The End of the Willie Bloomquist Era

This article first appeared in the June 2014 of The Grand Salami.

The Mariners designated Willie Bloomquist for assignment July 2nd, effectively cutting ties with the 37-year-old utility player to make room for shortstop Chris Taylor. A native of Port Orchard and a fan-favorite during his two stints with Seattle, from 2002-2008 and 2014-the first half of 2015. The Grand Salami interviewed Willie for the June 2014 issue, and we present that exchange here to mark the end of The Bloomquist Years.

Willie Bloomquist

Willie Bloomquist

By Jon Wells

Utilityman Willie Bloomquist rejoined the Mariners in 2014, signing a two-year, $5.9 million free-agent contract after spending the last five seasons with three other teams. The versatile Bloomquist saw increased playing time while away from Seattle and proved his worth. In 2011, he became the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting shortstop after an injury to Stephen Drew and hit .318 with three stolen bases in the D-Backs’ 5-game playoff series with Milwaukee. Willie was kind enough to sit down for one of the most candid interviews in The Grand Salami’s 19-year history.

GRAND SALAMI: Welcome back to Seattle. Did you think when you left the Mari­ners after the 2008 season that you’d end up back in Seattle at some point in your career?

WILLIE BLOOMQUIST: Honestly, when I left Seattle it was probably the last place I ever thought I’d come back to play.

GS: Why was that?

BLOOMQUIST: I loved my time here in my first go-round, but it had run its course. I had heard everything under the moon about me in this city. I had support here too, but it was time for me to go out and play somewhere else. For me, doing that has made me realize what a special place Seattle is. I had a great time in Kansas City and a great time in Arizona, but after I had personally done what I wanted to do and the opportunity came to come back to the Mariners, it was something I wanted to make happen. I’m planning to embrace it more than I did the first time around.

GS: The Mariners came pretty hard after you, very early in the offseason, with a nice two-year offer at a time when you were coming off an injury-shortened season.

BLOOMQUIST: There were a couple of teams interested, which was nice, but when I heard Seattle was interested, I talked to my representation and told them I’d like to go back there and play again if I could. Obviously, I’m from here, born and raised in the Seattle area. I didn’t embrace that as much as I should have the first time around. To be honest, I don’t want to say I disliked it, but I didn’t like being the hometown product. I just wanted to go play baseball. The reason I was in the big leagues is because I’m a big-league player, not because I was from Seattle. That was nothing on me and it got blown out of proportion, but I did get a little bit tired of it. This go-round I’m embracing it and looking forward to playing in front of family and friends a lot more.

GS: After leaving Seattle, you got a lot more playing time than you’d seen with the Mariners. That first season away (2009 in Kansas City) you set career highs in games played (125) and at-bats (434). That must have felt good to finally get an opportunity to play more often.

BLOOMQUIST: Looking back, I understand what my role was in Seattle. We had a lot of great players at different positions, which is the reason why I didn’t play a whole lot. As a competitor it’s tough to sit and watch day in and day out. Good, bad, or indifferent you want to get out there and compete. That’s why we play the game. Getting a chance to play on a more regular basis was something I felt I needed to do on a personal level. I got the opportunity to get significant playing time in Kansas City and also in Arizona. Now I’m back in Seattle and trying to make the most of my role this time around.

GS: Your first full season in the majors (2003) was the last really good season the Mariners had (93 wins), but things declined rapidly after that. That must have been really frustrating for you once some of those great players were gone and the team was losing and you still didn’t get a shot at regular playing time.

BLOOMQUIST: People a lot smarter than me were making those decisions.

GS: That’s questionable.

BLOOMQUIST: (laughs) It was frustrating, but looking back, there were a few times when I did get a little bit of an opportunity to play and we weren’t winning; maybe I wasn’t doing what I was capable of doing. Things work out for a reason. I don’t have any animosity toward anybody. Sure, I would have liked to have gotten more opportunities to play, but who wouldn’t? Maybe I didn’t earn it. I look back and point the finger at myself, maybe it’s on me. At the end of the day I’ve been awfully blessed. I’m going on my 12th season in the big leagues. If you had told me when I first came up that I’d have spent this much time with a big-league uniform on, I’d have told you I’d be very happy. At this point, I’m just trying to enjoy the time I have left in my career. I’d love to win in Seattle—that would be a great way to go out.

GS: I always thought you caught a tough break when Lou Piniella left after the 2002 season. You’d come up that September and done very well (.455 in 33 at-bats) and Lou seemed like he had taken a liking to you ever since spring training of 2000, the first spring after you were drafted. It seems that if Piniella had stuck around, you might have gotten more of a shot to play.

BLOOMQUIST: It’s possible. We had older veteran guys and I had to pay my dues and sit behind Mc­Lemore, Boone, Guillén, Edgar, Cirillo. Where did I fit in that equation? It was my role to back those guys up. I don’t think I should have been playing over them. I just wanted to play, but I knew there wasn’t a spot for me to play at that time. I understood the situation. Lou was a special breed, an old school guy that’s kind of a hard ass. Players respected him. I’ve enjoyed all my managers; I can’t think of one that I didn’t like.

GS: You had your most success in Arizona, which is where you make your home and where you went to college (at ASU). How was it playing down there?

BLOOMQUIST: That was awesome. It almost felt like I was living a normal life there for a while, living at home and taking my kid to school in the morning, then going to play ball at night. Unfortunately, Stephen Drew broke his ankle that first year, which gave me the chance to be the regular shortstop. We ended up making the playoffs. That was the most enjoyable season (2011) I’ve had in the big leagues because I was a big part of that team. I had a very good year the following year (.302 with 21 doubles) too, and hit well last year (.317) when I wasn’t hurt. I did have an enjoyable three years in Arizona, but things come full circle. I’m very very thankful to put on a Mariners uniform again. We’ve got a bunch of talented young kids. We’re below the radar right now, but I hope we’re lurking. We have the potential to do some special things; if we play the way we’re capable of playing, I’ll go out on a limb and say they could be talking about us late in the year. I believe there’s enough talent here to be there at the end.

GS: I think it says a lot about this team that you’ve managed to hang around .500 despite having three starting pitchers on the DL.

BLOOMQUIST: If you told me we’d have an eight-game losing streak in April and still be at .500 in May, I’d have taken it, especially with the schedule we had in the early going. We’ve got a puncher’s chance. I like our team, I like it a lot; we’re coming together at the right time.

GS: This was actually the first time since 2009 that Seattle has been at .500 after the first 30 games of the season, a good sign.

BLOOMQUIST: I know the city’s ready for it. The players are ready for it and the organization is ready for it. If we just take it one game at a time and play the way we’re capable, I think we’re gonna like where we are at the end.

GS: You’ve played seven different positions during your career, everything but pitcher and catcher. I’ve heard that you’d like to pitch sometime.

BLOOMQUIST: (laughs) I was pretty close [to getting to pitch] the other day, but no. I’ll do it if I have to. Pitcher and catcher are two positions I don’t really want much of a part of unless it’s an emergency and I have to.

Willie Bloomquist

Willie at Fenway Park, 2008

GS: Have you ever caught?

BLOOMQUIST: Not in a game.

GS: Not even in Little League?

BLOOMQUIST: I caught once in a Junior High game and that was it. I would rather pitch than catch, let’s put it that way.

GS: What’s your fastball like?

BLOOMQUIST: Probably low 70s with some sink, although they said the other day when I was out in the bullpen throwing that I was throwing pretty decent. I don’t know what that means.

GS: Hey, in the situation you’d be in you’d probably have the hitters off balance. At that point they’re just swinging.

BLOOMQUIST: I would just be happy to throw a strike, try to make the most fun out of it as I could.

GS: Any thoughts on what you’d like to do when you’re done playing? Managing? Coaching?

BLOOMQUIST: I owe it to my family to be at home for a while, so I’m gonna need a break for a few years when I’m done playing. I’d by lying if I didn’t admit that this game’s in my blood. It’s what I know. Who knows? Maybe one day if the opportunity presents itself I will coach or manage. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there but I don’t see myself staying out of the game for an extended period of time.

GS: It has been surprising to me that none of the players on the early 2000s Mariners have turned out to be managers, at least not yet. I think Jay Buhner would make an excellent manager.

BLOOMQUIST: Yeah, Jay has the personality to do it.

GS: He’s got that Lou personality, where guys would run through a wall for him. Buhner and Dan Wilson are the guys I think would make the best managers.

BLOOMQUIST: Dan Wilson is the guy I was going to say.

GS: What about Jamie Moyer?

BLOOMQUIST: (laughs) Jamie, he’d be an interesting one, that’s for sure. I think Dan Wilson would make a great manager, very smart, knows people.

GS: When you were with the Mariners the first time I always thought one of your greatest assets was your ability to steal a base in the ninth inning of a close game. The other team knew you were gonna run, but you were able to steal the base anyway. I can’t recall you getting caught in a situation like that and you always had a high success rate on your steal attempts. I noticed that your stolen base numbers have gone down the last couple of years. Have you lost a step with age?

BLOOMQUIST: I’m not going to admit that I’ve lost a step, but I will admit that I’ve gotten a little older. The last three years in Arizona I played a lot, and when your body gets older you’ve got to pick and choose your chances to run. I still believe I can steal bases, you just have to be smart about it. I’m not 25 anymore, I can’t jump out of bed and steal a base like I used to, but there’s still going to be opportunities when I can do it and help the team.

GS: You were really good at stealing bases, so I always wondered who you’d learned your basestealing technique from. You weren’t on the team in 2000, when Rickey Henderson was with Seattle, but I know that a couple of guys from that team, Mike Cameron and Mark McLemore, learned a lot about basestealing from Rickey and those guys were still there when you joined the team.

BLOOMQUIST: McLemore was the guy I learned a lot from.

GS: So, basically you learned how to steal bases second-hand from Rickey Henderson. Not too bad, he’s the best at stealing bases there ever was!

BLOOMQUIST: He was the best. Also, over the years I’ve learned a lot from different coaches about what to look for on pitchers’ tendencies, stuff like that that helps you steal bases. I’ve definitely had some really good teachers when it comes to stealing bases, now it’s just a matter of the body reacting the right way at this age.

GS: It seems like you’re set up to play a decent amount this year, with the team’s third baseman and shortstop both being left-handed hitters and you being a right-hander. It gives the manager an opportunity to rest those guys against tough lefties.

BLOOMQUIST: For me it’s the same mindset I’ve always had, come to the yard ready to play. If you’re playing, do the best you can. And if you’re not, be the best teammate you can and be ready to go when called upon. We’re gonna be a better team when Kyle [Seager] and Brad [Miller] are in there most of the time. It’s my job to keep those guys fresh and to be as productive as I can when I do get in there. Right now that’s my job and I’m happy to do it.

GS: You mentioned family earlier. You’ve got three kids now, right?

BLOOMQUIST: Three daughters, ages 9, 7, and 1.

GS: Wow. Are you done or are you still hoping to have a son?

BLOOMQUIST: I think that’s it. My daughters are my world. They’ve softened me up quite a bit, which is a good thing. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

GS: Last question. As someone born and raised in the Seattle area, I assume you followed the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl championship earlier this year. What do you think it would be like at Safeco Field if the Mariners were playing in the World Series?

BLOOMQUIST: I think we saw what it could be like the year the Mariners won 116 games and the first couple of seasons at Safeco Field. Selling out the games every day. I imagine if we make a run and get into the playoffs, that’s what it will be like here again. It would be nuts, it would be crazy. Those years when the Mariners were winning, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, even on Monday nights! It’d be awful fun to get back to that. The city deserves it. Hopefully we can carry the torch and follow up on what the Seahawks did.