SEATTLE – You don’t have to preach to Mariners center fielder Braden Bishop about the contagious nature of the novel coronavirus. His younger brother Hunter contracting it was all the confirmation he needed.
About a week back, Hunter woke up in his Arizona residence and noticed he couldn’t taste his coffee. He ended up testing positive for the virus, and learned that an afflicted server had infected him and many others in a restaurant a few days earlier. The symptoms have been relatively mild so far, but that hasn’t eased Braden’s concern.
“It’s a good example that the virus doesn’t take time off,” Braden said. “He doesn’t have extreme symptoms, but we don’t know what the adverse effects may be down the line, and we’re both worried about it.”
Bishop admits he has had his doubts on whether he should try to play this season, but what is someone in his situation to do? The former Husky is an unproven player with just 27 MLB games to his name and knows this could be his chance to break through. If he were 21, maybe he would sit. If he had an eight- or nine-figure contract, perhaps he would wait till 2021.
But given that he will be 27 next month and doesn’t have the track record to guarantee him another shot, this 60-game season could be his best chance to make a dent.
“I think we’re all in different situations. I feel like I’m in a situation right now where, while I do have a choice, it would put me in a very interesting position for my career, and I think a lot of guys who are – whether early in their careers in the big leagues or playing for spots – it’s just a really tough spot to be in, and you want to make a smart decision,” Bishop said. “For now I’m here, and I’m trying to stay safe as best I can.”
Bishop’s career hasn’t flourished the way he hoped it would at this point. For one, he endured a lacerated spleen that kept him out for more than two months last season. But even when he was healthy, his numbers never indicated he was fit to play at the highest level.
In 56 at-bats last season, Bishop hit just .107 with no home runs. And he managed just one hit in 13 plate appearances this spring.
Was his swing the problem? To an extent, sure. But he’ll tell you that his head was the main impediment to success.
“I think the biggest thing playing in the big leagues is that they can’t play there if you don’t have a certain level of confidence, whether you’re succeeding or failing, and I didn’t feel like I took one at-bat in the big leagues where I was confident last year,” Bishop said. “I had to be honest with myself there and be aware that there would be times I’d step in the box again and probably not be confident, but I had to hold myself accountable.”
It helps that Bishop has long been one of the organization’s top defensive outfielders. And though his major-league stats have been underwhelming, the sample size is probably too small to make whole judgments. He has never had great power but has hit .306, .284 and .271 in his past three minor-league seasons.
So what is he hoping to get out of this season? He was asked that very question Monday.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that there is so much going on, more so than ever in the outside world. I don’t want to use, whether it looks like we’re going to play or it looks like we’re not, I don’t want it to be an excuse for me not to be ready,” Bishop said. “I’m realistic in knowing that my window in the major leagues, whether it be two years or 10 years, is going to be such a short time, (and) I don’t want this crazy 60-game season to be the reason I wasn’t ready and I played poorly and my career was over because of that.”
So what’s a realistic expectation for Bishop? Perhaps making the 30-man opening-day roster is a possibility. But the odds of him becoming an everyday player throughout the season are longer.
He’s going for it, though. If nothing else, because he might never have another chance.
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