And so, the rest of the journey begins …
After 55 days in Arizona — minus an eight-day side trip to Tokyo — I headed to Oakland this morning to begin the journey of the regular season.
Yeah, there were two games against the A’s in Japan, but let’s face it. Those games count in the standings, but they didn’t really feel like part of the normal season because, well, they weren’t part of a normal season.
Now we begin the six-month grind, with 160 games over the next six months for the Mariners starting Friday night in Oakland. I always say that every season is like a book, filled with unexpected plot twists and turns that play out over those six months. And some of my favorite characters in that book are always the new rookies who have realize their dream by making the Opening Day roster.
This year, the Mariners have seven rookies, but only two are what I’d classify as “true” rookies — Lucas Luetge and Erasmo Ramirez — who have never played in the Majors before. Munenori Kawasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma never have played in MLB before, but they have been part of the top level of baseball in Japan for a decade.
The other rooks — Jesus Montero, Steve Delabar and Alex Liddi — all are still rookies by definition, but they each got their feet wet last year as September call-ups.
All these guys are thrilled to be in the big time now, of course, but Luetge and Ramirez were the two guys absolutely soaking up the new experience Thursday when the Mariners arrived in Oakland for their workout before Friday’s U.S. opener.
I loved this response Luetge gave when I asked him about what he did when he first found out he’d made the 25-man roster. He said he called his wife and then his mom and dad, as you’d expect. But then he put into words exactly what every spouse and parent feel when someone they love reaches a long-sought dream.
“My wife has been going through all this with me, and my parents have been with me since Little League,” Luetge said. “My dad coached me when I was little, and then videotaped every game and would talk to me after every high school game.
“He was speechless when I told him. This was all of our dreams. This is what you work for, and when it finally happens, it takes you back a step.”
Ramirez was also great. The 21-year-old from Nicaragua is a gem. He’s one of those guys who just always has a smile on his face and truly enjoys where he’s at and what he’s doing. When I asked him about how he’s adjusting to pitching in the bullpen, he launched into a free-flowing dialogue about the positives of both starting and relieving.
Finally I said, “You pretty much like everything, don’t you.” And he just laughed and acknowledged the obvious truth of his situation and personality.
“Yeah, I want to pitch,” he said. “Give me a ball, give me a chance. It wasn’t like I wanted to be a starter or reliever all my life. Just give me a chance to throw the ball to home plate.”
You can read my stories on both those youngsters, as well as lots of other news that came out of Thursday’s workout, by going to this story on Mariners.com.