PEORIA, Ariz. — There are kids who come to spring training and struggle with being away from their parents, or even their native countries, for the first time in their lives.
They see Andy Bottin.
Girlfriend issues? They talk with Andy.
Can’t handle the failure that comes with playing professional baseball? Andy knows just what to say.
Andy Bottin, a Camano Island resident who begins his 14th season coaching in the Seattle Mariners organization, can talk with a teen-age ballplayer about anything.
Want to hear a story about his military service in Vietnam, or his 20 years as a Seattle policeman, or his Hall of Fame career as a fastpitch softball player? Andy’s got them.
Just don’t ask him to show off his trick with a phone book.
Mike Wilson, a linebacker-like 245-pound minor league outfielder, learned that lesson a few years ago when he played at the rookie level in Peoria.
Wilson didn’t believe the stories that Bottin could knock a person off his feet with two fingers, so he called him on it one night.
“No way, you can’t do it,” Wilson told Bottin.
Bottin, no small guy himself at 6 feet, 4 inches, told Wilson to hold the phone book up to his chest. The kid still wasn’t buying it.
“That’s why I had a him stand in front of a couch,” Bottin said.
He delivered a two-fingered jolt that sent Wilson flying.
“They hear about it and they ask, ‘Who is this guy?’” Bottin said. “It’s a thing that draws their attention.”
Andy Bottin, 58, is so much more than a minor league coach for the Mariners with leverage in his fingers.
For the first time, he’s a minor league manager this year, leading the rookie-level Peoria Mariners. But he’s also a teacher in the ways of pro ball, a father figure who helps young players with issues on and off the field, and an expert on nearly every facet of the team hotel across 83rd Ave. from the Mariners’ training complex.
Bottin is a fixture in Peoria, literally and otherwise.
This is his seventh year working at the lowest level of the Mariners’ minor league system. While other coaches have either climbed in the chain or gotten out, Bottin has remained in Peoria, spending February through August here.
He would love to coach the Class A AquaSox again in Everett, where he worked from 1995-2001, and be at home full-time with his wife Jeni and near their children, Andy and Danielle, and three grandchildren.
“I would like to finish my career in Everett,” he said. “I’d be home with my family.”
That’s the tough part of this business, being away.
Jeni is active in real estate and will come to Arizona twice before Andy’s season ends. For six years, it’s been like this.
“She knows my passion for the game and has never once complained,” he said. “We’ve talked about how we could have a better scenario, but we try to deal with the situation as it is and do the best we can. We talk every night and communicate with e-mail. She’s my wife, the mother of my children and she’s my best friend. I’m very fortunate. Thank God for her.”
It’s horribly inconvenient, not only being away from home for so long but working here during the hottest part of the year. Bottin doesn’t complain, even when it’s 110 degrees on an August day when the Arizona League is in full swing.
“I’ve learned that there are certain things you can’t change,” he said. “But I do control how I respond. I could do it in a negative or positive way, and as we get older we learn to mature in that aspect. Drink more water. Find the shade. Get through the fundamentals quicker and get the kids off the field.”
It’s all about the kids. Not the players, the kids.
To Bottin, they’re human beings and not prospects to be coddled or projects to be pushed. They’re here learning about life as much as baseball.
“I hold the kids accountable and I treat them like my kids,” he said. “There’s a consistency and it doesn’t matter if you’re a big bonus baby or a free agent. I treat everyone the same. They’re a Seattle Mariner.”
Nobody knows that better than one of Bottin’s best friends, Mariners catching coordinator Roger Hansen. Their homes are 15 minutes apart — Hansen’s near Stanwood and Bottin’s on Camano Island — and they stay in the same hotel in Peoria.
“I think sometimes we take it for granted how many things he does down here,” Hansen said. “But the kids know. His phone is constantly ringing. A kid is always wanting to talk to him. They trust him so much that he’ll talk to them. The parents are calling him all the time about their children. Parents worry that their kids will get lost out in pro ball.”
Bottin is much more than the coddling type, and it only takes a slight step out of line for a player to learn that.
“If there’s a troublemaker, Andy will put them in the ground in two seconds,” Hansen said. “They know not to mess with him.”
He knows the team hotel as well as those who run the team hotel, Hansen said.
“Everybody goes to Andy, even the people who work there,” Hansen said. “He can run the whole front desk.”
His own room — 204 — is a place for Bottin to have his quiet time.
“My home away from home,” he calls it. “I have my Thomas Kinkade puzzles. Sometimes I’ll go over to the mall and walk around, or I’ll go to the zoo. I enjoy watching people.”
Of course, that’s when he isn’t talking with players, which is nearly constant. His days may start at 4 a.m. by running equipment out to the practice fields, but sometimes they don’t end until well after midnight if a young man has a problem.
“They range from personal issues to baseball to just being young men and kids away from home,” Bottin said. “I’m glad that there’s that trust.
“A lot of people don’t see what these kids are going through, the stress they have to do well for their communities, for their families, for themselves. Their whole lives they’ve always been the best. And when this melting pot of players comes together, they’re all the best — all-stars and captains. The competition can be devastating to a lot of them who’ve never experienced that.”
It can be a challenge with so many Latin kids in the program. Bottin doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, but he understands it well enough to be able to help them.
“The thing that makes me happy is that they know me,” he said. “The other players tell them, ‘See Andy. You can trust him. He’ll help you.’ That means a lot.
“I feel so fortunate to be paid to put the uniform on, to be out here swinging a bat, playing catch, throwing a ball and interacting with the players. It’s gratifying when I see these kids advance and get to the big leagues, knowing the hardships and the hills they had to climb. The reward is when we get together and we share a smile. That’s the reward.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com