PEORIA, Ariz. – Ask Ken Griffey Jr. what he remembers about Roger Hansen from their summer together in 1988, and he answers with a question.
“Don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Uh, Griffey knows.
Like nearly everyone who has crossed paths with Hansen, the Seattle Mariners’ popular minor league catching coordinator, Griffey was touched by him early in his pro career like few others in the organization.
In 1988, Hansen was a 26-year-old near the end of a minor league playing career. Griffey was an 18-year-old with Double-A Vermont but had landed on the disabled list with a back injury.
Hansen was batting close to .300 at Triple-A Calgary, but the Mariners had a more important assignment for him. They sent him to Vermont, not to play, but to oversee young Griffey.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Hansen said. “I’m hitting .300, but I had to go to Double-A because he was out with a back injury.”
Those were his orders, so Hansen flew to Burlington, Vt., and joined the Double-A M’s as they began a road trip.
The team had boarded the bus, Griffey sitting in the middle and Hansen near the back, when manager Rich Morales stood and recited the itinerary.
“Then he said, ‘Oh, by the way, Griffey will be rooming with Roger Hansen,’ ” Hansen said. “Everybody on the bus was going, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ ”
The Mariners had decided that Griffey needed a guiding influence, and Hansen was just the guy to provide it.
“There was no doubt in everybody else’s mind that he was going to be tremendous, but in his mind he wanted to prove to himself that he was going to be good,” Hansen said. That’s why I was there, to keep him on that same path and not stray off because everybody else knew how good he was going to be.”
No guarantees: Manager Don Wakamatsu, in answering a question about middle infielder Ronny Cedeno’s impressive play in camp, put shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and second baseman Jose Lopez on notice that they must perform to keep their jobs.
Wakamatsu wants to see not only how they perform on the field during games, but also the work they do before and after to make themselves better players.
“We’re going to push both Lopez and Betancourt,” Wakamatsu said. “Yuni is understanding that preparing for a game and the quality of their work is going to be a direct reflection.”
Looking for opening day: Tyler Johnson remains in the two-steps-ahead, one-step-back phase of his comeback from shoulder surgery. But he believes he can be ready by opening day and become the Mariners’ much-needed left-handed relief specialist.
Johnson, a key reliever with the 2006 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, had surgery May 14 last year and didn’t pitch in 2008. The Mariners, badly needing a lefty-on-lefty reliever, signed Johnson to a minor league contract Feb. 5.
“I’ve been long-tossing and I’ve been feeling pretty good,” he said.