|Sure way to ignite Mariners' slugger Richie Sexson: Ask him about 2007|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 05 March 2008 01:51|
Ask him about his 2007 season.
His numbers? They were fine for, say, a part-time platoon player - .205 average, 21 homers, 63 RBIs. But they were not fine for full-time fixture in the middle of the Seattle Mariners' lineup, one making $14 million this year.
Last season brought countless nights of Seattle fans booing the local guy gone bad. Questions about it now bring a scowl, a head shake and a long sigh.
``C'mon. I answered it too many times. I'm done with it. I'm really done,'' he said of last year, chuckling. ``I'm sorry.
``You know what happened. I'm almost sick of talking about it. Now, it's getting a little repetitive and old. ... Thank you.''
What happened were career lows - both in stats and popularity. Far from good times for the former all-state star in three sports at Prairie High School in Brush Prairie, Wash., across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore.
How Sexson responds this season will help determine whether Seattle makes the postseason for the first time since 2001 - maybe as much as aces Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation. Seattle needs to replace the .293 average, 23 home runs and 99 RBIs last season from the departed Jose Guillen - and then some.
There is speed and singles in Ichiro Suzuki, spray hitting in Jose Vidro, occasional power for extra bases with Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez. But Sexson is relied upon for the big bops that change games and seasons.
Mariners manager John McLaren told a Seattle radio station just before camp he thinks Sexson could win the award for comeback player of the year.
``I'm just basing it on the type of person Richie is,'' McLaren said Tuesday. ``Last year is behind him. He's very positive and he's very focused on being on the Richie of old. I believe that is going to happen.''
Vidro mentioned Sexson and the same award.
``I mean, if he puts up the numbers he's capable of doing, it would just be unbelievable for us,'' Vidro said. ``He's very capable of carrying this ballclub.''
Even during his 39- and 34-home run seasons for the Mariners in 2005 and '06, Sexson hasn't been embraced by Seattle fans since arriving from Arizona with a four-year, $50 million contract on Dec. 15, 2004. Two days later, Beltre signed to overshadow Sexson. Then came 2007.
He had the lowest on-base percentage (.295) of his career. His batting average was the lowest in the major leagues among those with at least 312 at bats. That would be fine with Seattle - he's never hit for a particularly high average - except Sexson's run production was also a career low for a full season not cut short by major injury.
There was also the strained hamstring that cost him 28 of the final 30 games. But after the Mariners fell out of contention in mid-September, they told Sexson to call it a year - a bad year.
``He had a very minor hamstring and hip problem. He could have played the last few games,'' Mariners head trainer Rick Griffin said before spring training.
Sexson didn't appreciate the home boos, but he doesn't have an issue with them. Tuesday, the 33-year-old said he'd like to finish his career with Seattle.
``Yeah, I like it here,'' he said.
McLaren noticed the boos so much, it was part of the reason the Mariners shut down Sexson a month early.
``You hear boos every now and then in the home park and you wonder what's going on, especially someone who is a pretty established player,'' McLaren said. ``It's not a good feeling, but it's part of the game.''
In October, Sexson began his effort to make amends. Weeks after he got home, he began taking up to 200 swings a day inside his batting cage at his home in Vancouver, Wash.
No one needs to remind Sexson that outside his first full season in Cleveland in 1999, he's hit just .235 in April, the worst month of his career.
``I hit a little earlier than I normally hit,'' Sexson said. ``I just wanted to hit a little bit more, try to come to spring ready for the season rather than come to spring to get ready for the season. Just try to get off to a bit of a faster start.''
He looks fit and particularly spry - especially for a 33-year-old father of a 2 1/2-year-old son and 18-month-old twins. He said the kids and wife Kerry were his comfort from last season's gloom.
``I went to visit him at his house this winter. He's in very, very good shape,'' Griffin said. ``He's done a lot of running. He was in much better shape.
``I know he had a bad taste in his mouth from last year.''
And it's still there.