Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodríguez warms up during spring training workouts Feb. 15 in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodríguez warms up during spring training workouts Feb. 15 in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Servais calls 2024 Mariners ‘the hungriest team I’ve ever had’

The team is ready to rewrite the script after a disappointing postseason miss last year.

By Ryan Divish

PEORIA, Ariz. — The methodically arranged desk remains a study in minimalistic style. Similar to years past, there were no 3×5 cards or legal pads to provide hints of his plans. But somewhere in the almost obsessively ordered office of manager Scott Servais, there had to be a notebook or collection of papers prepared for Tuesday morning — the first day of full-squad workouts at Mariners spring training.

Every year since he’s taken over the job in 2016, Servais addresses the players in camp with a speech that includes an introduction of all the staff members at spring training, an outline of the expectations for players held by the organization, an explanation of why they do the things they do and the delineation of goals for the upcoming season.

“I look forward to it,” he said. “It’s fun, it’s exciting, but it also gives me an opportunity to reflect back on the different things that we’ve focused on, where we were at as an organization in the previous years and how we’ve grown. That part of it usually sinks in about 11 o’clock the night before. It’s like, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long way here,’ and we really have. But we’ve got a long ways to go yet.”

The speech isn’t something he can ad-lib or pull from memory, hence the notes, and he’d never use a PowerPoint presentation. One piece of paper includes the exact name and title and pertinent information for the staff members that players will interact with during the spring. The other pieces of paper include notes and thoughts, which Servais collects and collates over the offseason. An avid reader about coaching in other sports, leadership in non-sports fields and self-improvement, Servais’ speech always has new wrinkles and ideas.

“I think no matter what group you’re leading, whether it’s a sports team, a business meeting or whatever, you get fired up when you have that many people in the room and you’re kicking off something,” he said. “The beauty of our game is we start over every year. There are 30 other teams doing the same thing today.”

When players arrived early Tuesday morning, there were navy T-shirts sitting on the chairs in front of their lockers. The letters DMGB 2024 were centered in the middle with the Mariners compass logo splitting the M and G. And for those newcomers unfamiliar with the acronym, the corresponding saying “Doesn’t Matter, Get Better” surrounding the design.

The acronym or the Mariners’ four-word ethos, which was adopted from sessions with motivational speaker Brian Kight, are placed or positioned where the players spend time … for a reason.

And it was undoubtedly mentioned more than once in Servais’ speech. After initially having the theme and message change from year to year, the DMGB saying has been constant since 2020 when Kight came to Seattle during the organization’s leadership summit.

It’s a simple and to-the-point mindset that sets the overall expectation for a player or the team.

“Thinking about it last night and what’s the ultimate goal and where you want to get to, I think if you’re coaching a team, leading a business or whatever, there’s certain things you want to give players,” Servais said. “For me, number one is structure, players need structure. I think we’ve done that. Then you need to you give them as much clarity as you can as to why we do what we do so they understand what’s coming. Then you try to be as consistent as you can be.”

After having conversations with the core leaders on the team in the months leading up to spring training and seeing the number of players arrive early to spring, Servais didn’t think he’d need to overemphasize the DMGB philosophy or provide motivation in the meeting.

“I’ve said it a couple times this spring so far, but I think this is the hungriest team I’ve ever had in spring training,” Servais said. “This team is wired a little bit different based on what they went through last year. We’ve made some additions. We’ve got some guys that are going to join our club, join our lineup, and those guys are hungry as well. And that’s a good thing.”

The Mariners’ superstar center fielder is leading that group of players starving for more success.

“Everybody’s ready to play,” Julio Rodriguez said. “I could tell a lot of the guys had a great offseason. And I feel like they’re ready to go out there. It feels really good that we don’t have so many players that need to be told what to do or why. I feel like everybody knows what works for them and how to get better.”

One of those players is returning from a year spent in San Francisco.

Mitch Haniger first heard Servais deliver his opening speech in 2017 and missed only last season when he was with the Giants.

“The message is very much the same, but it’s gotten better and better,” Haniger said. “I feel like Scott’s commanding the room better and better, as he should be. Hats off to him. I feel like every year he’s becoming a better and better manager. The longer you do something, you should be improving. It was good.”

The overall message still resonates with Haniger, perhaps even more so after leaving the organization. He helped build the standard of work and preparation during his first stint with the Mariners. He wants it to continue.

“The culture here is real with how guys come in and prepare,” Haniger said. “It’s about working and getting better. It’s not like that everywhere. It has to be a precedent set by the players that have been here so when you’re new to the clubhouse, and you walk in, it’s here, ‘this is what’s expected of you.’ I love that part about being a Seattle Mariner. I felt like we built that up the right way. Guys are serious about coming into work and trying to improve and get better.”

And that’s all Servais asks of his players.

“You’ve got so many guys that have heard the messaging and they buy into it,” he said. “If you talk about standards, it’s all about the players holding each other accountable. And this group does that.”

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