearsay and hype up to this point. That could all change soon for one of the organization’s top pitching prospects.

Danny Hultzen | Seattle Mariners

Danny Hultzen

Hultzen is among a talented crew playing for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers this season. He’s on the roster with catcher Mike Zunino, second baseman Nick Franklin and starting pitcher James Paxton. They’re ranked as four of the Mariners top five prospects by Baseball America.

“There’s a ton of talented guys, but the best part is that everybody works together,” Hultzen told me. “No one is trying to be flashy. No one plays for themselves, which is always a good thing.”

Not only is Hultzen a prized Mariners prospect (currently ranked No. 3 in the organization behind Zunino and pitcher Taijuan Walker), he’s also considered one of the top prospects in all of the minor leagues. Baseball America‘s Jim Callis ranked Hultzen as the No. 22 best prospect to start the 2013 season.

Hultzen is a former first round draft pick out of the University of Virginia. He was nabbed by the Seattle Mariners with the No. 2 overall selection in 2011. He skyrocketed through the system after signing an $8.5 million big league contract, which included a club-record $6.35 million bonus.

Hultzen started his professional career in the 2011 Arizona Fall League, and then pitched his first minor league game for AA Jackson last season. After recording eight wins and a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts for the Generals, Hultzen was promoted to AAA Tacoma — just one step away from the big leagues.

Danny Hultzen

Danny Hultzen pitching for the Tacoma Rainiers

“You can’t get ahead of yourself,” Hultzen said. “There were times I did that a little bit last year and it didn’t work well for me.”

Hultzen’s numbers spiraled out of control once he was promoted to AAA last June. He won only one game over his next 12 starts, and his ERA shot through the roof to 5.92. That was simply a result of allowing too many baserunners. Hultzen walked 43 batters (compared to 57 strike outs) over 48.2 innings with the Rainiers.

“You don’t make it to the big leagues by thinking about it,” said Hultzen. “You do it by taking care of business, and going out there and playing hard. That’s how I look at it now. I’m just trying to keep a level head and put [the Major Leagues] way back in my mind”

That appears to be working for Hultzen. The 23-year-old is on a roll to start the 2013 season. He’s 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA, and most importantly he’s regained his control. Hultzen has only walked six while striking out 25 in his first 22.2 innings with Tacoma this year.

Danny Hultzen

Danny Hultzen

“Everyone’s goal is to obviously make it to the Major Leagues,” Hultzen said to me. ”But, I’m a firm believer that if you’re helping the team win, then you’re personally going to perform the best you can. I think that’s the mentality we all have. We help the team win, and in doing so we can all hopefully move up.”

Hultzen has a deceptive delivery and the Mariners rave about his maturity (he was extremely polite to me — almost hinging on a little shy). Baseball America projects him as a No. 2 starter in the big leagues thanks to his 90-92 mph fastball (which touches 95 mph), “above-average” change-up and 80-84 mph slider.

The long wait to hear Danny Hultzen’s name announced at Safeco Field is almost over. If he can stay healthy (which has never been an issue with him), his Major League debut should happen at some point in 2013. I’m sure M’s fans are hoping it happens sooner rather than later.

Have you ever watched Danny Hultzen pitch? What do you think of the Seattle Mariners prospect? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Don’t forget to also check out http://allaroundtim.com for all the latest in the world of sports, food and music!

Click here for related Seattle Mariners articles!

Brandon Maurer | The Mariners Surprise Starter

Seattle Mariners fans are waiting patiently for the arrival of several hyped pitching prospects. They’ve been itching to see Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen in Seattle for years. Well, one of the M’s young guns is finally ready for his big league debut, but it’s not one of the ‘Big Three’. Instead, it’s starting pitcher Brandon Maurer.

Brandon Maurer Seattle Mariners

Brandon Maurer

Maurer is in the Mariners’ rotation after a stellar spring (beating out Erasmo Ramirez and Jeremy Bonderman for the roster spot). The 22-year-old (that’s right…he’s only 22) finished 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA in Cactus League play. He only allowed 23 hits and seven walks in 24 innings, while also striking out 25. His most impressive performance was happened on March 25th against the Reds. Maurer struck out seven batters over seven shutout innings.

Brandon Maurer is originally from Newport Beach, California. He was selected by Seattle in the 23rd round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Here’s the crazy thing — he’s never pitched above AA. Maurer spent the entire 2012 season with the Jackson Generals (the Mariners AA affiliate). Maurer, who is listed as 6’5″ and 215 pounds, went 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA last year. That was enough for him to be tabbed as the M’s sixth best prospect by Baseball America over the offseason.

I hate the throw up a red flag, but Brandon Maurer has battled injuries his entire career. He fought through elbow woes in 2010 and shoulder issues in 2011, but he’s avoided surgery the entire time. Maurer was finally healthy during the 2012 season, but he still only pitched 137.2 innings. That’s easily a career high for him, because Maurer has averaged just 64 innings over his first five professional seasons.

Brandon Maurer Mariners

Brandon Maurer

If Maurer stays healthy, Baseball America says he’s capable of throwing four solid pitches. He’s best known for his 93-95 mph fastball (which tops out at 97 mph) and his “swing-and-miss” slider. His curveball and change-up are apparently a work in progress, but they obviously worked well for him this spring. At the same time, it shows that Maurer is still a work in progress and there’s bound to be some growing pains this season.

I know people don’t put a lot of stock in spring training stats, but Brandon Maurer proved he’s ready for the bigs. He didn’t just face no-name minor leaguers; he went up against big league batters (especially later in the spring). There’s plenty of reason to be excited about this kid. He’s young, but he’s talented. Maurer is the first of what’s going to be a solid wave of pitching prospects heading to Safeco Field in the near future.

What do you think of Brandon Maurer? Do you think he’s ready for the big leagues? I would love to hear what you think! Leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and . Don’t forget to also check out http://allaroundtim.com for the latest on the world of sports, music and travel!

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Behind The Scenes | Felix Hernandez’ New Contract

Felix Hernandez walked in Safeco Field on Wednesday knowing that he was about to become the highest paid pitcher in the history of baseball. That’s because the day before, Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners officially agreed on a new seven-year, $175 million contract. What Felix Hernandez didn’t know is that he was about to be greeted by the Mariners front office staff dressed like the ‘King’s Court’ (Hernandez’ rowdy fan section at Safeco Field). They were all decked out in yellow, waving huge cutouts of Felix’s head, and ready to celebrate the arrival of their superstar.

Felix Hernandez Surprised By Mariners Staff

Felix Hernandez after he was surprised by the Mariners staff

When the elevator doors opened, the staff erupted. The cheers were nothing new to Felix Hernandez, but his reaction was. Hernandez walked into the crowd and immediately broke into tears. The audience started chanting “Felix! Felix!” and that only pushed the Mariners pitcher into more emotion. I think the Mariners staff hoped for good reaction from Felix, but they didn’t expect tears. When I asked someone if they thought Felix would cry, they smiled and told me no. All they wanted was Felix to feel welcome and there’d no doubt they accomplished that.

Hernandez’ emotions didn’t stop in the hallway. He couldn’t even make it through his opening statements on the podium without tearing up. He took a deep breath to gather himself and then thanked his agent, his family, the Seattle Mariners, M’s fans, and then he thanked everyone again and again. I’m pretty sure Hernandez said thank you 100 times yesterday. Right before he signed his record-setting contract, Felix even pointed out how much his hands were shaking. It was crazy. The guy who typically isn’t flustered by anything on the mound was having a tough time simply writing his name. That shows just how much Hernandez was captured by the moment.

If you weren’t there for the press conference, it would be easy to ask if Felix’s emotions were real. I’m here to tell you that they were. If they weren’t, Hernandez should be up for an Academy Award. Felix is usually fairly quiet and he mumbles through most of his postgame interviews. I remember even having a hard time picking out a good soundbite after Hernandez tossed the first perfect game in M’s history last year. He shared plenty of excitement after that game, but his answers were very quick and not good for television. Yesterday was different, because Felix’s voice boomed (I honestly think it was an adrenaline rush). You didn’t even need a microphone to hear him. He spoke clearly and straight from the heart.

Felix Hernandez 175 Million Dollar Contract

Felix Hernandez at the press conference for his new contract

A lot of athletes would be arrogant after becoming one of the highest paid players in their profession (*cough* Alex Rodriguez *cough*), but Hernandez was extremely humble. He promised the fans of Seattle that he would never change. He told them that he’ll be the same person walking into the ballpark every single day. Before he got too far, Felix realized that wasn’t totally true, so he corrected himself. Hernandez now guaranteed M’s fans that they’d see a difference, vouching to become a better pitcher every year.

That was relief to some fans’ ears, because there’s always the possibility of a let down after a player gets a massive contract. The player gets their millions and then they get complacent. San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum is a prime example. He signed his two-year, $40.5 million dollar contract with the Giants last year and his numbers dipped dramatically on the field. Lincecum went from 13 wins and a 2.74 earned run average in 2011 to 10 wins and a 5.18 ERA in 2012. He wasn’t even in San Francisco’s rotation in the postseason, instead he came out of the bullpen in five of his six outings. Felix Hernandez says that’s not going to happen to him, instead it’s going to be the opposite. Hernandez says he’s going to work harder than ever before and promised to “not disappoint anybody.”

The Mariners have seen a lot of star players leave over the years. Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson all made a name for themselves in Seattle and then bounced. They either wanted to go where they could win or where they could get more money, endorsements and fame (*cough* Alex Rodriguez *cough*). Felix Hernandez isn’t one of those guys. He actually wants to be in Seattle. He’s said that over and over for years, but I think it was hard for everyone to trust him. You can stop questioning him now. Felix is locked up in Seattle through the 2019 season, and he even joked that he’d like to talk about a contract extension after this year. In response, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “If you win the Cy Young, we can talk about anything you want.”

Felix Hernandez | Seattle Mariners

Felix Hernandez after he signed his $175 million contract

As a sportscaster, I long for the day athletes stop using the same old clichés. I want them to give real answers or just simply be themselves. What we saw on Wednesday was the real Felix Hernandez. He was quick to cry, provided plenty of laughs and told us exactly what he was thinking. The best part of the press conference happened before anyone asked him a question. Felix just started talking and talking. The words came out of his mouth as they came to his head. It was scattered. It was real. It was awesome.

Did you watch or listen to any of Felix Hernandez’ press conference (here’s a chunk of it if you haven’t)? What did you think? What do you think of his $175 million contract? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Don’t forget to also check out the latest from the world of sports right now on http://allaroundtim.com.

Story Time With Lou Piniella | Ichiro

Ichiro is one of the most recognizable names in Seattle sports history. The star outfielder spent more than 11 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, setting the Major League Baseball single-season hits record, playing in ten All-Star Games, winning the American League Most Valuable Player and becoming loved all around the world. Before Ichiro could accomplish any of that though, he first needed to earn the respect of Mariners manager Lou Piniella.

Welcome to the third and final installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella. In the first installment, Piniella shared his hilarious meeting with New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. In the second installment, “Sweet Lou” talked about one of his most memorable ejections, and now Piniella’s shares a funny story about his first spring training with Ichiro:

Lou Piniella and Ichiro Suzuki

Lou Piniella and Ichiro
Courtesy: NYDailyNews.com

Ichiro came to the Seattle Mariners in 2001 after a nine-year career with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan. He was the first Japanese position player in the big leagues, and he came to America as one of the most hyped rookies ever. I actually saw Ichiro during his first Spring Training with the M’s. I don’t remember who the Mariners were playing that day, but Ichiro swatted a ball into the gap. I can still see Ichiro blazing around the bases with his long stride and incredible speed. I was instantly sold on Ichiro from that moment on. Lou Piniella was a little harder to impress.

Piniella says Ichiro wasn’t pulling the ball at all when Spring Training started. He was just hitting the ball to left field over and over again. Opponents were on to Ichiro by the fourth or fifth game of the spring. Piniella says the left fielder started playing down the line and the third baseman was so far over “he was almost shaking hands with the third base coach.”

To mix things up, Piniella called Ichiro’s interpreter over and asked if he could have Ichiro pull the ball. Piniella says he wanted to “check his bat speed a little bit.” So, the interpreter walked over to Ichiro, they huddled for a while and both nodded to Piniella after their conversation.

Two innings later, Ichiro led off for the Mariners. On the very first pitch of his at-bat, Ichiro smacked the ball into the right field bullpen for a home run. Piniella says, “He rounds the bases, comes over to me, shakes my hand and says, ‘Are you happy now?’”

Ichiro went on to win the American League Rookie of the Year, MVP and batting title that season. He hit .350 with eight home runs and 69 runs batted in, while also stealing a league-leading 56 bases and winning a Gold Glove for his play in right field that year. Ichiro was an instant superstar, exceeding all of his lofty expectations. Aside from his individual accolades, Ichiro was also one of the main reasons the Mariners tied the Major League record with 116 wins in 2001.

Lou Piniella and Ichiro

Lou Piniella and Ichiro at the reunion of 2001 team

Piniella only spent the 2001 and 2002 seasons with Ichiro in Seattle, but that was more than enough time to make an impact on “Sweet Lou”. Piniella has since told MLB.com that Ichiro should be in the Hall of Fame:

“He is one of the greatest leadoff hitters in the history of the major leagues,” Piniella said. ”He’s a great hitter, a great base runner, a great fielder with a great arm, a game breaker. All of those qualities add up to me as a Hall of Fame player.”

If Ichiro makes it to the Hall of Fame (he has to retire first), Piniella will more than likely meet him there. “Sweet Lou” has 1,835 career wins as a manager, ranking 14th in Major League Baseball history. 18 managers with fewer wins than Piniella have been enshrined in the hall, so it’s only a matter of time before Piniella gets his call to Cooperstown. There’s no doubt he deserves it.

What’s your favorite memory of Ichiro or Lou Piniella? I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or connect with me on Faceook, Twitter and Google+. You can also find me on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. Don’t forget to also check out more from the world of sports right now on http://allaroundtim.com!

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Story Time With Lou Piniella | Ejections

Lou Piniella accumulated more than 1,800 wins in a 23-year career as a big league manager. He won a World Series title with the Cincinnati Reds, and was even named Manager of the Year three times. Those are incredible accolades, but Piniella is remembered more for his fiery antics with umpires than anything else. Former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox and ex-Baltimore Orioles skipper Earl Weaver have more all-time ejections, but no one put on a show quite like Lou Piniella.

Lou Piniella Ejections

Lou Piniella doing what he did best

In the first installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella, I told you about Piniella’s uncomfortable introduction to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It’s actually Steinbrenner who turned around and gave Piniella his first managerial job in 1986. Before the season started, Steinbrenner called Piniella into his office and said, “You’re first job is to win a World Series, but your second job, and almost just as important, is to help put fannys in the seats. So when you get kicked out of a ball game, put on a good show. I’ll pay your fine.”

Piniella clearly took Steinbrenner’s message to heart. The stats back it up: Piniella was ejected from 65 ball games as a manager. Piniella knows he has a reputation for getting ejected, and he says he’ll never dispute that. In fact, he tells old umpire war stories with pride. Welcome to the second installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella:

One of Piniella’s most memorable ejections happened with the Seattle Mariners. Bob Wolcott was pitching for the M’s at the time (so it happened sometime between 1995 and 1997) and he held a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning. Piniella says that’s when home plate umpire Durwood Merrill started “squeezing” Wolcott. That’s also when things got chippy.

Piniella says Wolcott was clearly getting frustrated by Merrill’s calls. In an attempt to help his young pitcher, Piniella yelled at Merrill from the dugout, “C’mon Durwood, you’re squeezing him!” That didn’t help anything, so Piniella went out to the mound “not to talk to Wolcott, but to wait for Durwood to come out.” Piniella wanted to chat with Merrill about the strike zone.

Lou Piniella Mariners Ejections

A classic “Sweet Lou” moment

Piniella describes Durwood Merrill as a character, and it sounds like he had that reputation all over baseball. Wikipedia describes Merrill as “friendly and outgoing.” After he retired in 1999, Merrill even wrote a book called You’re Out and You’re Ugly, Too! It was a humorous collection of the umpire’s stories from 23-years in the big leagues.

So, Merrill finally came out to the mound to break up Piniella and Wolcott. Piniella asked Merrill, “Where are those pitches at?” Merrill just looked at Piniella and didn’t say a word. He finally broke the silence a few seconds later with a question for Piniella: “Did you ever go to college?” Piniella, who went to the University of Tampa, told Merrill that he did go to college. Merrill responded back, “Didn’t you learn in college that you don’t end a sentence with a preposition?” Piniella was a little stunned by the back-and-forth, but he quickly asked Merrill if he could rephrase his original question. Merrill told him, “You sure can.” Piniella then asked, “Where were those pitches at, Durwood? You no good, blind, [bleep], [bleep], [bleep]!”

It wasn’t long after that Piniella says he was watching the rest of the game with a cold beer in the clubhouse.

I’m sure Piniella was firy as a manager, but he seems like an extremely nice guy now that he’s retired. Piniella shared his stories at the Hutch Award Luncheon in Seattle last week, and he stayed after the event for more than a half hour signing autographs and taking pictures with everyone who asked. Piniella shared hugs with old Seattle media members and even shook my hand before our interview. I wasn’t expecting Piniella to be a jerk, but I was surprised at how pleasant he actually was. I realize now that Piniella isn’t full of rage (like I thought he was when I was a youngster growing up in Seattle), instead the base throwing and dirt kicking was all just an act. Piniella was simply the ultimate showman.

Do you have a favorite Lou Piniella ejection? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Stay tuned to http://allaroundtim.com for the final installment of Story Time with Lou Piniella. In the third part of the series, “Sweet Lou” shares a great story about Ichiro from his first Spring Training with the M’s in 2001. I’ll have that posted soon!

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Story Time With Lou Piniella | George Steinbrenner

I’m convinced that athletes are the best storytellers on the planet. I feel like they remember every detail of every moment from their career. I can hardly remember what I ate for dinner yesterday, but these dudes can flashback to games they played decades ago without a problem. As I found out yesterday, former Major League Baseball player and manager Lou Piniella fits that same “great storyteller” mold.

Lou Piniella | Hutch Award Luncheon

Lou Piniella speaking at the Hutch Award Luncheon

Piniella was the keynote speaker at the Hutch Award Luncheon in Seattle. The award is given to a Major League Baseball player that excels on and off the field every year. San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito received the honor this year, and for good reason: the guy is amazing when it comes to giving back. We should all applaud the work Zito does for charity.

Lou Piniella closed the event with a fabulous speech. I never realized the guy was so funny. He told three hilarious stories during his speech, and all made the audience (including me) burst into laughter. I’m going to share all three stories with you, but I have to put them in different posts (otherwise a single post with all three stories would be too long). Are you ready for this? The fun starts now!

I’m calling the series Story Time with Lou Piniella:

Lou Piniella was traded by the Kansas City Royals with Ken Wright to the New York Yankees for Lindy McDaniel on December 7, 1973. Piniella says that trade turned out to be the greatest moment of his 18-year playing career. After he was dealt, Piniella couldn’t wait to get to Spring Training with the Yankees.

Lou Piniella arrived at camp with the Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale in 1974. He walked into the clubhouse on his first day and quickly realized there wasn’t a uniform in his locker. Anxious to get on the field and get started, Piniella asked Yankees equipment manager Pete Sheehy what was going on. Sheehy told Piniella that George Steinbrenner saw him walking in from the parking lot and said that Steinbrenner wanted to talk to Piniella in his office.

Piniella did as he was ordered and walked into Steinbrenner’s office. He introduced himself as one of the new players from Kansas City, and he told Steinbrenner how excited he was to be with the Yankees. There was a problem though. Steinbrenner told Piniella, “We’re happy to have you here, but your hair is too long.” The Yankees had a strict hair policy under George Steinbrenner, a policy that existed until Steinbrenner’s death in 2010. Piniella didn’t see the problem with long hair, so he decided to debate (no surprise, right?). He told Steinbrenner, “Our Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest person who ever lived and he had long hair.” Steinbrenner didn’t say a word, instead he just grabbed Piniella by the hand and walked him across the street to the Ft. Lauderdale swimming pool. Steinbrenner pointed at the pool and told Piniella, “If you can walk across that water, you can wear your hair any way you want to.”

Let’s just say Piniella lost the argument…

Lou Piniella Royals Yankees

Lou Piniella in Kansas City compared to Lou Piniella in New York

Lou Piniella and George Steinbrenner built a strong relationship after that. Piniella never played for another team, suiting up for the Yankees from 1974-1984. Two years after he retired as a player, Steinbrenner introduced Lou Piniella as the Yankees manager. ”Sweet Lou” was the manager in New York for the 1986 and 1987 seasons, and then was promoted to general manager in 1988. Piniella jumped back into the Yankees dugout after Billy Martin was fired 69 games into the ’88 season. Piniella, who is now 69-years-old, respects George Steinbrenner so much that he still refers to him as Mr. Steinbrenner.

That’s it for this version of Story Time with Lou Piniella. I hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for more of Piniella’s stories, including his hilarious encounter with umpire Durwood Merrill, and a classic exchange between ”Sweet Lou” and Ichiro. I’ll post those stories soon! In the meantime, check out http://allaroundtim.com for more on the world of sports, music and travel. You can also connect with me right now on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook!

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Seattle Mariners Prospect Mike Zunino On Fast Track

This year is off to a much calmer start for Seattle Mariners prospect Mike Zunino. Then again, 2013 is just beginning and it probably won’t stay calm for long, especially if Zunino keeps taking big steps in his development. It’s not much of a stretch to think Zunino drops the prospect tag and simply becomes an everyday player for the Mariners this season.

Mike Zunino | Mariners Prospect

Mike Zunino at Single-A Everett in 2012

2012 was a whirlwind for Mike Zunino. He started the year at the University of Florida where he hit .371 with 19 home runs and 69 runs batted in. Those numbers were good enough to earn Zunino the Golden Spikes Award as the best college player in the country, and his sensational season led to him being selected by the Seattle Mariners third overall in the draft. Zunino was then shipped to the Single-A Everett AquaSox (that’s when I first met him) where he hit .373 with 10 home runs in just 29 games before a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville. Zunino continued to rake for the Suns, hitting .333 with 3 home runs before the season came to an end 15 games later.

“2012 was pretty crazy,” Zunino told us at Mariners FanFest last weekend. “It was nice to take a deep breath and relax once the year ended, but it was a fun year and a good experience.”

The year was clearly big for Mike Zunino on the field, but it was also a huge summer for him off the diamond. Zunino married his high school sweetheart Alyssa Barry in October. The wedding happened in Florida, but the honeymoon was cut short thanks to — you guessed it – baseball. Mike and Alyssa had one night to celebrate at a hotel on the beach, and then packed up their stuff and left for the Arizona Fall League the next day.

“I told her that I’ll take her on an extended [honeymoon] after this season,” Zunino said. “She deserves it for putting up with everything that’s going on.”

Mike Zunino continued to shine in the Arizona Fall League. In 19 games with the Peoria Javelinas, he hit .288 with 2 home runs and 15 runs batted in. His overall 2012 performance was more than enough for the Mariners to invite him to big league Spring Training this season. He reports to camp in Arizona with pitchers and catchers on February 12th.

“I’m obviously going out there to compete at the best of my ability,” said Zunino. “I’m just looking forward to meeting all the guys, getting to know the pitching staff and just learning the ropes.”

Mike Zunino | Seattle Mariners Prospect

Mike Zunino taking batting practice at Everett in 2012

Mike Zunino is clearly on the fast track to the Major Leagues. He was pegged as the Mariners top prospect by Baseball America in the offseason. The magazine compared Zunino to former Boston Red Sox star (and M’s first round draft pick) Jason Varitek, saying Zunino has “All-Star potential as a middle-of-the-order hitter.” Most analysts expect to see Zunino in the big leagues at some point in 2013. As for Zunino, he would rather not think about it:

“I don’t have a say in the end,” he said. “It’s nice because I can just continue to work hard and when they think I’m ready, that’s when the jump will be made. I’m just going out there and playing to the best of my abilities everyday.”

It takes a unique player to go from the college ranks to the big leagues in less than a year, but Mike Zunino has the skill and approach to make it happen. If a promotion to the majors doesn’t happen in 2013 (which would be a huge surprise to me), his Major League Debut is bound to come in 2014. At this rate, Zunino isn’t giving the Mariners much of an option. If he stays healthy, they’ll have to call him up sooner or later, because there’s no stopping a train going full speed down the tracks.

Have you ever seen Seattle Mariners prospect Mike Zunino in action? What do you think of him? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Don’t forget to also check out http://allaroundtim.com for more on the world of sports, music and food!