AL HAMNIK: McClendon's Mariners continue taking baby steps

2014-06-03T19:30:00Z 2014-06-04T15:31:37Z AL HAMNIK: McClendon's Mariners continue taking baby stepsAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
June 03, 2014 7:30 pm  • 

Lloyd McClendon is like the high school driving instructor whose students can't wait to get their licenses and take off for the big city, eager to impress.

But first, there are rules of the road. They must listen, adapt, react and follow the lead of those older and wiser.

Such is life in professional sports.

McClendon is nearly a third of the way through his first season as manager of the Seattle Mariners, who reside in perhaps Major League Baseball's toughest division — the American League West.

Prior to Tuesday night's game in Atlanta, they were in third place of the division at 29-28 and had won three straight.

"We have a bunch of young kids. From an offensive standpoint, we're a little challenged," McClendon said. "But our guys show up every day ready to play and they give us everything they've got.

"I think our foundation is our pitching and our bullpen. We've nurtured that and taken care of that and as a result, they keep us in games."

Having the Gary native as skipper is a huge plus. 'Mac' is a teacher, motivator and constantly in umpires' faces when his players are victimized by bad calls.

In a May 14 home loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, McClendon got the heave-ho from first-base ump Lance Barksdale for arguing a strikeout call.

Mac threw his baseball cap twice during the fracas, once at Barksdale, then into the crowd while leaving the field.

"If I get thrown out of 100 games, then I get thrown out of 100 games. I'm going to keep demanding a playing field that's equal for my players," he told me back when he managed the lowly Pirates.

"I don't think it's wrong to demand the umpires' best effort every day."

He had that same fair-is-fair attitude as a player with the Pirates, Cubs and later as manager Jim Leyland's right-hand man with the Tigers.

"We've got a lot to learn," McClendon said. "We don't have that legit No. 4 hitter in the lineup but we're doing OK."

OK? Detroit dropped two of three during a recent visit to Safeco Field, where there are crowds once again.

"It was really good to see a lot of guys I hadn't seen in a while," McClendon said. "I have a lot of people there I consider family. One of my mentors was Gene Lamont and it was great to see him."

Leyland is retired but he and Mac talk nearly every day.

The Mariners and ace pitcher "King" Felix Hernandez (8-1) walloped the Yankees Monday night, 10-2, for their first three-game sweep in New York since 2002.

Asked what he hopes to accomplish this season, McClendon had to chuckle.

"Get to the World Series. That's the ultimate goal," said the former Valparaiso University star. "Realistically, we're taking baby steps. I don't know how many games we're gonna win. I know we got a chance to be real good, if we stay healthy and add a piece or two.

"To this day, we've handled Anaheim. We've handled Oakland and we've handled Texas. We're playing .500 against Houston but we've got a winning record against everyone else in our division.

"Obviously, something was wrong and that's the reason I was brought here. My job is to create a culture players and staff are comfortable with, then go out and play."

Once they're all behind the wheel and headed in the same direction, this could be quite a ride.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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