Sean Kazmar is one of the new members of the Tacoma Rainiers. After spending the first seven years of his career with the San Diego Padres’ organization, the 26-year-old Kazmar was signed by Seattle as a minor league free agent last December. He primarily plays shortstop and second base, and is currently batting .220. Recently Tacoma Weekly baseball writer Karen Westeen sat down with Kazmar to find out more about his career.
TW: You are a native of Georgia, but that is not where you spent most of your life. Where did you grow up?
SK: My family moved to Las Vegas when I was a child, and I graduated from Las Vegas High School.
TW: What about college?
SK: I attended the (Community) College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas for two years before I was drafted in 2004. I’m minus two credits for my degree.
TW: Did you have a major?
TW: What about finishing up at least for your two-year degree?
SK: I may finish online, it’s definitely in the back of my mind.
TW: What about completing a four-year degree at some time in the future?
SK: I don’t know if I’d go back to school full time. We’ll have to see how things pan out.
TW: Have you thought at all about what you would like to do way down the road, when they tear the uniform off your back?
SK: I don’t have any plans. I try not to think about that. I could always fall back into coaching or something around baseball. It’s been a part of my life since I was 4 years old. Eventually I’d like to use my talent to teach others.
TW: Do you still live in Las Vegas?
SK: No. My wife and I and our dog live in Avondale, Arizona, about five miles west of Phoenix.
TW: What does your wife do?
SK: She’s a school teacher. Right now she’s getting into administrative work and is pretty busy, but she’ll be here for the majority of the summer.
TW: You were drafted by the Padres when you were just 19. Where were you on draft day?
SK: I was at college in a work study program so I was in right field watering the grass. A bunch of guys came running out of the clubhouse and said my name had just been called. I didn’t know it was going to happen so that made it more exciting. I signed that night.
TW: Were you expecting to get drafted by San Diego?
SK: Not really. I was a draft-and-follow player with Oakland for that year but about a week and a half before the draft Oakland and I hadn’t come to terms so they let me go back into draft. I actually went to Petco Park in San Diego and did a tryout for the Padres. They had a lot of good things to say but I knew it was so close to draft day I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen. I had planned to go to the University of Georgia that year, so to get that phone call and be taken that early in the draft (fifth round) was definitely an exciting moment in my life.
TW: That first year you played in Eugene with the rookie league Emeralds. That was not too far from home but I will bet it was really a different experience.
SK: It was definitely an eye-opener to be out on my own at 19 but my parents raised me very well, and there were a lot of the guys who had been around a couple of years who helped ease me into that. It definitely helped me grow as a man.
TW: Except for parts of two seasons in Fort Wayne, Ind., and two years in San Antonio, Texas, you have spent all of your career so far on the West Coast, with Eugene, Lake Elsinore, California, Portland, San Diego and Tacoma. You got your first Major League call-up in August 2008, when you played 19 games with the Padres. How did that come about?
SK: Khalil Greene had broken his wrist and they needed a shortstop so I think that helped me get up there. I was in AA, and most guys don’t get called up from there, so I wasn’t expecting the call up. But I had logged in a lot of spring training games with the big league team and I felt like I did pretty good and they were pretty confident in my abilities to perform for them.
TW: Who did you face in your first Major League at bat?
SK: C.C. Sabathia with the Brewers.
TW: Were you nervous?
SK: After I called my family I didn’t get much sleep. (When I knew I’d be facing Sabathia) I knew I was likely to get a fast ball. I got good wood on the first pitch and was able to get a hit. I’ll never forget it. It was definitely the highlight of my career. I had dreamed about it since the first day I stepped onto a field. All the way through school every paper I wrote was about baseball. Now it’s all about trying to get back and prove I belong up there. I understand how tough it is to get there, and that there are a lot who never get that chance.
TW: Do you feel that you help a team more with your offense or defense?
SK: This is my eighth pro season and my defense stands out for me. I take it very seriously. My offensive numbers have never been overwhelming. I might get out more than some people so I like to take away hits (from the other team.) I like to go out on the field with that mindset. If you can put both together it definitely helps the team, especially any time you’re in the middle of the diamond.
TW: Since you were with Portland for two years you have played a lot of games here. How did you do playing in Cheney?
SK: I played pretty well here and that definitely helped me decide who to sign with after becoming a free agent. I loved the fans here, and I knew about the big renovation. Also the weather is similar to Portland. And I knew quite a few guys, like Greg Halman, Mike Wilson and Matt Tuiasosopo, from playing against them for five years. That definitely helped with the transition to a new team.
TW: What was it like playing in Portland after you knew the team would not be returning there after the end of the 2010 season?
SK: There was a feeling of frustration in the clubhouse. I loved playing in Portland – the field, the fans, the whole atmosphere – it was such an awesome place to play, but now it’s a great facility for soccer. Portland will definitely be missed (as part of the Pacific Coast League.) It was one of my favorite places, but Tacoma’s not too bad and I get to stay on the West Coast.
TW: The team has had a lot of big comeback wins. How does that affect the atmosphere in clubhouse? Do you have the feeling you can come back from any deficit?
SK: We got off to a rocky start in our first 15-20 games. It’s always tough to get accustomed to each other. A team can’t play perfect baseball at first. We’re coming together as a team now, and we know there’s no lead that’s safe from either side. It’s all about playing nine innings, all 27 outs. We know that at any time we can win a baseball game.