PEORIA, AZ, Fans with even a moderate interest in baseball can pick out the pre-at-bat preparation that Ichiro goes through.
The torturous ankle squat just before coming out of the on-deck circle. The deep knee bends. The meticulous adjustment of his left sleeve.
Its so ingrained in the Seattle psyche that the Mariners based one of their ad campaigns around it a few years ago.
Not all ritual at-bat preliminaries can be so easily committed to memory. Take for example the Mariners No. 2 hitter, Chone Figgins. Whats the deal with him?
Every at-bat for a decade dating back to his time in the Angels minor league system has seen Figgins use his bat to scrawl a quick something in the dirt, then just as quickly erase it with his foot.
What that something is, Figgins wont say. It looks like it might just be a straight line or a semicircle. He wont tell the media what he does or why he does it. He wont even clue in members of his own family “who have been asking me about it for years, Figgins said told sportspressnw.com.
Of course you could ask opposing catchers or home plate umpires for clues, except that they dont know what Figgins little missive is, either.
“I scratch it out as soon as I write it, said Figgins, who is batting second and hitting .286 this spring to date. “Theres no way they can see it.
Whatever the mark(s) in the dirt are, the ritual is deeply personal to Figgins and not something hes at all interested in sharing.
“Lots of guys have their rituals Ichiro, Vlad (Guerrero), Manny (Ramirez), Nomar (Garciaparra), Figgins said. “This is mine. Its just me. Its something that helps me prepare for every at-bat.
For the first half of the 2010 season, the ritual was more like a curse. Figgins, new to the Mariners, new to batting second and new to playing second base, got off to the worst start of his career. He averaged .200 for the first month, was at .211 after two months and it took a furious finish a .322 average in September to get his final average up to a career-worst .259.
No matter what he tried, nothing Figgins did in the first two months of 2010 seemed to help. He could have been writing Shakespearean sonnets on the ground of the batters box and it wouldnt have improved things.
Theres an old saying that nothing is so terrible that it cant at least serve as a bad example, and thats the basic attitude Figgins takes going into this year. When he gets into the box and does his little scrawl, it wont say “attack. But it might as well, because thats the mindset hes taking into the 2011 season.
“Im going to be more aggressive, be more ready to attack each pitch, Figgins said. “Id always done that before, but last year I was patient.
Wait a minute. Arent hitters in this day of sabermetrics and moneyball and OPS supposed to be patient? And No. 2 hitters should be, more than most, in order to give the leadoff hitter, in Seattles case Ichiro, a chance to steal second base.
“Yeah, Figgins said. “But theres being patient and theres being patient with a chance to crush the right pitch if it comes.
Oh? Whats the difference?
“I cant tell you, Figgins said. “There are guys who are going to read this that I wouldnt want them to know how I think about that.
Nice a little twist on the “if I told you Id have to kill you response to a question, and it does underscore the serious manner in which Figgins, normally the most cheerful of guys, takes his job. His job is scoring runs, and thats an area in which the Mariners were simply abysmal in 2010.
Figgins scored 62 runs, the fewest hed come up with since being limited to 71 games because of injuries in 2003. Seattle as a whole scored 513 runs, the lowest total in the league and the poorest production for a Seattle team in a full season ever by a factor of 43 runs.
It was enough to cost manager Don Wakamatsu with whom Figgins had a celebrated dugout shouting match in June his job, and it put general manager Jack Zduriencik on the spot for 2011.
“It was a disappointing season all the way around, Figgins said when asked about the Wakamatsu mess. The manager lost his job about six weeks after the June 24 contretemps in the Safeco Field dugout, when Jose Lopez and Jason Vargas, among others, had to get between Figgins and Wakamatsu, who wasnt happy with Figgins failing to back up a throw. “Its what happens when you dont win. This game is about winning.
Figgins had always been a winner. The Angels were a sub-.500 club in 2003, when Figgins got his first extended playing time, but for the rest of his career in Anaheim, the Angels never won fewer than 89 games.
So for the Mariners to go 61-101 in his first season in the Pacific Northwest grated at Figgins. To be clear, it still grates at him. He says his 2011 motivation will come off 2010s disappointments.
“I learned just how much I dont like losing, Figgins said of 2010. “I learned that even when its tough, Im not going to quit. Not ever.
“The last month or two of the season might have been the best finish of my life. I know .259 doesnt look that good, but it looks a lot better than .190 or whatever I was in April.
Hed like nothing better than to prove it this year.