Zoning in on Nelson Cruz


Zoning in on the 2016 Mariners is a daily series in which we’ll examine one player every day, 30 total, in the lead-up to Opening Day. We’ll explain their role on the field, what they’re like off of it and provide highlights and photos. On deck tomorrow: Kyle Seager.

When he signed with Mariners, there were some questions from the media and fans about whether or not Nelson Cruz could keep up the level of production he had in 2014. Those questions were answered. And then some.

In his first year with Seattle, the Mariners saw what may have been the best year of Cruz’s career to date as he posted a career-high 44 home runs to go along with a .302/.369/.566 slash line. He led the Mariners in nearly all offensive categories: batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, runs, walks, RBI and OPS. Basically, everything but steals.

Not just an All-Star campaign for Cruz, it was one of best offensive seasons ever by a Seattle Mariners player. Baseball Reference’s Adjusted OPS+, which puts traditional on-base plus slugging in the context of the era and the ballpark players played in, had Cruz’s 2015 as the tenth-best offensive season in Mariners history—with only years from Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez ahead of him.

So what’s next? What does the offseason look like after a season when a player has done all he can do?

“I’ve been working harder this year than ever before,” Cruz told Greg Johns of Mariners.com as he headed into Spring Training.

“I’m working like I was 20,” he said. “I have that love. That’s the most important thing. When you quit loving the game or having the passion, you start breaking down. The love and passion are still there, and that’s what you need to perform and go out there and compete every day.”

And, as he heads into 2016, he’ll be seeing a lot of a very familiar face in manager Scott Servais, who worked with Cruz as director of player development for the Rangers. After Cruz was designated for assignment, placed on waivers and finally sent to Triple-A in 2008, Servais spent some time coaching him, looking at videos of similar hitters and eventually making some changes to his swing—including giving him the open stance we see now. After that, it all clicked.

“But it’s about the player, it’s about him,” Servais said. “It’s not about the suggestions or coaches, because you have to be willing to try it. And he was, and it worked. It doesn’t always work. I’ve had a lot of suggestions for players, and they don’t always work, but in his case, it did.”

You have to be willing to put in the work. It’s very clear Nelson Cruz does just that.

Off the Field

As much of an impact as Nelson Cruz makes on the field, he makes just as big of one off of it—particularly in his native Dominican Republic.

In 2012, while he was still with the Rangers, Cruz had a friend whose home burned down because his town didn’t have a fire truck. Cruz wanted to do something about it. He got in touch with a local fire department in Texas and purchased a fire truck, donating it and two ambulances from American Medical Response to the city of Las Matas Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic, near his hometown of Monte Cristi, DR.

This past winter, he continued that work, as he reached out to the Seattle Fire Department to see if there was any equipment they no longer needed. There was, and it’s now in the hands of the firefighters in the Dominican Republic.

“People in the streets stop me and tell me, ‘Thank you,'” he said in speaking to Aaron Goldsmith on the Cactus League Report. “I’m like ‘Why, what happened?’ They say ‘Because of you, because of the ambulance you brought, my dad, my mom, my cousin, my uncle, they are still alive.’ It’s very shocking and it definitely touches you, you want to do more. When you talk about lives, it’s definitely on another level.”

He experienced that first-hand, appreciating it all that much more, when he put his grandmother in one of the ambulances to aid her in dealing with a medical situation.






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