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So far, so great for M's


So far, so great for M's
Chemistry on a Baseball team is an esoteric concept, lacking any statistics to quantify it (unless you count the number of shaving-cream pies administered).

It manifests itself most profoundly, perhaps, in its absence, as the 2008 Mariners were a living testament. By now it's vividly clear that something just didn't click within the walls of their clubhouse en route to 101 losses.

"I didn't know what they were talking about when they said chemistry was bad last year, because there's a bunch of great guys here," observed Russell Branyan, one of a large group of new Mariners .

"I spoke to one of the guys that played here last year that's no longer here. He said it was one of the most bizarre things. He's never been with such a great group of guys that just were divided.

"They couldn't figure out what it was. It could have been the way the season went; it could have been anything. But so far this year, through spring training, the guys are having fun, having a great time."

Indeed, as the Mariners return to Safeco Field today for their home opener against the Angels, they are overflowing with chemistry. Just ask them. During Monday's workout at Safeco, virtually every question about their stirring 5-2 road trip was answered with some reference to how well the team gets along.

"Everyone just seems to be real upbeat," said reliever Brandon Morrow. "It's kind of been shown, or expressed, in the way we've been playing games. If you watch the dugout, and the guys that have been on the bench, everyone's into it. They've been cheerleading. The energy has been great."

Chemistry may be invisible and inscrutable, but as Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity, "I know it when I see it."

And this team, as it sits atop the American League West standings all by itself, has it. At least temporarily, Disneyland has lost its title as the Happiest Place on Earth. It is now the Mariners' clubhouse, in one of the most remarkable turnarounds I've witnessed.

"It's just a different attitude between everyone in here," said reliever Roy Corcoran. "It's a good feeling. We're riding it out right now, having a good time, enjoying it. It's good Baseball."

Yes, it's just one week, but that's not precisely true. It's one week, plus eight weeks of spring training, when the good feelings began to take ROOT.

And yes, the team has been winning, which naturally creates a buoyant mood. But one gets the feeling that newcomers Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney, in particular, will be able to keep last year's backbiting at bay.

"Junior and Sweeney are obviously the heart and soul of this team," said reliever David Aardsma. "I'll tell you what, they're fulfilling everything we thought they would. They're doing a great job."

Manager Don Wakamatsu also cited holdovers Jarrod Washburn and Adrian Beltre as major contributors to the goodwill in the clubhouse, and said he also challenged some of the younger veterans "to be a part of that, too."

Added Wakamatsu: "It's not just one or two guys. Everyone is accountable to each other."

On Monday, players warmly greeted Ichiro as he returned to the clubhouse for the first time since landing on the disabled list with a bleeding ulcer.

Griffey's young son frolicked with Sweeney's young son. Rookies Shawn Kelley and Chris Jakubauskas, dressing for the first time in Safeco, soaked it all in. For all we know, there might have been a group sing-along of "Kumbaya" once the media was escorted outside so the Mariners could hold a team meeting.

"All I can say about the team is, we all know each other, we're all having fun together, we're doing things off the field together," said Branyan. "All of us are learning new languages. That makes it fun."

I asked Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners' general manager, what pleased him most about the Mariners' road trip.

"It's nice to win five games," he replied. "What pleased me more was how these guys were together as a ballclub.

"As I sat back and watched them in the hotel, in the clubhouse, I was more happy about the fact they supported each other. I got a sense there was a true care for each other as people. I think that's really important trusting each other.

"We got some great pitching performances, the relief pitching stepped it up, guys made great plays on defense, we got some big, timely hits all those things are great. But if you have that trust in your teammate, that belief that the next guy is going to pick you up, and you go through the course of the year like that, it's a pretty special thing."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 15, 2009

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