Last weekend, a record crowd of 25,290 fans turned out for the Mariners' annual FanFest activities. Every year, it seems like something different is added to the team's lineup of family-oriented attractions, from autograph sessions with new players to the Safeco Field Zip Line stationed in right field. This year, it was the Pennant Chase Rock Climbing Wall, where aspiring climbers could filch American League pennants hooked to the top of the rock.
Back when I lived in Seattle, and was able to attend these events on a regular basis, the highlight for me was listening to the Dugout Dialogue Q&A hosted by Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith. It was a great chance to get to know the new faces on the team and enjoy some mild-mannered banter between teammates, as well as get the standard update on The Plan from Jack Zduriencik and his skipper.
Whether you made it out to the festivities or followed along with the Mariners' extensive Twitter and Snapchat coverage, here are just a few highlights from the weekend:
Fernando Rodney's key to success is getting a good night's sleep -- even during the game.
When asked if he had any special rituals to prepare for a save situation, Rodney listed the usual warm-ups: a pre-game catch, watching TV... and a good nap.
"I wake up and check the scoreboard and see what's going on," Rodney told the crowd. "If [there is] a situation to close the game, I prepare myself mentally, quickly."
Rodney failed to disclose any particulars on the actual routine he uses for save situations, but was quick to respond to Aaron Goldmith's important follow-up: "Fernando, do you set an alarm when you take a nap?"
"No, no no no," Rodney protested. "No alarm. That's all mental."
If Austin Jackson had the opportunity to switch bodies with one of his teammates, he'd opt for a day in the life of Felix Hernandez.
"That's who'd be kind of fun, to be Felix," Jackson decided. "Just nasty."
Should the reverse happen, and Felix find himself in center field, I imagine we'd see a lot of baserunners gunned down at the plate.
Lloyd McClendon is keeping the high expectations for 2015 in check.
Despite the buzz generated by the Mariners at the end of 2014, McClendon wasn't making any grand promises for the future.
"Obviously, we're very excited," the skipper admitted. "Obviously, expectations are very high, and I've said this all week long: I think that's great, it's marvelous for the fans, but I can't get caught up in that. My focus has to be on preparation and my players' focus has to be on preparation. Listen, everybody's good. Everybody in our division is good and everybody's gotten better, and so have the Seattle Mariners, but I think when it comes down to it -- when you talk about execution and getting it done -- it starts with preparation and laying that foundation in spring training, and that's what we plan on doing."
The players, too, have been doing their part to get back in shape for spring training. Mike Zunino is spending the offseason focusing on the fundamentals of hitting and catching. James Paxton is taking hot yoga classes to loosen up his muscles. And, both Zunino and Rodney have goals outlined for the upcoming season -- according to Zunino, the deal is that he'll hit 25 home runs if Rodney can rack up 55 saves.
This year, James Paxton's primary objective is going to be refining his changeup.
"There was a couple games last year where I really had it working and it made it a lot easier on me," said Paxton. "I'm going to focus on that a lot in spring training and try to use it more this year."
According to Brooks Baseball, Paxton utilized his change-up only 8.6% of the time in 2014, predominantly during his appearances in August. Later, in the Hot Stove League show with Rick Rizzs, Aaron Goldsmith, and Shannon Drayer, Paxton offered some insight on his pre-game preparation in Seattle.
"I'll start off by watching video of the lineups I'm about to face, and I'll make notes," Paxton told the panel. "I'll watch video until I have notes on every guy. Then, I'll [...] look at the staff book that we get from our scouts and compare my notes with theirs and see what I think and make a final plan. Then, I'll talk to either Zunino or Sucre about it, and the coaches also. Then, we'll go out there and have a plan ready to pitch."
When he wasn't studying his opposition, Paxton watched footage of the pitchers he admires most -- among them, the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Cubs' Jon Lester -- to see how they handled hitters' tics and reactions to certain techniques. Equally as important, he stayed in the dugout on Felix Days to pick up some pointers from the King himself.
Tom Wilhelmsen is a singing and dancing machine.
During a particularly lively round of Dugout Dialogue, the Bartender exhibited some of his less-publicized skills. In the first-ever FanFest dance-off, he made a bold attempt to recreate the famous Gangnam Style routine, then joined Rick Rizzs, Aaron Goldsmith, and Charlie Furbush in a group singalong of "Build Me Up Buttercup." For his final performance, Wilhelmsen displayed some unique moves of his own to "Turn Down For What," taking him clear across the top of the dugout.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video says so much more: