By Deryck Kissoondath

Photos Andrew Watson

Mike Saunders hittingThis year has been shaping up well for Victoria, British Columbia native Michael Saunders. The outfielder has become more of a fixture in the early half of 2013, patrolling the outfield for the Seattle Mariners. For Saunders it was all part of the plan as he stated “My ultimate goal was to be a Major League Baseball player and I’m here now.”

This year has been a difficult year for the Mariners with the young inexperienced team that they field. But according to Saunders “The team goal is to win – the minor leagues is about player development, winning is more of a mindset here. My personal goal is to help the team win, whatever way I can.”

Saunders was quick to add “I don’t set statistic goals because you can’t control those – you can do everything right at the plate and hit the ball right on the nose and line out and you are 0 for 1. It is something I don’t get caught up in. Play hard, stay healthy, stay on the field and be a good teammate, those are the things that you can control.”

The transition from playing in the minors to the majors is a major hurdle for some players but Saunders felt that “It takes a little while but once you start playing every day from rookie ball, college, and high school, when you start playing every day in the majors, you have to develop a routine.”

“It is something I had to learn because every individual is different. My routine is coming to the field and relaxing a bit. I like being here earlier so I’m not rushed and I get to the training room and stretched out. I typically find a hot tub and get my body loose, bat in the cages and then batting practice.  After that I relax and do crosswords.”

Having played with Suzuki Ichiro, Saunders commented on his former outfielder saying “He was very professional and followed his routine. Off the field he was very funny but on the field emotionless. He led by example, followed a routine, and showed me how to develop that routine.”

Even though the Seattle Mariners are a rebuilding team and have many young players, there are still many pressures associated with being in the majors. According to Saunders “The biggest difference between Triple A and the big leagues is talent, but there is more media pressure.  You learn to deal with it over the years but a lot of the time those guys that have success in the game, they are the same guys who can deal with it and handle it properly.  You can learn from it, it happens to you, you learn from your mistakes and you learn more from failure than success.”

This year several veterans were brought in to create a well-balanced clubhouse. Jason Bay, a fellow Canadian was in that mix. Saunders commented “It is a great clubhouse mix of veterans and young guys. Everyone is your friend and you don’t usually find that in a clubhouse, you usually find more cliques, but not here.”  As for his fellow Canadian, Jason Bay, “He’s a great guy to learn from, and I try to be around him and pick his brain about the life of baseball and everything. We have two of us here, so it is harder for our teammates to get on us being Canadian.” According to Saunders there was a natural bond between the two Canadian outfielders that was established back in Spring Training.  “Ever since Spring Training, the first day of catch we came together, partially because of common interests. Until Spring Training, he was the one Canadian that I hadn’t met.”

The proud patriotism didn’t end with Saunders pairing up with fellow Canadian, Jason Bay, it was also noticed in the huge smile across his face when discussing his role playing for Canada back in March 2013. “I loved the opportunity to play in the World Baseball Classic.  Any opportunity to play for your country is special.  It’s an honour and not something to be taken lightly.  Whenever you can wear Canada across your chest it is a proud moment.”

Saunders was also very proud of his first major league home run as he explained to me. “My most memorable and dearest moment thus far was my 1st major league home run back on Mother’s Day 2010 with my mom in the stands. She is no longer here as she passed away after a 13 year battle with breast cancer.”

For Michael Saunders playing for the Mariners is surreal as his father brought him to his first major league game at the old Kingdome and he watched players such as Griffey, A Rod, Martinez, and Johnson wearing the same uniform that he now dons. Saunders is very humble and continues to strive to be his best. At the All-Star break, under less playing time he was hitting 0.226 with six homeruns and 28 runs batted in.