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Originally published Friday, March 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Mariners | Mike Morse's long career path nears destination

The scene Thursday in the Mariners clubhouse was numbingly familiar to Mike Morse — the somber summons to the manager's office, the...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. — The scene Thursday in the Mariners clubhouse was numbingly familiar to Mike Morse — the somber summons to the manager's office, the trudge back to the locker, the silent packing of belongings.

"If anyone can relate, it's me," he said. "I used to take getting cut like it was the worst thing in the world."

Only this time, it wasn't Morse getting the dreaded message that manager John McLaren wanted to talk to him. It wasn't Morse heading over to a new home in the minor-league clubhouse — mere yards in distance, but another world in stature.

In fact, it is becoming clear that Morse's time in The Show has arrived. It's increasingly difficult to envision a scenario by which Morse doesn't make the Seattle team, which would mark his first time breaking camp on the major-league roster.

Even as the Mariners were executing their first cuts of spring on Thursday — a dozen players got the ax, none unexpectedly — Morse was further cementing his case to be one of the ultimate 25.

No one will say it officially, of course, but this is getting close to a done deal. How can it not be? Morse has the versatility to be a reserve outfielder and more — he played third base on Thursday and can also play first and shortstop.

And his bat is the closing argument.

Morse banged out three more hits against the Giants in a spring that has seen him mount an all-out offensive blitz. His .581 average (18 for 31) leads all major-leaguers this spring, and he is among the leaders in virtually every offensive category, including on-base percentage (.658) and slugging (.903).

"If I make the team, I want it to be not because I had a good spring, but because they need me, they want me to help the team win," Morse said.

Morse is wise enough, at age 25 (he turns 26 on March 22), to assume nothing, and certainly to assert no claims of entitlement in his battle for a bench job.

But Morse will talk about a newfound maturity that he thinks has left him better prepared to stick after yo-yoing between Seattle and Tacoma the past three years.

"I feel like I've grown up," he said. "I took all the stuff you're not supposed to worry about, and I'm actually not worrying about it. It's the first time I'm just playing and having fun."

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If that outlook sounds vaguely Raul Ibanez-like, that's no accident. Morse doesn't hide the fact that he worships Ibanez, whose circuitous route to major-league permanence he hopes to emulate.

The two worked out together in Florida in the offseason, and Ibanez tried to gently impart the need for Morse to stop obsessing about the superfluous.

"I said, 'Take care of what you can control. That's your preparation, your focus, your attitude and your approach,' " Ibanez said. "Everything else is out of your hands. Take care of that, and you're going to sleep better at night.

"That's just the nature of the game — of life, right?"

It was a hard-earned lesson for Ibanez, who didn't stick in the majors for a full season until his 10th year in professional ball.

Ibanez said he remembers standing in the outfield during batting practice in Seattle in 2000, "freaking out."

"I wasn't playing, and I wasn't swinging the bat well when I did play," he said.

"Stan Javier said to me, 'Raul, you're going to play in the big leagues a long time. And you're going to remember I told you that, and you're going to be a really good player. Just relax and take care of the stuff you can control.' "

Ibanez remembers that his tension seemed to instantly evaporate after that conversation with Javier. That was three 100-runs-batted-in seasons and more than $25 million in salary ago.

And what Javier told Ibanez, Ibanez has passed down to Morse, with hopes that Morse will be able to impart the wisdom to some other fretting youngster in a few years.

"That's kind of the way it works, the 'play it forward' part of baseball," Ibanez said. "Sometimes you try to give guys what other guys have given you. And sometimes you try to not give guys what other guys have given to you. Some of the stuff you go through, you don't want to burden someone else with."

Whatever Ibanez says, Morse embraces.

"I respect him so much," Morse said. "I have a lot of older friends that spent a lot of time in the game, but no one's career has gone the long path like mine is, and Raul's has.

"As long as I see Raul suit up and he has a smile on his face, I know it can happen to me."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners

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