When the Pacific Coast League champion Tacoma Rainiers played their first game at the newly remodeled Cheney Stadium on April 15, fans recognized only about half the players. But they recognized the names of the field staff as all three are returning for the beginning of the 2011 season.
Tacoma Weekly baseball writer Karen Westeen recently caught up with hitting coach Alonzo Powell, who returns after a long stint with the Mariners last season. He talked about the team and preparing for another pennant run this season.
TW: What was it like last year being Ichiro’s batting coach?
AP: Working with Ichiro is not a lot of work. He is a self-motivator and has a tremendous routine. It was an honor and fun to work with him. Since we go way back, we have big mutual respect of each other. I tried not to get in his way, just offer help when he needed it. We talked a lot about a lot of things. It was a piece of cake to work with him.
TW: When the Rainiers got to the playoffs last September, what was it like for you watching them from Seattle?
AP: Even when I was in Seattle I still had my apartment in Tacoma, and I would come to games when the teams’ schedules allowed. We got to watch the game five clincher at Safeco when we got in from Anaheim after our road trip there. I was very proud of the team. It showed the character of the players to win on the road (because the stadium construction began as soon as the regular season ended.) They played as a team. I was only part of the team here for a month but was very proud of them.
TW: A lot of players are gone from Tacoma that were here when you were for the past three years. What are the new players like?
AP: Of course we have a constant turnover, guys with lots of different sorts of abilities. Fine tuning them is a lot of fun for me. These guys get better so as they mature you might have to work with them in different areas. It’s a constant battle. The challenge of coaching is to get these different players ready to go up to the Major League club. The biggest thing is to have them ready if they need a player or two to go up and make a difference. That hasn’t happened much and I take it personally. As a hitting coach that’s going to make me work that much harder to try to drive some points home so then they get up to Seattle and have the success we all think they should have.
TW: Of the new players, who will fans like?
AP: In no particular order I would say: IF Alex Liddi (an Italian player who was signed by the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent in September 2005.) He has a chance to be a very good Major League player; OF Carlos Peguero (also a non-drafted free agent, from the Dominican Republic, signed in January 2005.) He needs to learn plate discipline and cut down on his strikeouts, but 10 guys in the major leagues don’t have as much power; C/IF Chris Gimenez gives us a lot of versatility.
(TW note: Peguero and Gimenez were called up to Seattle early in the season. Gimenez replaced injured catcher Adam Moore on April 8 and Peguero filled in for IF Justin Smoak while he was on the bereavement leave list.)
TW: What’s your prognosis for the coming season?
AP: We have a lot of talent, and we have a chance to have a successful season, especially if the Major League team plays well and we can stay together a little longer, but we also hope to get our players to the big team and help them do well there.
TW: What do you think of the new stadium?
AP: The new clubhouse is amazing. It will be more comfortable, especially when we spend the majority of our time in the clubhouse. When I played here in the early 1990s both clubhouses were on the first-base side and there was no room. This is a much better environment for us to work in. I hope we can take that feeling out on the field, be productive and play well.
TW: So it’s not just the clubhouse, dugout and the bullpens that have been moved. The batting cages also have a new location.
AP: Yes, the batting cages are behind third base in the parking lot area, and there’s no public access. We want the public to have some access to the players but also they need to get their work in. In their previous location (behind the right field bleachers at the end of the public concourse) at times it became a problem with the fans right next to players in the cages.
TW: So you are now living in Arizona. Was that an advantage during spring training?
AP: Yes, because living there I could spend more time with younger players who came to camp early and still spend an extra two months at home.
TW: It must be good to have a familiar staff back here to work with all these new players and the other changes.
AP: For sure. The continuity of our staff helps, with all the other changes to the stadium. The players know what we expect. That helps them execute and play well. That’s what they did last year and hopefully they can do that again this season.
The Rainiers continue their road trip to Reno (April 28 to May 1) before returning home to play Tucson May 2 to 5. All games start at 7:05 p.m. and can be heard on KHHO 850 AM.