Michael Rynders knew the precise date.
The 15-year-old Mariners fan was ambling alongside the T-Mobile Park concourse with family and friends final week after I noticed him in a Julio Rodriguez jersey.
I ended to talk with him concerning the attraction of the rookie sensation — what attracted him to the 21-year-old Dominican who is about as much as be probably the most celebrated Mariner since Ken Griffey Jr.
Then I requested him when he bought the uniform.
“Aug. 23,” he mentioned.
Turns out his father, Sean, had been attempting to snag a J-Rod jersey for Michael for a few months. Said it was backlogged in a method you may count on for a participant who’s one half hero and one other half heartthrob.
But he lastly noticed one on the rack and seized it prefer it the final iPhone on Black Friday. This is only one facet of the Julio Factor.
The M’s ended their 21-year playoff drought on the final day of September due to a walk-off dwelling run by Cal Raleigh. But whereas the younger catcher was the star of the second, it’s the a lot youthful heart fielder who has been the star of the season — and if the Mariners $210 million wager pays off, the star of the longer term.
Rodriguez’s between-the-lines worth is evident: 27 dwelling runs and 25 stolen bases within the 129 video games he performed earlier than October, and a 5.7 Wins Above Replacement mark that ranks first on the Mariners and within the high 10 of the American League. It’s not exhausting to see why Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales — chatting with Julio’s uncooked expertise — known as him the very best participant he’s ever seen earlier within the season.
But what about his worth exterior the strains? In the dugout, within the advertising world — and within the minds of the M’s die-hards?
How do you measure Rodriguez’s Q ranking? Or higher put — his J ranking?
Obviously, you possibly can hear the “Ju-li-o!” chants all through T-Mobile at any time when he’s within the lineup. They have successfully changed the “K!” cries of the King’s Court that had been a stadium staple throughout the Felix Hernandez days. But from a fanbase-wide-enthusiasm standpoint, Rodriguez’s potential feels higher than Hernandez’s was. As in … one thing that comes alongside as soon as in a era.
Kids love him, for one.
Eleven-year-old Jaxon Banfield was sporting Rodriguez’s jersey at T-Mobile alongside his mother and grandma final week, explaining how he was hooked on Julio when he hit 63 lengthy balls within the first two rounds of the Home Run Derby final July. But it was greater than the dingers that does it for Jaxon — it’s the demeanor.
“I like how he brings the team together and emotionally helps the team,” Banfield mentioned. “I feel like every time he’s not here we’re in a slump.”
The child wasn’t fallacious. When I interviewed Banfield, the Mariners had been 73-56 with Rodriguez within the lineup and 11-14 with out him. His WAR suggests he’d add about 5 or 6 further wins — however may his presence be as invaluable as his manufacturing?
I requested Mariners supervisor Scott Servais about it.
Is there a Julio Factor that goes past what he can do together with his bat, legs and glove?
“I think so. I think everybody who has seen us play all year knows that there is a Julio Factor,” mentioned Servais. “I think our ownership realizes it, I think our fan base realizes it. I think our team realizes it. I think there’s been other players that have played here for the Mariners have had the same attributes.”
Servais didn’t say Griffey by identify. Maybe he wasn’t pondering of him particularly. But it’s exhausting to not make comparisons. A) They play the identical place. B) They got here out blistering of their first seasons, with Jr. ending third within the AL Rookie of the Year race and Rodriguez being the favourite this time. And C) They’re each advertising goals.
As Mariners fan Lisa Beebe responded when requested what she preferred most about Rodriguez: “His smile!”
Mariners president of enterprise operations Catie Griggs took it a bit additional. She didn’t single out Julio as the first driver of M’s merchandise or the present mania — however she did acknowledge him as a definite persona whose pure vibe does most the advertising work for them.
“Julio is someone whose authenticity and charisma is incredibly relatable, and he engages with our fans in a real and meaningful way, not because we tell him to, but because he wants to,” Griggs mentioned. “We are in the business of engaging the community and engages our fans — and Julio embodies that in a way very few athletes do. So for us, it’s not about ‘how do we market Julio,’ it’s about ‘how do we showcase who he is as a person and all the things that make him special?’”
You by no means know the way red-hot rookies’ careers are going to unfold. Sometimes they get harm. Sometimes pitchers determine them out. Sometimes cash mutes their motivation.
But proper now, Julio is The Man on this city. The Mariners made a visit to the playoffs in his first season on the group. Can’t assist however really feel prefer it’s the primary of many.
[email protected]; on Twitter: @matt_calkins. Matt Calkins joined The Seattle Times in August 2015 as a sports activities columnist after three years on the San Diego Union Tribune. Never afraid to take a stand or go off the overwhelmed path, Matt enjoys writing concerning the human situation each bit as a lot as walk-offs or buzzer-beaters. His mother reads the feedback so take it simple on him.
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