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Kirby Arnold | karnold@heraldnet.com
Published: Monday, October 11, 2010, 8:51 p.m.

Seven Mariners ready for Fall League opener; but first, some media training

Welcome from Peoria, where you can tell the seasons are changing in Arizona because the afternoon temperature reaches only 97.

This also is the beginning of the Arizona Fall League season, which is like a five-week dream sequence if you're a baseball nut in the Phoenix area who loves watching many of the game's top big-league prospects.

The AFL season begins Tuesday, and for Mariners fans there are seven players to follow with the Peoria Javelinas -- pitchers Josh Fields, Josh Lueke, Tom Wilhelmsen and Maikel Cleto, second baseman Dustin Ackley, third baseman Nate Tenbrink and middle infielder Matt Lawson.

Lawson is a late replacement for third baseman Matt Mangini, who will miss at least the first part of the Fall League season because of the quad muscle injury that bothered him late this season, including his time in September as a callup to the Mariners.

Before the Fall League begins, the Mariners' magnificent seven went through something this afternoon that the organization takes seriously – a two-hour session of media training presented by Mariners baseball information director Tim Hevly and public information director Rebecca Hale.

Their program was held in the multipurpose room at the Mariners' spring training complex in Peoria. It included advice and tales of personal experience by former Mariner Ken Phelps, who lives in the Phoenix area; a few video clips of how to (and not to) conduct a postgame interview; and a discussion with a couple of real, live baseball beat reporters, Shannon Drayer (of ESPN 710 radio) and me (of The Herald).

Phelps warned the guys that anything they say or do, can and will appear in print and online. He told them that nothing they say is ever off the record, even if they think they have an understanding with a reporter that it's off the record. He told them to never criticize their teammates, to be humble in their success, to be honest and be themselves.

He also told about his 1984 season with the Mariners and how he suffered a broken bone in his hand and became the club's version of Wally Pipp. That's because he was replaced by a promising young player named Alvin Davis, who was a fixture at first base the next eight seasons with the Mariners. Phelps also told of the pinch-hit, two-out, ninth-inning homer he hit for the A's in 1989 to ruin Mariner pitcher Brian Holman's perfect game, and how even the home fans in Oakland booed him because they wanted to see the perfect game.

After Phelps, the players saw video of two postgame interviews. One was a young Mariner who'd gotten his first big-league hit last month and said all the right things to Brad Adam of FSN.

“Anything stand out in that interview?” Rebecca Hale asked the group. I'm not sure who responded, but one of the guys uttered two words: “His chew.”

Exactly. Spit it out when the cameras are on, even if you've just put it in.

They saw another TV interview of Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay after his no-hitter last week against the Reds. He spent as much time praising his catcher as he did talking about himself. No chew, either.

Shannon Drayer and I talked about the role of beat reporters, the types of stories we pursue, the deadline constraints we face and, most important, the rapport and trust we hope to achieve among the players because we're in the clubhouse with them every day.

Then we broke into one-on-one interviews that were videotaped for training purposes. Shannon grabbed Josh Fields, Josh Lueke and Nate Tenbrink. I talked with Dustin Ackley, Matt Lawson and Tom Wilhelmsen.

Ackley feels rested after taking the past few weeks off since the Tacoma Rainiers's season ended. He had either played or worked out for more than a full year without a break since he signed last year. I'll turn that interview into a story on Ackley for Wednesday's Herald. Look for it to appear online sometime Tuesday.

Lawson learned just a few days ago that he'd play in the Fall League because of Mangini's injury. Lawson and I also laughed about a common thread between us. He was a star infielder at Southwest Missouri State University before the Rangers drafted him. It's the same school where my baseball career ended, as a junk-ball-throwing left-handed pitcher in the mid-1970s who threw a lot of batting practice and realized he'd better find another way to stay in the game, like being a sportswriter.

Wilhelmsen, who pitched only three games this season with the Everett AquaSox before being promoted to Clinton, told me he was thrilled to learn recently that he'll get a Northwest League championship ring. We also laughed about a great video interview that appeared on the AquaSox' stadium video screen in which he said he loved long walks on the beach, a nice book next to the fire, and cats.

I didn't have time for much more than a hello with Josh Fields. I'd hoped to learn more about the arm problem that sidelined him since early June with Class AA West Tennessee. Briefly, he said the arm feels great and he's ready to pitch in the Fall League.

I felt bad for Maikel Cleto, a 21-year-old Dominican who pitched at Class A High Desert this year, because his interpreter had to leave early. I introduced myself and shook his massive right hand (he's 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds) and asked if he spoke English.

He immediately said, “No.”

Hevly saw that and joked, “You know enough to understand the question. You holding back on us?”

Cleto smiled, and I said, “Ah, so you're like Ichiro. You can speak it, but just not to us.”

Cleto smiled and shook my hand again, and I told him I'll be here watching him pitch this fall, and we'll get together.

With that, the seven went back to the clubhouse to prepare for their final workout before the Fall League season begins. At 12:35 p.m. Tuesday, they host the Surprise Rafters at Peoria Stadium.


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