By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
During the obligatory phase of Cliff Lee’s news conference Friday afternoon at Safeco Field, the former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher slipped on his new No. 36 Seattle Mariners jersey, pulled the cap over his eyes and curled the bill, then sat down at the microphone.
“It’s a nice fit,” he said.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, sitting next to Lee, couldn’t resist a followup comment.
“That’s what we hope,” Zduriencik said.
Despite the appearance of what seems like a dream pairing of Lee behind ace starter Felix Hernandez atop the rotation, there’s no guarantee that it’ll last more than a year. Lee will be a free agent after this season and he won’t make any commitment to staying until he is convinced he likes being with the Mariners.
Actually, he did say what it would take to snag him.
“I want a 10-year deal for about $200 billion,” he said with a wry smile.
Lee, acquired Dec. 16 when the Mariners traded away three minor league prospects to the Philadelphia Philles, promised only that he’ll give the Mariners his best effort this season, whether he’s a short-timer or not with the team.
He wants to see how he mixes with the Mariners, the fans and the city, hoping to have the same feeling he got last year after the Indians traded him to the Phillies in July and he helped their run to the World Series.
“I’m here to help this team win this year,” Lee said. “Who’s to know? I haven’t been around my teammates. I don’t know what kind of atmosphere they’ve got. I need to get a feel for what’s going on.”
Lee said the trade to the Mariners shocked him because he thought he was close to a long-term contract with the Phillies. Instead, he became expendable when they traded for Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, and his first comments after the trade to the Mariners illustrated his disappointment at leaving the Phillies more than his opportunity with the M’s.
“My mindset last year was that I’m going to play out my contract and try free agency,” he said. “But that changed when I got to Philadelphia. I got on that team and I changed my mind. I wanted to be a part of that. I’m hoping I get here and have those same types of feelings. Either way, I’m still going to go out there and try to put up zeroes every time out, for me and my teammates, for pride and stuff. I’m hoping it’s the right fit and things work out, but time will tell.”
Friday’s news conference was almost symbolic in that it was Lee’s first appearance following Felix Hernandez, who signed a five-year, $78 million contract and spoke to reporters Thursday.
There couldn’t have been a bigger contrast between the two.
Hernandez wore a three-piece suit and a diamond in each ear lobe at his news conference. Friday, Lee was the left-handed Arkansas-boy opposite, dressed in a long-sleeved shirt (untucked) and jeans.
He spoke of working hard between starts and the joy of pitching for what appears to be a stellar Mariners defense.
“It will be fun watching Ichiro (Suzuki) and (Franklin) Gutierrez running around in the outfield, and Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson and (Casey) Kotchman on the infield,” Lee said. “They’re all defensive-oriented players. This is a team that doesn’t give up many runs. I like that a lot. It’s a new challenge and hopefully it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com\marinersblog