New Mariners first baseman Casey Kotchman has something to prove
New Mariners first baseman Casey Kotchman says he has some things to prove on the field this season, but refuses to use a family situation as an excuse for a decline in his hitting the past few years.
Seattle Times staff reporter
New Mariners first baseman Casey Kotchman says he has some things to prove on the field this season.
At the same time, he refuses to use an emotionally draining family situation off the field as an excuse for a decline in his hitting. It was in August 2008, just weeks after a blockbuster trade to the Atlanta Braves, along with slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, that Kotchman received a call telling him his mother had collapsed back home in Florida.
Sue Kotchman, a principal for 10 years and educator for 30, was rushed to the hospital on the first day of school with a brain hemorrhage. Doctors gave her just a 50-50 chance of surviving the ambulance ride. She did, then spent the next 15 days touch-and-go in intensive care — awakened every two hours so she didn't slip into a coma.
Casey Kotchman was on a road trip to New York, but hopped a flight to Florida and took a two-week bereavement leave. He came back and finished the final month, but his numbers have never returned to the highs experienced before the trade from the Los Angeles Angels.
"I don't know that anything can be pinpointed on one thing," Kotchman told reporters at Safeco Field on Thursday after being dealt to Seattle by Boston in exchange for utility player Bill Hall, cash and a player to be named. "The numbers are what they are and I'm obviously looking to improve upon them, as every player is."
Kotchman's mother recovered from her ordeal and convinced her son to leave the hospital and return to his team. His father, Tom, now in his third decade as a minor-league manager in the Angels' system, said it was tough for his son to return to the Braves.
"It's going to do something to a person, whether it's your mother or your wife," he said. "When the surgeon tells you your mom has a 33 percent chance of living and she's never been sick a day in her life, it's a numbing feeling."
Sue Kotchman has been told there's almost no chance of a recurrence of what happened, but she had to retire to ease stress. She now also gets fatigued a lot quicker, one of the side effects of her condition.
Kotchman's sister, Christal, a junior-college softball player, wound up leaving school for the fall semester to stay with her family. Casey joined them in the offseason, and after a trying 2009 campaign with Atlanta and later Boston, spent much of this winter at his parents' home near his residence in Tampa, Fla.
He was there Tuesday night when news of the trade came down.
"We're all pretty close," his father said.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Thursday that he still has high hopes for Kotchman, 26, a former first-round pick, despite his recent offensive downturn. Kotchman hit .296 in 2007, but saw that fall to .272 and then .268 the next two years.
But his on-base-plus-slugging percentage tells a bigger story.
Kotchman fell from a career-high .839 in 2007, to .738 in 2008 and .721 last year. Those numbers don't resemble a first baseman, even one with Kotchman's valuable defensive skills.
But Zduriencik noted that Kotchman has never struck out more than 43 times in any season, something that bodes well for a possible rebound.
Zduriencik didn't rule out a return of former first baseman Russell Branyan, but that seems unlikely given the uncertainty of his injured back. Seattle's GM wouldn't say whether the Mariners will add any new players before spring training.
"We'll see," he said. "Our ears are always open. We did our homework. We did a lot of work on a lot of players. We really left no stone unturned. But at the end of the day, for some of the things we were looking for, with this acquisition right here — and then you look at (Chone) Figgins and everything else we have on our ballclub, and Jack Wilson being healthy — this could really be a fun club to watch defensively."
Kotchman said he has had fun watching the Mariners build their team from afar. Now he's excited to contribute to the project himself.
"I think as a player, when you're competing, you've always got stuff that you've got to prove," he said. "That's what you play the games for. Talking about it doesn't do you any good. You've got to go out there and do it."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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