'Blessed' Bloomquist back at home in Seattle
In twilight of career, utility man relishing opportunity with desire to win
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As a guy coming full circle, playing again for the Mariners' organization that drafted him 15 years ago, Willie Bloomquist has been down this road before.
But he admits he's never slowed enough before to truly enjoy the experience, to relish the opportunity. He's always been a grinder, a workaholic player making the most out of his abilities in order to stay in the game.
That part won't change. It's not Bloomquist's nature to take anything for granted. But he is trying to look around a little more this season and smell the rosin, as it were. At 36, he realizes there aren't endless baseball games left to play. And pulling on the Mariners jersey once again is a perfect reminder of how fortunate he's been in a 12-year Major League career.
"I can't put it into words," said Bloomquist. "I feel real blessed. Not only because of the length of my career so far, but where I've got to play. This will be my second chance to play in the Northwest, which is where I grew up. And I've had a chance to play in Arizona, which is my home now.
"So I've only really spent two years away from either of my homes, in Kansas City, which was an absolutely awesome place. So, for me, it's been a fun ride. I remember like it was yesterday when I first got called up, and how fast it goes by is crazy. I'm really going to do my best to enjoy the last however many years I play, whether it's these two or a couple more after that. We'll cross that bridge when I get to it."
Bloomquist signed a two-year deal as a free agent with the Mariners in December, with new manager Lloyd McClendon pushing to acquire the veteran utility player he feels is a critical piece to the puzzle for his roster.
In his first seven seasons with Seattle, Bloomquist chafed at the idea of being a utility guy. He wanted to compete for a starting job, and he's wound up piecing together an excellent Major League career with a .271 batting average in 973 games while playing every position except pitcher and catcher.
He'll back up at second and third base for the Mariners, play some outfield as needed and fill in at shortstop in an emergency, according to McClendon. The second-base job became a lot more limited with the arrival of Robinson Cano after his own signing, but Bloomquist is working just as hard at that position as any other this spring.
"I've been around long enough to know that things pop up in this game all the time," he said. "Just when you've kind of written off one position and think you're not going to play there, that ends up being the position you play the most. Obviously, if things go as planned, I'm not going to be playing a whole lot of second base. But I still have to be prepared in case something crazy happens, because that's what a veteran guy in my position needs to be able to do."
Bloomquist used to carry around five gloves, one for each infield position and the outfield, but now just has one infield glove and one outfield mitt. He's streamlined his approach as he's gotten older, but one thing that's never changed is his work ethic.
Most of his time in workouts are spent in the infield, but when batting practice begins, he trots out to the grass to take fly balls and keep that part of his game sharp as well.
"I feel the best way to get outfield work is live off the bat in batting practice, because it just comes off different than it does off a fungo," he said. "So I sneak out there and do it under the radar, but I'm prepared to go out there if I need."
Bloomquist hasn't pitched since his prep days at South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, Wash., saying there isn't much room for "a short guy with an 86 mph fastball with no movement."
As for catching? He isn't raising his hand to volunteer for that job, though he was drafted into a third-string role while with the Mariners earlier in his career.
"They threw the gear at me once as an emergency thing last time I was here, just in case," he said. "I think I caught a bullpen or two, but that's not for me. I'd prefer to stay away from the tools of ignorance if I can. That position is too tough for me. I'd do it if I had to, but I probably wouldn't be able to get up and walk for a couple days after that."
Yet the Mariners will likely only carry two catchers this season in Mike Zunino and John Buck, so if something were to happen to both in a game, Bloomquist could indeed get the call there, as well.
He'll take it all as it comes, at peace with his place again in the organization where it all began.
"Who gets to put a uniform on twice and play in your hometown?" he said. "It's been a fun ride, so I just want to continue, and the biggest thing is I'd really, really like to win up in the Northwest. I saw how it was early in my career, and you see what the Seahawks have done to that city. That city will go crazy if you win. If we can figure out a way to put it together and win, it would be a great way to spend the tail end of my career. That would be pretty cool."