USSM/LL Event Recap: Felix Felixes
Tonight’s USSM/Lookout Landing event at Safeco Field was a great opportunity to discuss the state of the team with Dave Cameron, Jeff Sullivan, Matthew Carruth, talk prospects and scouting with Tom McNamara and to hear assistant GM Jeff Kingston get drowned out by obnoxious piano music. Here’s some of what happened:
1: Felix pitched one of the better games I’ve seen live. Look, I know I should talk about the event and the Q and A and all, but we all got upstaged by Felix Hernandez. I’m OK with this; there’s no one I’d rather be upstaged by. But every time Felix threw his change-up, I forgot another (interesting) thing that Tom McNamara said.
2: We got to the stadium early and everyone piled in to section 325 for a quick Q and A with Dave/Matthew/Jeff. I’m struck by how welcoming the Mariners are – ushers directed everyone to the appointed spot despite the fact that the stadium wasn’t officially open, and then two members of the front office take some time from their work of watching baseball to talk about baseball. It’s humbling, it’s an honor, but I’m not sure what the M’s get out of it. M’s: this post is for you.
3: The blogger Q and A was billed as a more honest/off-the-record sort of an affair, so I don’t want to go over a lot of what was said. There were several questions about the struggling M’s hitters, and the responses ran the gamut from guarded optimism to confusion and depression. Because this took place three hours before game-time, the M’s were on the field stretching before they took BP, which made for something of an odd visual. It’s really odd to discuss a player’s future prospects, or lack thereof, while said player is doing calisthenics in the background. It’s surreal. Dave/Mathew/Jeff were facing away from the field, which was for the best, but because I couldn’t see the dugout, players would occasionally seem to pop out of Dave’s head and jog in place for a while or touch their toes. It made every player seem a bit like Munenori Kawasaki, if that makes any sense.
4: Tom McNamara and Jeff Kingston then came out and stepped up to a microphone the M’s had helpfully provided. I always love hearing Mac, in part because he thinks about prospects and baseball in general so differently from me, or, I’d presume, Dave. I’ve been to several of these events, and what’s always struck me is how often and forcefully Mac (and Zduriencik) turn the conversation to a player’s personality/family. JY and I are leaning in, waiting for Mac to discuss how “in” on Mike Trout the M’s had been, and what kind of skills he showed as a prep in New Jersey, but McNamara’s way to say that they watched a lot of him was to say that they got to know his family. This reminded me of something Zduriencik said in January of 2010 – someone asked a generic scouting question and how the team evaluates players and Z talked about meeting Jason Kendall and waxed lyrical about his game-changing handshake. I don’t want to make too much of this; Zduriencik didn’t get where he is by scouting handshakes and eschewing on-field talent, but these intangibles keep coming up in our brief discussions. Is this because Mac/Z know their audience, and want to make a point that there’s more to scouting than watching a kid play baseball against questionable competition? Is it because “good” kids are more likely to withstand the grind of the minors? Is it because, I mean holy crap, that was *some* handshake? I don’t know, and while I’m not exactly convinced, I love learning about a process that seems so different from one I’d run. And that’s probably good, because Mac and his team seem to have done an excellent job. I’m glad he works for the Mariners.
*Update* Have to add that the funniest moment of the day came when Dave asked Jeff Kingston why he signed Miguel Olivo. Kingston thought about it momentarily, and then the aforementioned deafening piano music kicked in. If it was a random coincidence, it was hilarious. If Zduriencik has given members of his staff panic buttons that crank up ambient audio/stadium music whenever they’re asked in public about Olivo, well then my hat is off to you, Z.
5: Again, given the steep angle, I felt like I was always looking down on Mac’s head. I found myself wondering how to describe the elegant shape of his well-executed part. An integral sign maybe?
6: During the Q and A with McNamara/Kingston, the M’s took batting practice. I’ve heard for years about Ichiro’s BP show, and I’m hear to say that at age 38, he’s still got it. The ball just flew off his bat, and he hit ball after ball deep into the RF seats, just under the cafe, and hitting one majestic shot off the 2nd deck in right-center. I totally understand why people always thought he had 20 HR potential now, though I’m no closer to understanding why he’s one thing in practice and another in games. This was never a problem given how much he produced, but now, there’s this elegiac tone to BP, which now that I write it sounds crazy – watching BP was *fun* and I (and several of the people near me) tuned out was Jeff Kingston was saying (sorry Jeff!) to watch. It’s just sad that of the many-splendored thing he was, this is one of the few things that remains.
7: There was a lot of discussion about moving the fences in.
8: Tom McNamara delayed his trip up to Everett to watch Mike Zunino suit up (he hit a double in his first AB) to hang out on the concourse and field questions from many of you. Again, we’re blessed that folks in the FO do this and seem to like doing it.
9: This was my first time seeing Yu Darvish in person, and while it was impossible to say much about his stuff or location from the upper deck, he was bad. Really, really bad. For the second time this year, the M’s had the Rangers phenom on the ropes in the first. For the second time this year, Darvish was lucky to give up as few runs as he did, thanks in part to a strikingly poor at-bat by an M’s hitter. In the first game, it was Brendan Ryan. Today, it was Justin Smoak’s turn to bail out a reeling Darvish by popping up a first-pitch fastball on the infield.
10: First off, I want to apologize for not getting a game preview/gamethread up. Dave/JY and I were all in attendance, and we probably should’ve planned this ahead of time. Normally, I’m not going to beat myself up about a missed post, but this game was something else, and I bet you all had a lot to say. That was as good as I’ve seen Felix in a long time, with the major caveat that I missed his recent start against Boston. The volume of swinging strikes was almost difficult to process – there seemed to be whole innings of nothing but whiffs broken up by almost apologetic foul tips. Josh Hamilton in particular looked utterly lost – he could get another 9 at-bats and he wouldn’t have figured out Felix tonight. This year’s been a slog, and the past
2 3 5 8 haven’t been fun, but Felix made today’s meaningless game against the Rangers exciting and fun. Felix justified our involvement in this disappointing team and this long-suffering blog. If someone asked why I follow baseball, or the M’s, I’d point to this – you never know when one of these nights is going to happen, and it’s difficult to say how much fun it is to watch. Thank you, Felix.