Jan. 4, 2002
By Jim Street
If at first you get rejected, don't give up. Just try again later.
That is the philosophy used by the Seattle Mariners when it comes to 24-year-old second baseman Willie Bloomquist.
The Mariners selected Bloomquist in the eighth round of the First-Year Draft in 1996, soon after he ended a stellar prep career at South Kitsap High in Port Orchard, Wash., where he landed All-League, All-State, and Most Valuable Player accolades.
Despite having an opportunity to join the organization he rooted for as a kid, Bloomquist decided to accept a scholarship offer from Arizona State and spent the ensuing three years improving his game to the point where he was named the Pacific-10 Conference's Player of the Year in 1999.
"Why didn't I sign out of high school?" Bloomquist said. "Well, the offer (from the Mariners) wasn't that good and I had wanted to go to Arizona State since I was an eighteen-year-old kid.
"My sister went there and one time when I was visiting her, I asked her to take me to a baseball game. John Finn, the Sun Devils third baseman, hit a home run that day, made a spectacular defensive play and I was hooked. Ever since that day I wanted to be a Sun Devil."
Bloomquist was drafted for the second time after his junior season at ASU. It was the Mariners who selected him, this time in the third round.
"It was the perfect fit," he said.
Getting to play for the hometown Major League team that has two of its minor-league teams near his hometown, and also having its Spring Training headquarters in Arizona made the decision to turn pro an easy one for Bloomquist.
He figured he could play pro baseball and get his degree in business management.
Bloomquist finished with a 3.35 GPA.
"Getting a degree is something that has been ingrained in me for a long time," he said. "Whether you get a degree in medicine, or business management, no one can ever take that away from you."
Graduation finalized one of Bloomquist's dreams. He has another one - playing in the Major Leagues.
"He has big-league potential," said Dave Brundage, Bloomquist's manager at Double-A San Antonio (Texas League) last season. "He doesn't do anything flashy so when you come to a game and watch him play, you don't go home saying, 'wow!'
"But if you watch him over a period of time, you realize how good he is. I'd take nine Willie Bloomquists because it would give me a good chance of winning a championship."
Bloomquist was on a fast track to the big leagues right out the chute, batting .287 in 42 games with Class-A Everett (Northwest League) in 1999 and .379 in 64 games with Class-A Lancaster (California League) in 2000, before being promoted to Triple-A Tacoma.
But he batted just .225 in 51 games for the Rainiers and the Mariners decided he would be better off starting the 2001 season at San Antonio, where he hit a so-so .255 in 123 games with 28 RBIs and 34 stolen bases in 43 attempts.
"As the saying goes, sometimes you have to take a step backward to go forward," Brundage said. "I'm not saying Willie took a step back, but I think he would say he had a below-average year for him."
No argument from Willie.
"The Mariners have been unbelievably awesome in making it possible for me to take classes while playing baseball and I will be forever grateful. I just took my last final (exam) ever and I'm doing the walk (graduation ceremonies) two days from now."
"Obviously, I am a perfectionist and I know there is a lot of room for improvement in my game," he said. "I faced some adversity last season but learned quite a bit, especially on my offensive approach."
At 5-feet-11 and 185 pounds, Bloomquist is built along the same lines as Bret Boone (5-10, 190). There were times in 2001 that Willie tried to display the same kind of muscle for San Antonio that Boone was showing for the Mariners - 37 home runs.
"I looked at his first 100 at-bats and 39 of his outs were in the air," Brundage said. "We talked about that and he improved the second half of the season, reducing the number of outs-in-the-air by 17 over his next 100 at-bats."
Playing his home games in a large ballpark with the prevailing wind blowing in from center field, Bloomquist swung hard all too often, but ended the season with no home runs in 491 at-bats.
His "A" game is hitting line drives into the gaps and using his speed to reach base. Bloomquist sports 4.05- to 4.07-second speed from home plate to first base, which is outstanding for a right-handed batter.
"He is a hard-working, give-you-everything-you've-got player," said Greg Hunter, the Mariners director of minor league administration. "He is a natural second baseman who can also play shortstop. He puts the bat on the ball which makes him a good hit-and-run guy and basically is the kind of player built for SAFECO Field."
Getting there is Bloomquist's dream.
"My goal is not to be a minor-league player," he said. "The Major Leagues obviously is where I want to be and I think I can play there and do well there. I would like to get there as fast as I can."
Jim Street covers the Mariners for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org