It’s been said a few times, but it bears repeating.
Dee Gordon had never played a game in center field until this season — besides a handful of starts there in the Dominican Winter League more than four years ago.
But never in a major league game.
So … now that the Seattle Mariners are 10 games in, combined with more than a month of starts in spring training, how is the experiment going?
“I thought that would be a challenge for him,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said last week. “With Arizona with the wind and the bright skies and the sunshine and the whole thing — he did a great job out there. Really flawless.
“Different ball parks and the uniqueness of where the wall is at, how to time certain things and getting a feel for reading balls off the bat — it does take time. You want to get as familiar as you can as fast as you can. But I’m not worried about Dee Gordon. He’s a pro.”
Gordon has not only shown impressive range as a first-time center fielder, but as the catalyst to the Mariners’ offense. He’s hit in every game so far and has five stolen bases.
While not perfect, Gordon’s been pretty good.
The transition from making throws from second to first base to now throwing from the warning track to a cut-off man; from playing on dirt to setting his feet in the expansive outfield grass, has gone as smoothly as can be expected.
Gordon appeared to take a step back on a broken-bat fly ball his way in the season opener at Safeco Field. He later said he actually slipped, but the ball dropped in front of him for an RBI single in what would be the Indians’ only run in a 2-1 Mariners win.
“That’s the ball, that big swing and he’s reading the swing,” Servais said. “And he takes a step back and slips a little bit. That’s the play — a little bit of a hiccup — that you’ll see once in a while until Dee gets totally comfortable out there. It happens to a lot of center fielders, not just Dee.”
Gordon also later took the blame for back-to-back doubles against the Twins when it looked like Ichiro should have made the plays. Gordon said he didn’t communicate well enough.
He also ran into left-fielder Guillermo Heredia during a game, but still made the catch.
“I think not enough people understand that I’ve only been playing center field for like, what? A month?” Gordon said. “If I had been perfect at this to start the season then somebody should get me a Gold Glove.”
He’s honest in his answers. Yes, he does miss playing second base, where he won a Gold Glove in 2015 and maybe should have won another last year with the Marlins. And, yes, he was shocked when the Mariners told him they’d use him in center field.
To his credit he bought an outfield glove the day he learned of the trade, worked diligently with former outfielder and current Mariners’ first-base coach Chris Prieto and some with Ken Griffey Jr., while now playing alongside Ichiro, who once said he saw much of himself in Gordon.
Griffey and Ichiro have a combined 10 Gold Gloves.
And Gordon’s father, Tom “Flash” Gordon, spent 21 years as a big-league pitcher. Servais has raved about Dee’s baseball IQ. That’s certainly helped make for a more seamless transition to center field.
Gordon got to shake hands with legendary Giants’ center fielder Willie Mays before the Mariners’ played the Giants in San Francisco last week. And this week he visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum while they were in Kansas City and revealed that his favorite player growing up was speedy center fielder “Cool Papa” Bell. He wears his pants legs high to emulate Bell.
“I think it’s cooler (playing center field), honestly,” Gordon said. “But I love second base and I do miss it. But I just want to help us win games.
“I’m learning. It’s not easy to go play in the big leagues at a position you’ve never played at where the hitters are conditioned and ready to hit and I got to be able to make the catch. I’ve never done that before — going to the gap to my right. You know, I first got here and it was tough. First got to spring it was tough. I had a lot of those plays over there. It’s part of the game.”
Then he made a diving catch at Safeco Field running to his right.
He’s made it look much easier than it probably is.
“I just want the ball to go into that brown thing over there,” Gordon said, pointing to the glove in locker recently. “That’s it. I don’t care how it looks. As long as I get the outs for these guys and give us a chance to go back into the dugout as quickly as possible.”