When Cole Gillespie started Friday in left field for the Seattle Mariners, in his first game after being promoted from Class AAA Tacoma, it marked a victory for perseverance.
Cycle back to the day after New Year’s: Gillespie, at 29, sought a location to jump start a pro career about to enter its ninth season after managing just 169 at-bats in the big leagues over parts of three seasons.
He saw the Mariners as a good fit.
“When I signed,” Gillespie recalled, “the roster was pretty left-hand oriented. I knew, talking with them, though, they’d probably go out and try to get some right-handed bats.
“But at the same time, I felt this would be a good spot for me. And being from the Northwest, in Portland, all things being equal in signing with another team, I was going to choose the Mariners.”
Gillespie batted .433 in 17 spring games for a club searching for right-handed bats, and found that wasn’t good enough to make the opening-day roster. The Mariners not only reassigned him to minor-league camp, they did so nearly two weeks before the start of the regular season.
“It was a little frustrating at first,” he said, “especially with it being with a couple of weeks left in the spring. But at the same time, I can’t control their moves or their decisions. All I can do is to go down there and continue to put up some numbers and, hopefully, kind of open their eyes and try to force their hand a little bit if I can.”
Gillespie did just that.
He was hitting .362 in 16 games for the Rainiers with five homers and 14 RBI. That was just the thing to open eyes and force hands — particularly since the Mariners are still looking for right-handed punch.
“Right now,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “we’re trying to play with the roster and get the right fit. This guy is swinging the bat well down there. Hopefully, he’ll continue to stay hot up here.”