With the 2012 London Olympics underway, we can’t help but notice that baseball is missing from the games for the first time since debuting as an exhibition sport in the 1984 Los Angeles games. Baseball was cut from the Olympic program following the 2008 Beijing games when South Korea won the gold medal, Cuba won silver and the United States won bronze.
Current Mariners players Michael Saunders (Canada) and Munenori Kawasaki (Japan) were both participants in the 2008 Olympics, while Hisashi Iwakuma (Japan) played in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
For Saunders, the experience in 2008 was one that he’ll never forget. As a 21-year-old he had the chance to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, take in the Olympic spectacle and feel the pride of representing his country.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to represent my country in baseball on a number of different levels from the Little League World Series to the Junior National Team, but playing in the Olympics for my country was the highlight,” said Saunders. “There is such pride in competing at that level and wearing your country’s flag on your hat. It is a tough experience to describe with words.”
Saunders had a pretty good tournament, batting .286 (8×28) with 2 home runs and 4 RBI while Team Canada finished tied for 5th with a 2-5 record.
“We played pretty well, but lost some close games against some really great players,” added Saunders. “In the end it was not the wins and losses, but the whole experience that I’ll remember forever. It was an honor to compete on the same stage as the greatest athletes in the world. I have a chest full of souvenirs and memorabilia from Beijing that I brought back with me.”
And Michael got the chance to meet some of those premier athletes when he was in Bejing.
“I got my picture taken with tennis star Rafael Nadal because Spain was housed pretty close to us, and saw a lot of the top USA athletes like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Michael Phelps and Jennie Finch.”
And he even got the chance to take in another sporting event when not competing on the baseball diamond.
“Each athlete was allowed to pick one sporting event they wanted to attend, and you could list your top three choices,” recalled Saunders. “I put down the 100-meter final in track and field all three times, because I really wanted to see it.”
Not only did Michael get great seats near the finish line, but he saw history as Jamaica’s Usain Bolt set a world record in the event at 9.69 seconds.
“It was an amazing event to see in person. There was so much build-up before Bolt ran, and it was so quick, and it was worth every second to see it in person.”
While baseball will not be played at the London Games, the 2013 World Baseball Classic is just around the corner. Saunders did not get the chance to represent Canada in 2009, but is hopeful to put on the Team Canada uniform again.
“First and foremost my loyalty is to the Seattle Mariners and doing everything I can to help this organization win more baseball games,” said Saunders. “But, if all parties agreed, I would love the opportunity to play in the World Baseball Classic and once again represent my country.”
Kawasaki also played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics with Japan going 4-3 and losing in the bronze medal game to Team USA.
For Kawasaki, the experience in the Olympics was memorable, but was also different since the games were right in the middle of the his season in Japan.
“It was an honor to play for my country in the Olympics, much like playing in the World Baseball Classic,” said Kawasaki.
He did not get the chance to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, but did get a feel for the Olympic experience and got to see many famous athletes like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
The Mariners were part of Major League history tonight, as the starting lineup consisted of three Japanese-born players. Ichiro (RF), Munenori Kawasaki (2B) and Hisashi Iwakuma (P) became the first trio of Japanese players to start for the same team in a Major League game.
Day 10 / Tuesday, February 21, 2012 / 35 Days ‘til Opening Night in Tokyo / 51 Days ‘til Opening Night in Seattle
Weather: If you could bottle this weather up, you would be set. Sorry to rub this in for any Northwest fans reading this while it is cold and rainy, but it was just about perfect today. Photo day started with the temps at a “brisk” 47°, and climbed to near 70° when the players finished the workout. And the weather ahead also looks pretty good, including highs expected in the 80’s this weekend.
News of the Day:
Manager Eric Wedge announced following practice that Ichiro will bat third in the batting lineup this year. He also said he is going to give first shot at the leadoff position to Chone Figgins and Dustin Ackley will start the season batting 2nd. For the seamheads out there, Ichiro has made 13 starts in his career where he has batted 3rd in the lineup, last June 23, 2004 at Texas. 1,730 of his 1,733 career starts (1,749 career games played) have had his name penciled into the leadoff spot on the Mariners lineup card since his MLB debut in 2001.
Quotes of the Day:
“Sorry.” Pretty simple, and straight from the mouth of ace Felix Hernandez after striking out prospect Nick Franklin on a pretty nasty curveball. When asked what pitch he struck out on, Franklin just shook his head and said “a huge curveball. Never seen one like that before!”
“Come on Ichi, Come on Ichi, Come on Ichi!!!!!!” That was energetic infielder Munenori Kawasaki cheering on Ichiro when the outfielders were working on cutoffs and throwing to different bases. He got plenty of laughs out of teammates, media and fans watching practice.
Tweet of the Day:
#shoutout to all my new followers, and all the photographers who made photo day a breeze..
— forrest snow (@feSNOW) February 21, 2012
Outfielders Franklin Gutierrez (29th) and Chih-Hsien Chiang (25th) celebrated their birthdays today. Both even got a few “Happy Birthday’s” shouted their way as both players shuffled between practice fields.
The Mariners ran through one of their longer workouts so far this spring, with the catchers finishing their conditioning around 1 p.m. local time. A total of 17 pitchers threw live BP, including Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, Blake Beavan, James Paxton and Shawn Kelley. The team also went through a spirited round of infield-outfield, with several outfielders showing pinpoint accuracy throwing home.
We had a previous blog entry on Photo Day, with plenty of photos from the morning photo shoots. All 67 players in Major League camp ran through a gauntlet of photo stations including Getty Images, AP, Kyodo News, Topps and US Presswire.
Along with our everyday beat writers Greg Johns (MLB.com), Larry LaRue (Tacoma News Tribune), Geoff Baker (Seattle Times), Larry Stone (Seattle Times), and local TV reporters Chris Egan (King 5) and Aaron Levine (Q13), some national media members made pit stops at Mariners camp today. ESPN.com’s Jorge Arangure, CBSSportsline.com’s Scott Miller and ESPN’s Pedro Gomez were seen on the back fields doing stories on the Mariners.
Day 9 / Monday, February 20, 2012 / 36 Days ‘til Opening Night in Tokyo / 52 Days ‘til Opening Night in Seattle
Weather: We didn’t check the forecast so we can’t give you an exact temperature for today, but it was clear that today was the nicest, sunniest day that we have had all spring.
Quote of the Day: “It’s okay! I told him what was coming!” – Miguel Olivo to pitcher Josh Kinney after Alex Liddi hit a pitch off the very top of the 30-foot wall that is 410 feet away on Field 3.
The Day: Day 9 saw a continuation of live pitching after the regular routine of infield drills and PFP. The live pitching was by far the most interesting for fans and media alike. Over on Field 4, the Japanese media had the perfect photo opportunity. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was pitching, Ichiro was batting and infielder Munenori Kawasaki was working on reading the pitcher from second base. As you can see, it was quite a scene.
Day 4 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / 41 Days ‘til Opening Night in Tokyo / 57 Days ‘til Opening Night in Seattle
Weather: The weather was a little chilly again today but warmed up by the end of the workout. A high of 65-degrees is expected later today and it is supposed to be 70-degrees tomorrow.
Quote of the Day: “Guante. Guante! That’s my word for the day. Guante! Guante!” – Brendan Ryan, on his way off the practice field cradling his new glove in his arms. Guante is the Spanish word for glove.
The Day: While it might feel like groundhog day here during the early part of Spring Training, you can always find, see or hear something new and today was no exception. There was a lot of energy on Field 3 as the pitchers and some infielders (not all first baseman) worked on covering first base on a ball hit to the first baseman.
Infielder Munenori Kawasaki was very vocal on the field, shouting out commands in both English and Japanese to pitchers covering first base. He could also be seen patting a pitcher on the back for a job well done and generally providing energy for the team, much like Brendan Ryan does.
Kawasaki played on Team Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic tournament, and while there were several stars on that team that included Ichiro, Hisashi Iwakuma and Yu Darvish, people say that Kawasaki was the “heart and soul” of the team.
Inside the clubhouse, there were plenty of laughs around Felix Hernandez‘s locker. Turns out the Mariners TV commercial scripts arrived today and Brendan Ryan was sitting at Felix’s locker, reading the script aloud as various players including Felix, Dustin Ackley and Brandon League couldn’t stop laughing.
The Mariners marketing crew will arrive in Peoria tomorrow and will begin preparations for all their commercial and in-game entertainment shoots.
Day 2 / Monday, February 13, 2012 / 43 Days ‘til Opening Night in Tokyo / 59 Days ‘til Opening Night in Seattle
Weather: Sunny skies with temperatures in the low to mid-60 during workouts this morning. Temperatures are continuing to warm up through the afternoon, but rain may be in the forecast for tomorrow.
Quote of the Day: Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki introducing himself to teammates, staff and media: “I am Munenori Kawasaki. Kawasaki…VROOM VROOM.” Kawasaki signed a Minor League contract with the Mariners in January and is excited to be in camp.
The Day: Pitchers and catchers were on field for the second day of camp. After day one and figuring out which field to be on and at what time, day two went smoothly with everyone getting where they needed to be on time.
Sixteen pitchers had bullpens today after 18 did yesterday, including RH Hisashi Iwakumi, RH Hector Noesi, RH Brandon League and RH Kevin Millwood. General Manager Jack Zduriencik and Manager Eric Wedge have been impressed early with the pitchers in camp.
Pitchers continued working on PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice) drills, including fielding a bunt and covering first on a ball hit to the right side of the infield. Infielders Mike Carp, Kyle Seager and Nick Franklin stood in as first baseman for the pitchers on one of the fields. Catchers also worked on controlling the running game and throwing out runners at second base.
The catchers wrapped up the day split into two hitting groups. While working on hitting to all sides of the field, Jesus Sucre hit a screaming line drive up the middle and nearly took out coach Nasusel Cabrera gathering balls in shallow center field. Cabrera had to jump out of the way and used a ball bucket to deflect the ball. The rest of the coaching staff laughed and continued to give Cabrera a hard time until BP was over. Jesus Montero, Miguel Olivo and Adam Moore each hit multiple home runs into the parking lot.