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Published: Sunday, February 21, 2010, 12:06 a.m.

Bad weather is bad news for the Mariners

Rain, wind, cool temperatures disrupt team’s spring training

PEORIA, Ariz. — Ty VanBurkleo’s best friend right now is the Weather Channel application on his iPhone.
VanBurkleo, the Seattle Mariners’ bench coach and coordinator of the spring training schedule, has checked it regularly the past 36 hours as bad weather moved into the region.
Cool temperatures, wind and rain enveloped the Mariners’ training complex Saturday, making the practice fields unplayable and forcing the team to cancel its scheduled fielding drills for pitchers and catchers. Pitchers were able to continue their throwing program and catchers took batting practice, all in a covered facility near the clubhouse.
It was the first time in more than a year that rain has interrupted the Mariners’ schedule. Rain also is in the forecast for today and Monday, meaning VanBurkleo will keep using his phone to check the weather.
“I’ve been looking at it since last night,” he said Saturday morning.
When rain meets baseball, especially at spring training, things get interesting for VanBurkleo. Among many other things as the camp coordinator, he’s responsible for putting together the daily workout schedule. That means consulting with the other coaches, trainers, staff and grounds crew on the drills that need to be run each day, then making sure the fields are prepared.
“With 63 players in camp, the plus coaches, the grounds crew and others, I’m dealing with close to 100 people,” VanBurkleo said.
Then he types the information into his computer and produces a highly detailed, multi-colored one-page schedule for each day’s activity.
“I’m already on Day 8!” VanBurkleo said early Saturday morning, offering a fist bump to mark the achievement.
Day 3, on Saturday, was a challenge.
Every minute of spring training is precious because the Mariners must introduce numerous defensive plays, signs, fundamental drills, etc., and then follow them up with refresher drills as the six-week camp goes on. Any rainout would force VanBurkleo to tweak not only that day’s schedule, but ensuing days as well.
“It’s a tight schedule because there is so much we’ve got to cover,” he said. “Today we’re introducing pickoffs, and tomorrow we’ll go over it again. Worst-case scenario, we’ll do it tomorrow and extend the time more to get it all in.”
By 9:15 a.m., the worst-case started falling and the Mariners shifted to Plan B.
The scheduled drills for the day — pitchers’ defensive work on comebackers, passed ball recovery, squeeze plays and covering first base on the 3-6-1 double play — were called off. Fifteen pitchers did throw in the bullpens as scheduled, and catchers were able to take their swings in the covered batting cages.
Manager Don Wakamatsu said the rain actually provided an opportunity to address things with the players that there often isn’t time to do. The team usually meets for a few minutes before each day’s work, but Saturday that meeting lasted more than a half hour.
“Sometimes this is a blessing because it gives you a chance to slow things down and touch on some things that maybe you don’t normally do,” Wakamatsu said. “We had a good meeting to cover some philosophy things, things that we did last year, things we did well and things we need to work on. And to review what we’d done the past couple of days and praise them on some things.”
Just after 2 p.m., as players began leaving for the day, the sun popped out.
An hour later it was raining again, with a 30 percent chance of showers today, increasing to 60 percent Monday.
Another reason to call home
Steven Baron, the 19-year-old catcher who has been the classic example of eyes and ears wide open, fulfilled another dream Saturday. He caught Felix Hernandez’s bullpen session.
“The kid can catch,” Wakamatsu said. “To think that he’s a year out of high school, it’s amazing. He’s a pretty confident kid and he’s a strong kid, much stronger than I envisioned, especially right out of high school. He’s got great leg strength. But he’s got real soft hands and a presence about him. He’s not intimidated by any means.”
And also catching
Utility player Jack Hannahan, who’ll play some at shortstop in camp, also is getting work at catcher (along with Ryan Garko) on a just-in-case basis. They worked on technique with catching coordinator Roger Hansen, and Hannahan caught pitcher Doug Fister in the bullpen Saturday.
“We took them into the cage and had them receive a little bit off a machine and let them work with Roger, and then let them catch some of the non-fireballers to break them in,” Wakamatsu said.
Of note
Cliff Lee, who Wakamatsu said Friday would begin taking part in the pitchers’ drills Saturday or today, now is expected to join those drills Monday, the manager said. Lee, who had a bone spur removed from his left foot 15 days ago, is scheduled to throw his first bullpen on Wednesday. … Wakamatsu and pitching coach Rick Adair continued to meet individually with the pitchers. What have they learned? “It was interesting to find out that (Mauricio) Robles has a brother and a sister, but he’s the only one in his family to play baseball,” Wakamatsu said. “That’s rare in Venezuela.” … From the Goofing-Off Dept., closer David Aardsma had a spiked-hair visor that he’d bought at a local golf shop. Ken Griffey Jr. got his hands on the visor and test-fitted it on several people in the clubhouse, including himself. … Pitcher Yusmeiro Petit won’t report until late this week because he is handling a personal issue at home in Venezuela.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinresblog
Story tags » Mariners

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