They answered questions about what inspired them as kids, then signed autographs on posters, baseballs, photos and calendars.
On a rainy Friday night in Lacey, three Seattle Mariners - Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and Brandon League – were up close and personal with 200 or so M’s fans at Saint Martin’s University, giving them a brief insight into life as a major leaguer.
“My mom taught me about hard work,” said League, a relief pitcher. “She taught me to give it my best shot and see where it takes me.”
Among pitchers used only in relief, League led the American League in wins last season with nine and also ranked first in innings pitched with 79.
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“I applied what my mom said, and here I am,” League said.
For 20 minutes, the three players fans normally see on TV or at Safeco Field answered questions about:
• The new manager, Eric Wedge – “He’s intense,” Saunders said. “He knows how to get the best out of everyone.”
• What it was like being a teammate of Ken Griffey Jr. – “He was a big kid,” said League.
• And what shaped them as young players – “My dad played seven years in the minor leagues,” said Ackley, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2009. “He taught me about good sportsmanship.”
Fans also learned that there’s not much of an offseason for a professional baseball player.
“When that last game is over you’re pretty much getting ready for the next season,” Saunders said. “Everyone has to come in shape. Those who don’t come prepared are the ones that stick out like a sore thumb.”
“Those days of guys coming to camp out of shape are long gone,” said Dave Sims, the team’s play-by-play announcer.
After answering questions, the trio signed autographs for nearly an hour.
Doug Miller drove his 11-year-old grandson, Kenny, to Saint Martin’s from Auburn. He wanted Ackley to sign a photo Miller had taken of the M’s second baseman and his grandson at a baseball clinic.
“Any opportunity like this that I get I go for it,” said Doug Miller, clinging to the photo. “This is really fun.”
It was the final stop of a three-week tour through three states and British Columbia, stopping in 21 cities.
“The caravan is very grass roots,” said Sean Grindley, the team’s community programs manager. “The intent is to tune in with fans.”
Grindley said 50 percent of Mariners fans live outside of King County.
“It’s fun,” he said. “We had 500 fans show up in Moses Lake.”
Besides the autographs, fans also posed for pictures with the Mariner Moose. Herb Guches of Yelm brought his 9-year-old son, Bryan, to see the Moose and the Mariners.
“I went to one game last year,” Guches said. “Someone gave me some tickets. We were 16 rows up behind the catcher. That was something else.”
On Friday, Guches was even closer to the players than that.
“This is really cool to meet them,” Guches said.