SEATTLE -- If hard work accounts for anything, this year will be different for the Seattle Mariners.
Already, M's fans know the theme for the upcoming season is different from years past. Inside FanFest last Saturday, it was all around us -- gone are the grand hopes of winning the American League West, instead replaced by prayers of breaking .500. This is a team rebuilding. Grant them some time because exciting things are down the road.
One of those exciting yet promising changes is new manager Eric Wedge.
While at FanFest, I was fortunate enough to attend a semi-private Q & A session with Wedge and about 30 of the Northwest’s Society of American Baseball Research members.
From the second he walked in, Wedge commanded the attention of the room. Authoritative not only in his height, but from his austere mustache down to his boots, he captivated all of us from the start.
“I trust my eyes, heartbeat, and gut,” he boomed. “I'm going to hold your [sic] accountable if you're not doing it the way you're supposed to be doing it.”
Already this is different than what Mariners fans are used to. Don Wakamatsu, fired last June, never used language like that and, as far as we saw, never even raised his voice.
“We have to teach these guys what it means to be a Seattle Mariner,” Wedge continued as the group leaned in closer, holding their chins in their hands.
But sitting in that conference room beneath Safeco Field while children ran around the bases above us, something struck me – I had heard this refreshing rhetoric before.
Just days prior, I stood in awe listening to the great Tommy Lasorda as he preached his philosophies on management and life to KING 5’s Chris Egan for a Northwest Sports Tonight segment.
“You’ve got to be proud of your uniform you're wearing,” Lasorda barked.
The former Dodgers Manager of the Year went on to say no player should expect an automatic spot on the roster just because they had one last year.
“Make ‘em work,” he declared. “I don't care how much is on your contract, you're here at spring training, earn it.”
As a player with either a chip on their shoulder or something to prove, as so many Mariners do, words like his and Wedge’s must have a stirring effect on inspiration and drive.
But if a manager shares the same views as a Hall of Famer like Lasorda when it comes to things like pride, accountability and respect, he’s got to be on the right track and could be just the catalyst needed to spark this team’s fuse.
Wedge was frank about what M’s fans can get their hopes up for.
“We'll be better this year. I don't know how much better, but we'll be better,” he assured us, nodding his head assertively, like he was already visualizing drills for Peoria in his head. “We're going to have lots of little ups and downs, but we're going to have little victories that you can grab hold of.”
Another edict Lasorda said instantly came to mind -- one that the Mariners will hopefully get to know well this season.
“Endless hours of work. Success can only come through the endless avenue of hard work.”