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Information in this article, originally published September 9, was corrected September 12. A previous version of this story needed clarification. Former Mariner Bret Boone and his wife Suzi have four children. Twins Judah and Isaiah were not listed in a story about Boone.
Boone working for another chance at big leagues
Seattle Times staff reporter
According to Bret Boone's plan and prediction, some lucky team has an All-Star second baseman waiting for its call.
Boone, a former Mariners All-Star, Gold Glover and MVP candidate, fell from grace the past two seasons and from sight about halfway through this season.
"I want to play again; I intend to play again," Boone said this week from his house on the Eastside, where he and wife Suzi live with daughter Savannah, son Jacob and twin boys Isaiah and Judah.
"I'm prepared for this; I know what it will take, because I've had a weird career full of ups and downs."
In fact, he has been at this low point twice before — in 1997 after hitting .223 with Cincinnati, and in 2000 when he hit .251 with San Diego, playing on a bad knee.
"I know I have something left," said Boone, 36. "And I know talk is cheap. As long as the idea is burning in my mind — and it is — that I can still play, I've got to do it. But I can't just show up and assume all of what I had is still there."
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The first time Boone went through a downer, he rebounded with a good 1998 season (.266, 24 home runs, 95 RBI), then was traded to Atlanta and helped the Braves get to the 1999 World Series.
After his 2000 season in San Diego, Boone signed a look-see deal with Seattle, and Mariners fans know that he went on to the best stretch of his career.
"Don't get me wrong, I know I'm not the same guy I was five years ago," he said. "I'm older and things do change. But I also know I still have abilities. I may not be a 40-homer guy any more, but I can still swing a bat and I can still play defense with anyone."
Thus, the plan/prediction comes with a promise.
"I'm going to get back in the shape I was in 2000 to 2002," Boone said.
As far as what kind of shape Boone was in when he had his best years with the Mariners, there have been accusations of steroid use, most famously by Jose Canseco in his tell-all book. Boone has denied taking steroids.
Now, when Boone talks about getting back in shape, he means shaping up his body and his baseball, but as much as anything else, shaping up his mind.
"Mentally, for whatever reasons, I hit a wall," he said. "It's baseball and I know how to play the game. I'd come to the park and bust my ass, same as usual. But when your mind isn't there ... "
Boone said he recently talked to a veteran player he respects, whom he won't name, and asked him what happened.
"He told me, 'You need to re-dedicate yourself to the game,' " Boone said. "It takes more than effort, more than knowing how to play. It takes total involvement, and somehow my head wasn't there.
"I don't know where my brain was. Somewhere it never was before. Well, I'm back from outer space."
Even with his brain back on baseball, the rest of the conditioning isn't any easier.
"I've got four months of hard [weight-]lifting ahead of me," Boone said. "I've been keeping up, eating right. But sitting around instead of playing I feel soft. That will change."
His plan is to get started in mid-October, when he will rework his physical condition and re-tool his swing. Most winters in the past, he would work out but didn't do a thing baseball-wise until February.
"This winter, I'll be hitting both the health club and the batting cage every day," he said. "My dad [former catcher and manager Bob Boone] will work with me on my swing, just like he did in 1997 and 2000.
"I have a unique swing. It's not easy for just anyone to work on it; it's such a timing thing. Dad knows it, so he'll work on it with me. This swing gave me a lot of good years. and it's not like I'm going to seriously alter it, like show up with a crouch. I'm not going to go from my stance to Edgar [Martinez's] stance."
To a fierce competitor, this is simply another competition. And Boone makes another thing very clear.
"This is not about money," he said. "I'm not going to make a bunch of millions next year. This is all about getting back because I can still play.
"I don't want to leave and look back in five years and ask myself, 'What was I thinking?' "
Baseball, he said, "has been unbelievable to me. I tried to do right by baseball by playing right, playing hard. But the first half of this year, maybe last year, too, reminded me it takes more than ability. It takes dedication.
"It's going to the toughest winter I've ever had. But without the total effort to get back in top shape, it would be a waste of my time. I wouldn't do that to the team that signs me, I wouldn't do that to myself.
"And you know what, I wouldn't do that to the game I love."
There were calls from teams after Boone was released by the Minnesota Twins, who made a trade of convenience for him when he was leaving the Mariners. Boone told his agent, Adam Katz, to say no to offers to play again this season.
"I knew then something had gone wrong. I was not ready to play," he said. "I wasn't going somewhere just to play bad ball, and that's what I had been doing. If you don't have the fire, you might as well go home. I lost it and I went home."
Along with spending time with the family and playing golf, Boone watched ballgames on TV, mostly Mariners games, but a lot of games.
"I'd be watching and asking myself, 'What am I doing sitting home?' " he said. "Well, I know I put myself in this place. I didn't mean to, but I did.
"I completely understand the connection between not performing up to my standards, which are as high as ever, and being out of the game. It has reminded me I belong back in the game. I needed the reminder. It wouldn't be fair to my new team to show up with the mind-set I had two months ago."
Having re-tooled the mind, now comes the harder/easier part.
"Now I've got to go out and give myself the best chance possible to live up to my intention," Boone said. "And I won't stand for being decent, for hearing a scout or someone saying, 'He's a nice player.'
"I'm going to give this everything I've got, go at it full force. I expect to go out and have a great season. When I'm back next year and I don't have that feeling, I'll go home. And no one will have to tell me. I'll know. I'll go home."
Having said that, he immediately points out he does not anticipate that last part being the case.
"My idea is that if someone asks me, 'What are you going to do during the All-Star break?' my answer is, 'I'm going to play in the All-Star Game, man.' "
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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