First baseman Richie Sexson enjoyed a warm reception
from the Seattle faithful in this, his first season in Mariners' blue,
not only for the power-hitting capabilities he carried with him, but
also for the homegrown feel he brought to the club. Former first
baseman John Olerud may have attributed the length of his tenure with
the M's to the popularity he enjoyed due to his local ties. Now, the
Mariners have their eye on another Northwest original - AquaSox
outfielder Michael Saunders.
Saunders hails from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, a place a
little further north than his big-league counterparts. There, in a
country best known for breeding hockey players, the young lefty found
himself drawn to the Great American Pastime and the club most
geographically accessible to him.
"I've been a Mariners fan ever since I was little," Saunders says,
"and it's pretty sweet now to be playing in their system."
Saunders became an athlete at a young age at the insistence of his
father, who Saunders says, "Wanted me to play a lot of sports."
Saunders did just that, picking up soccer, hockey, lacrosse,
volleyball and basketball over the course of his youth. It became
clear that he was best suited for baseball when, at the age of 16, he
was selected to play for the Canadian National Baseball Team.
"Every year Canada has the Canada Cup, which is a nationwide
tournament," Saunders said. "Every province enters a team and the
head coach and manager [of the National Team] pick 30 guys to bring
down to a training camp in Orlando, Florida. After that, you get a
callback to go somewhere in South America and pretty much from there,
you're on the team."
Saunders was one of the youngest of the Canadian National players, but
it was a role that he had long grown accustomed to.
"I guess all throughout my career I've always been one of the youngest
if not the youngest," he says.
Nevertheless, Saunders is developing quickly into a solid outfielder
and power hitter. He's become one of the reliable cogs in an Everett
offense that has proved dominant since the beginning of the season.
Saunders attributes much of his success to his time spent with his
"[Playing for the Canadian National team] was the best baseball I've
played up until this point [in Everett]," he said. "It's just a whole
different atmosphere and they way that they play it is very unique."
Despite the prowess Saunders showed on the hill and in the six-spot
for Canada, the Mariners felt that his true strengths were at the
plate and in the outfield grass. When they made him an 11th round
draft pick in 2004, Saunders reported to Tallahassee Community College
in Florida and prepared for a new direction in his career.
"I'll always look back on the positions I used to play," he says, "But
I think it was about time to find a position at which to pursue my
career. I think I had a better chance if I just concentrated on one.
Seattle liked me as a hitter, so I decided in college to stop
Saunders seems to have grown to love the role, content to stay in the
outfield and hone his new craft.
"As long as I'm on the field I'm happy," Saunders said.
He also seems satisfied in his current area code and looks forward to
playing for the team that he grew up watching.
"I like it here a lot," he said. "[Seattle] is just like home and it
helps me with my transition and makes me a lot more comfortable."
Don't Blame Canada - Pitching and Defense Fall Apart in
Vancouver: The AquaSox dropped their second series of the year
during a trip to the Great White North last week. The Vancouver
Canadians continued their dominance over the NWL West Division, taking
two out of three games against Everett. The losses were punctuated by
shoddy defense and pitching on behalf of the Sox.
Wednesday's series opener was Everett's first extra-innings game of
the year, but the work proved fruitless as Vancouver took the game,
7-6, in 13 innings. Looking to close out the game in the 12th with a
6-5 lead, pitcher Rollie Gibson was taken yard for the first time this
year, tying the game at six. Gibson finished the inning and continued
pitching into the 13th, when he committed the most grievous pitching
sin of all by walking in the winning run.
A solid outing by Justin Thomas went to waste on Friday, as Vancouver
beat Everett, 4-2. Thomas went 6.2 innings, giving up six hits and no
runs, while recording five strikeouts. The Canadians took advantage
of Everett's five errors, however, scoring two unearned runs with
Thomas on the hill before picking up the win in the eighth on a wild
pitch by Edgar Guaramato that scored two more.
Everett skipper Pedro Grifol downplayed the Sox struggles, saying, "We
have guys that can play good defense, but sometime errors happen in
this game. We have a lot of guys who are moving around to positions
they've never played before. We ask a lot of those guys and they're
Speaking of hard work, pitcher Nick Allen became the Northwest
League's first four-game winner as the Sox picked up their only "W" of
the series on Thursday with a 7-5 victory over Vancouver. Allen is
now 4-0 in six games with a 3.19 ERA. He has logged more innings than
any other AquaSox pitcher (31) and is currently holding onto an
attractive 15:2 K-to-BB ratio.
Alex Gary carried Everett's offense in the win going 2-for-4 with two
RBI, a double, and a run scored.
Valbuena Disappears, then Bounces Back Big: Second baseman Luis Valbuena was taken out of the lineup in Saturday's series opener
against Spokane after only one inning. Pedro Grifol declined to
comment on the move.
"That's something we'll keep internal and he'll be back out there [on
Sunday]," said Grifol. albuena's absence didn't prevent the AquaSox
from winning, 4-2.
He returned Sunday to contribute a double and a home run while going
2-for-5 with two RBI, a walk and three runs scored in Everett's 13-5
routing of the Indians.
Craig Staying Put: Despite Casey Craig's recent offensive and
power-hitting explosion (three home runs in the last two weeks),
Grifol says that he'll remain, for the most part, in the leadoff
"Casey has a lot of tools—he's got some power, he can run—he gives us
a lot of options as to where we can put him in the lineup, but right
now, he's our leadoff hitter," said the AquaSox third-year manager.
Craig's season has been nothing short of stellar. As of the 19th,
he's hitting .363/.437/.593 in 23 games with four home runs and 14
RBI. He has 11 extra base hits on the season, has touched home 25
times, and has 54 total bases to his credit. It almost seems as if
the Mariners are ignoring him, as he's been deserving of a promotion
to a full-season club for weeks. He's outgrowing his surroundings in
more ways than one—his last two home runs have traveled out of Everett