By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Dave Valle wanted to make sure his players had a little fun during their first experience in their new home.
So at the end of Tuesday’s workout at Everett Memorial Stadium, the Everett AquaSox manager finished off base running drills by having the players practice their home-run trot.
Amidst the smiles and laughter, it was evident that the boys of summer had arrived.
The Sox went through the paces for the first time Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the 2014 Northwest League season, which begins Friday, and Valle was at the forefront.
Valle, a former Seattle Mariners catcher and a current member of the M’s broadcast team, takes over as Everett’s manager this season, bringing a high profile to the job. It’s his first managing position, as well as his first time back on the field in a professional setting since retiring as a player in 1996.
“It feels really good,” Valle said about returning to the field. “It feels very energizing to me. I spent some time at spring training and at extended spring in between my broadcast duties, and I just couldn’t wait till this day came. It’s very exciting.”
All the players who took part in Tuesday’s practice spent the previous two months at extended spring training at the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Ariz. They were ready to get out of the scorching Arizona heat and began playing games in earnest.
“I’m just excited, I can’t wait,” said infielder Jordan Cowan, a native of Covington who is well familiar with Everett Memorial Stadium, having played home games there as a member of the Seattle Stars select program. “Hopefully, the fans get out here and watch us play and watch us win a championship.”
There are no high-profile prospects on Everett’s initial roster, but there are several with some intriguing potential.
Starting pitcher Rigoberto Garcia, a 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic, is a big right-hander who went 4-0 in five starts with the Sox last season before being promoted. Garcia is one of five players on the initial roster who saw time in Everett in 2013, along with fellow pitcher Ricardo Pereira, catcher Kyle Petty, infielder Bryan Brito and outfielder Phillips Castillo.
The roster also includes a pair of young sluggers: 19-year-old Puerto Rican first baseman Kristian Brito and 20-year-old Dominican outfielder Wilton Martinez, both of whom reached double digits in home runs with Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League last season. Kristian Brito is the highest-draft player among those who came from Peoria, being selected in the 11th round of the 2012 draft.
“We all get along very well,” Cowan said. “I think we have a really good squad. I think we can actually take it all the way if we play as well as we did at extended, keep grinding like we have been and keep playing as a team.”
There is just one player from this year’s amateur draft, which was completed Saturday, on the roster so far. That’s pitcher Dan Altavilla, who was selected in the fifth round. He did not arrive in time to take part in Tuesday’s practice.
Several others who were drafted out of colleges over the weekend are expected to sign with the Mariners and join the Sox before the season begins Friday.
However, with Altavilla the team’s only college player as of Tuesday, the pitching staff is a tad thin, with just 10 hurlers. Because of that, Valle said the team has yet to decide on an opening-night starter. Garcia was the opening-night starter last year, giving him the rare opportunity to start openers in consecutive seasons for the Sox.
Although the initial roster might be lacking in names that already have been established as top prospects, Valle believes he has a good group to work with.
“I have some really good talented young players,” Valle said. “Probably more than anything I have a really good group of young men. I’ve gotten the chance to kind of get to know them during spring training and extended spring, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them even better.
“Certainly every kid here has a chance,” Valle added. “It’s going to be up to them, what they do with the development tools the Seattle Mariners organization gives to them, the knowledge that me and my coaching staff pass on to them, how well they apply it, and how well they mentally adjust to professional baseball. It’s not an easy thing. If it was easy, there’d be a million major league baseball players, but there’s not, there’s only about a thousand.
“A lot of it is a responsibility on their side to maximize and make the most of the potential and the skills God’s given them.”
The Sox have their dress rehearsal for the season tonight with the 11th annual Everett Cup, taking on the Pacific International League’s Everett Merchants in an exhibition game at Everett Memorial. The Merchants are comprised primarily of college players with local ties. The Sox are 8-2 in Everett Cup history, including a 6-3 victory in last year’s contest.
The Northwest League season begins Friday when the Sox host the Hillsboro Hops in the first game of a five-game series.