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Mariners' Wilson riding off into the sunset
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Lou Piniella was in the midst of listing the virtues of Dan Wilson — a popular occupation yesterday — when he seemed to become overcome with emotion (another frequent occurrence).
"It makes me feel good just talking about him," said Piniella, and you could just sense him smiling all the way from Tampa.
He wasn't the greatest Mariner of his generation, certainly, but few were more admired, more respected, or more beloved than Dan Wilson, who yesterday announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.
Like Edgar Martinez, whose departure last year elicited the same feelings of warmth and affection, Wilson had an everyman quality that made him seem like a guy you'd want to have over for dinner. And he'd probably help clear the dishes.
"When I think of Dan Wilson, the first thing that comes to mind is character, integrity," said Dave Valle, whom Wilson succeeded as Mariners' catcher in 1994. "The baseball stuff sort of comes along at the back end."
The baseball stuff will end on Oct. 2, but not, Wilson hopes, before he dons the equipment one last time and squats behind the plate in one more game. It may well just be for one more inning, but long enough to say that he made it all the way back from the ravages of a torn ACL in his right knee on May 4.
"If I feel I'm healthy enough to do it, and the situation is right, we'll try to do it," he said. "I'm going to do my darndest to take the field at least one more time."
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The tears flowed yesterday at Safeco Field, right from the moment Wilson walked out of the elevator en route to his farewell news conference, only to be surprised by an ovation from the assembled crowd of Mariners employees. When Wilson's four children and wife, Annie, rushed over to embrace him, Wilson broke down — and so did most who witnessed the scene.
Dan Wilson timeline
June 4, 1990 — After an All-America season at Minnesota, Wilson is drafted in the first round, seventh overall, by the Cincinnati Reds. One pick earlier, the Mariners drafted Marc Newfield, a high-school outfielder/first baseman.
Sept. 7, 1992 — Makes his major-league debut with the Reds, as a pinch-hitter at Houston. Two days later, gets his first hit, off Atlanta's Tom Glavine.
Nov. 3, 1993 — After splitting the 1993 season between Cincinnati and Class AAA Indianapolis, Wilson is traded to Seattle, with pitcher Bobby Ayala, for second baseman Bret Boone and pitcher Erik Hanson.
April 4, 1994 — Wilson makes his Mariners debut in the season opener, working with Randy Johnson in an 11-inning, 4-3 loss at Cleveland. Wilson threw out Kenny Lofton, the only runner who tried to steal a base.
July 9, 1996 — Plays in his only All-Star Game, in Philadelphia. As a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, Wilson flied out to right field for the final out of a 6-0 NL victory.
May 3, 1998 — Hits an inside-the-park grand slam against Detroit, just the seventh catcher since 1901 to do so.
2001 — Caught 123 games and helps Mariners pitchers post best ERA (3.54) in American League, as Mariners win 116 games.
"What happened in the hallway was very powerful," he would say later.
There were many more such powerful moments to come in his news conference, especially when he addressed his family.
"Your love and sacrifice has been overwhelming. We've been through a lot, and you've handled it all so well. My love for each of you grows stronger each day, and I'm excited — really excited — to start this next phase of our life together."
The funny thing is, the Mariners have been trying to bring in Wilson's replacement for years. Ben Davis and Miguel Olivo were both "catchers of the future" now long in the past. At the end of the year, it always seemed to be good old Danny who had worked his way back into the regular job.
That no doubt would have been the case this year, too, judging from the turnover at the position, had he not blown out his knee. Wilson said yesterday he and his wife had decided before the season this would be his last year, but the injury made him reconsider that decision. The soul-searching question was this: Is this the way he wanted to go out, at the tail end of a lost year?
Only in the last few days did Wilson decide to walk away — ironically, on a knee that appears to have healed well enough to allow him to continue next year. And it's a decision he stated was not subject to a Roger Clemens-like change of mind.
"Through much prayer and discussion, sweat, tears, my decision from the beginning of the year still stands," he said. "The reasons now are the same as the reasons then: just to spend more time at home with my four children, and to begin the next chapter of our life."
As with other Mariners fixtures like Martinez and Jay Buhner, Wilson has an open invitation to rejoin the organization in some capacity, team president Chuck Armstrong indicated. But Wilson, 36, wants to finish his degree, and mainly just soak up the family life that eludes even the most conscientious baseball player.
Wilson's retirement is all the more poignant for what it represents — the last link to the glory days of a team that has been mired in misery for the past two seasons.
Wilson was, as Armstrong pointed out, "the last of a generation of players who re-made and saved baseball in Seattle. ... He came over at the end of the '93 season at the behest of Lou Piniella. Lou said, 'We had to get this guy.' "
True story, confirmed Piniella, who remembered how, when he managed the Reds, all the pitchers in Cincinnati wanted to warm up with the young kid from the University of Minnesota.
Wilson was an expert handler of pitchers, an adept caller of games, and good enough with the bat, in his prime, to warrant respect. But Piniella, and just about everyone else from the Mariners, weren't remembering much of that yesterday. They were celebrating the man.
"He's been one of my favorites I've ever managed," Piniella said. "He could very easily have been captain of the team. If I had chosen a captain, with all the great players we had, I think Danny would have ended up taking that position."
Wilson at one point yesterday said deciding to retire was "a little shattering" — but only, I'd suspect, a very little. Wilson, of all outgoing ballplayers, seems grounded enough to make the transfer to civilian life a smooth and prosperous one.
"It's my time to give back," he said, smiling through the tears.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company