As he has each February for the last five years, Mike Blowers is packing to leave home this month.
The difference in 1996 is that he won’t be back before October.
Traded by the Seattle Mariners last November, The Tacoma Kid is headed for Florida in two weeks, where he will train with his new team - the Dodgers - before beginning his first season in Los Angeles.
“A new team, a new league, a new challenge, it’s like being a kid and moving into a new neighborhood,” Blowers said. “It won’t hit me until I’m in Vero Beach and put the uniform on, then it will feel like starting over.”
He was a big part of the first Seattle Mariners team ever to win a division championship, and weeks after sharing those clubhouse celebrations, after being part of the Kingdome love-ins, he was traded for a pair of minor-leaguers.
So Blowers will pack most of his possessions, and head east along with his wife Nicole and their two kids. What he won’t be taking is even an overnight-bag worth of animosity.
“I’d rather have stayed,” he admits, “but there’s no anger at all. The Mariners - Woody Woodward and Lou Piniella - kept me from playing in Japan, because if I hadn’t made the team in ‘93, that was where I was going.
“I made that team, I had a couple of solid years and went to the playoffs here. I live here, and during the off-season I’ll always live here. Last year was something I’ll never forget.”
Few who were part of it will, though Blowers’ local roots might have given him an even more personal feel for the ‘95 season and what it meant to major league baseball fans in the Northwest.
“We had to win last year, and we did,” he said. “We saved baseball in Seattle. We gave the fans a taste, and now they want more. They’ll get it. This is still a good team.”
It is no longer his team, and Blowers knows it. Nor is it the team of Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, Bill Risley, Vince Coleman, Tim Belcher or Andy Benes.
“We all went so quick, it made it a little easier,” Blowers said. “The hardest part is always the friends you leave behind. I’m going to miss Jay (Buhner) and (Ken) Griffey and (Chris) Bosio and Norm (Charlton). You play somewhere a few years with good people, you get close.
“Tino is probably my best friend in baseball, and this year he’s going to be wearing a Yankees uniform, I’m going to be in a Dodgers uniform. When we play each other in spring training, it’s going to be real strange.”
Along with that new team, that new league, Blowers is going to have to adjust to a new uniform - and a new contract, one that will pay him more than $2 million in 1996.
It is four times what he has ever made in a season, and the main reason he is no longer a Mariner.
“I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet, and I haven’t thought a whole lot about it,” Blowers said. “Lou gave me the chance to play, and I did my job. You put a couple of strong years together, the money gets better.”
In his three seasons under Piniella, the first big-league manager to let Blowers play regularly, the third baseman batted .280, .289 and .257 - though last year he added career highs with 23 homers and 96 RBIs.
“I’ve heard people say I’ll never repeat my numbers,” Blowers said, “but I’ve heard people gripe about Junior, and he’s the best player in baseball. I look at it as the chance to get 500-550 at-bats for the first time in my career. My numbers should get better, not worse, but everybody has an opinion.”