By Kirby Arnold
Overnight rain again limited the Mariners to bullpen sessions for the pitchers and batting practice for the catchers. But before you think little else was accomplished, this could be a day the team looks back on as a time when really came together for the first time.
The plan was for manager Don Wakamatsu, the players and coaches to meet for about 30 minutes before going outside. They talked for about two hours, with such pitchers as Ryan Rowland-Smith, Mark Lowe and David Aardsma speaking up about what it took for them to experience unprecedented success last year.
Better than that, newly acquired Cliff Lee spoke up about his World Series run last year.
A lot of Mariners fans have wondered how Lee would fit in with this team and, most important, whether he would feel comfortable enough to want to stay beyond this year. This is a good sign, and so are the comments from other pitchers who say the entire group — including Lee — already seem to be coming together as a unit.
“We set out to talk half an hour, but there was a lot of player participation,” Wakamatsu said. “To have those guys speak instead of the coaches is pretty neat. To have a guy like Cliff Lee to be open and talk about his experiences, especially since he’s only been here a few days, is invaluable.
“With some of the younger guys here in camp, it’s highly beneficial to be able to have guys who’ve gone through it and talk about their experience, and also some World Series experience. To see guys like Danny Cortes and Ricky Orta with their ears wide open, that’s the greatest thing from a manager’s standpoint.”
It’s easy to go a little overboard on the team-building stuff because talent, bottom line, is what wins pennants.
But when the Mariners pull off a season like last year’s, when Wakamatsu’s emphasis on communication and “belief systems” was one factor in turning a 101-loss team into an 85-game winner, you can’t dismiss the touchy-feely stuff.
Spring training is only four days old and it’s impossible now to tell who’s looking good and who isn’t. The pitchers are finding their release points and building arm strength, and the catchers are getting their legs under them.
The important thing at this point is that they feel awfully good about themselves as a unit.