By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — J.J. Putz had prepared himself to be traded long before the Seattle Mariners dealt him to the New York Mets in early December, so when it happened it wasn’t a shock.
His family still hasn’t come to grips with it.
His wife, Kelsey, cried knowing she’d leave a circle of close friends she’d made in Seattle. And his 3-year-old twin daughters, Lauren and Kaelyn, still aren’t fully aware of what has happened.
“We keep telling them the Moose isn’t going to be around anymore, but I don’t think they fully realize it yet,” Putz said. “When they sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ they still say ‘root, root, root for the Mariners.’ We have to correct them on that now.”
The adjustment has affected everyone and everything, down to Putz’s winter workout routine.
His winter home in Peoria is within a few well-thrown fastballs of the Mariners’ spring training complex, where many players have been working out since October.
Now that he’s with the Mets, he can’t use the Mariners’ facility anymore. He works out at a health club along with former Mariners pitcher Matt Thornton, who’s with the White Sox.
Putz not only had been among the Peoria workout group for years, he’d been the chief motivator for the Mariners players who live in the area.
“If somebody hadn’t shown up in the morning, J.J. was on the phone telling them to get their (bleep) in here,” Mariners reliever Mark Lowe said.
“There’s that, and then there’s having to leave for spring training in Florida when your wife is eight months pregnant,” Putz said.
Kelsey is due with the family’s third child, a boy, on March 5. Putz will leave early next month for the Mets’ spring training camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
“I’ve always been fortunate to stay at home and sleep in my own bed all spring training,” he said. “It wouldn’t be as bad if Kelsey and the girls would come down, but that’s not possible this year. It’ll be a little tougher being by myself, but it’ll be all right. I’ll have my video games with me.”
He also has the World Baseball Classic. Putz is on the provisional U.S. roster for the tournament in March.
“It’s more than a thrill. It’s an honor,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play on that team and wear ‘USA’ across my chest. To have a legitimate chance to do that, it’s an incredible honor.”
Long before the Mariners, Mets and Indians completed the three-team, 12-player deal on Dec. 10, Putz knew he was a valuable trade chip on a Mariners team that needed to overhaul its talent base with young prospects.
“I pretty much felt it was inevitable,” Putz said. “The shock was that I was going to New York and I wasn’t going to close.”
The Mets had just signed free agent Francisco Rodriguez to be their closer and Putz, who saved 101 games in his career, never considered they’d want him, too.
“After they signed Frankie, I thought for sure I was going to be a Detroit Tiger,” he said.
That would have been a dream because Putz grew up in nearby Trenton, Mich., and starred at the University of Michigan. But it also could have been a strain because he’d seen players return to their hometown teams and fall out of favor with the local fans.
“I got four or five phone calls a day once the rumors started swirling about Detroit,” he said.
Once Putz accepted the fact he’d be a setup man for Rodriguez on a Mets team that should be competitive, he was delighted with his new situation.
“I wasn’t happy at first. I would prefer to close,” he said. “But being able to go to a team that’s built to win and win right now is great. I’ll take winning over anything.”
He experienced the opposite last year with a Mariners team, predicted by many to win the American League West, that lost 101 games.
“Last year was bad from the get-go,” Putz said. “It was extremely difficult, especially in a city like Seattle where the fan support was so great.”
He’ll definitely miss the Mariners fans.
“For a team that lost 101 games, the support we had and the fan turnout was unbelievable,” he said. “You’d never guess this team was losing more than 100 games.
“That’s going to be another change for me. Fans in Seattle stick by you no matter what. In New York, you’ve got to perform. I’m excited about the challenge of that because they expect you to do your job and win every game.”
He’s also eager to face the often challenging New York media. He was a favorite of the Seattle media because win or lose, he was always available to them.
“I’ve always prided myself in being a standup guy,” he said. “When I don’t get it done, I don’t run and hide.”
Having made the mental transition to a new team and a different city himself, Putz knows his family — particularly his twin daughters — will handle it well once they’re settled in their new home.
“We called Seattle home for six years,” he said. “We have a great group of friends up there, away from the field and also at the field. We had a house we absolutely loved up there. Combining all those things together, that made it pretty difficult.
“I don’t think the girls have understood it, but they’ll be OK. I told them I was going back to Seattle to pack up the house so we could go to New York. They just said, ‘Well, OK. But make sure you get all our stuff.’”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com