SEATTLE (AP) — Julio Rodríguez sent a buzz through T-Mobile Park, whether it was the second-deck home runs or running down fly balls in center field.
And this was just the workout day for the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. The reigning AL rookie of the year seems more than ready for the start of the regular season on Thursday night against Cleveland.
It's a far cry from a year ago when everything was new for Rodríguez.
“I mean definitely it’s different. I feel like now I know a little bit more, kind of know how things are going to go,” Rodríguez said. “Now I know how things are going to go, but kind of have an idea of how to take care of myself, like how to do certain things, and I’m able to make a better plan.”
Rodríguez is already the star attraction for a franchise bursting with excitement entering the 2023 season. The Mariners ended their 21-year playoff drought last season when Rodríguez became one of the new, young faces of baseball.
It was evident Wednesday as fans filled the “J-Rod Squad” section of seats in center field and crammed along the baselines seeking Rodríguez’s autograph during Seattle’s workout. Those fans brought magazines with Rodríguez’s face on the cover, wore his No. 44 jersey and chanted “Julio,” incessantly.
“Oh my gosh,” Seattle manager Scott Servais cracked when the constant chant of “Julio,” from some kids drowned out his media session in the dugout.
But it is J-Rod’s world, at least in Seattle. Last season, Rodríguez became the fifth rookie of the year in franchise history, but only Ichiro Suzuki’s award in 2001 generated the same amount of excitement as Rodríguez.
Rodríguez overcame a brutal first month of the season to hit .284 with 28 home runs, 75 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. He was the instigator Seattle’s offense needed to balance its superior pitching and carried the Mariners into the postseason as a wild-card team.
It also landed Rodríguez a massive contract that will pay him hundreds of millions and could keep him in Seattle his entire career.
But Rodríguez has made putting last year behind him an emphasis during the offseason.
“Flipping to the next page I feel is always really important, because if you get caught up into the success you had in the past, you’re always going to be living in the past. You’re never going to be living where your feet are right now,” Rodríguez said.
The goal now for Seattle is closing the gap to the Astros in the AL West, something the Mariners believe they can do thanks to some additions that should make the lineup deeper and take some of the load off Rodriguez.
“I just feel like we’ve got the pieces to give a good ballgame against anybody in the league,” Rodríguez said. “And I feel like that’s going to stay throughout the year, throughout the whole season. That’s what we’re going to root for. If it’s the Astros we play, if it’s whoever it is we’re going to give them a good ballgame.”