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Originally published March 13, 2013 at 8:16 PM | Page modified March 13, 2013 at 9:49 PM

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Talking buffalo has star role in new M's TV ads

Old favorite Larry Bernandez has been benched in the Mariners' 2013 TV ads, replaced by new bits including a live bison.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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PEORIA, Ariz. — Move over, Larry Bernandez. Step right up, Mr. Buffalo.

The Mariners unveiled their 2013 lineup of television commercials on Wednesday, a series of somewhat benign spots compared to recent years and potentially more notable for an absence than any truly iconic segments.

Gone from the lineup of six ads under a new "True to the Blue" tagline is any reference to the Bernandez character, played two years ago by Felix Hernandez. The character was brought back last year in the form of a sock puppet, an homage to the character's popularity and the fan look-alikes it spawns at Safeco Field whenever the Mariners' ace takes the mound.

Instead, this year's best spot might involve a nonhuman. In the Wise Ol' Buffalo commercial, an actual 2,600-pound American bison comes on the field and has a conversation with shortstop Brendan Ryan.

Hernandez still has his own spot, minus the Bernandez character. Instead, he touts something called "King Felix's High Heat" hot sauce in a commercial titled "Hottest Thing in Town".

"We had a couple of ideas for a Bernandez commercial," said Kevin Martinez, Mariners vice-president of marketing. "But in the end, we thought the hot sauce spot was better."

Martinez said no decision has been made to retire the Bernandez character permanently. But he added the team also doesn't want to risk "jumping the shark" by going the Bernandez route too often.

The buffalo commercial looks to be a hit. The team rented the showbiz bison, Harvey Wallbanger Jr., to stand with shortstop Ryan on the field for two hours of filming.

The plotline to the commercial is that the buffalo can speak English only after eating some special cookies prepared by Ryan — or at least, that's what Ryan thinks. It turns out the buffalo is only relaying the voice of Tom Wilhelmsen through a speaker the Mariners closer has secretly planted on the animal.

Wilhelmsen's goal is to fool Ryan into continuously baking cookies that the team then eats on their own.

Ryan's acting seems the best of any of the nine players in the six spots, and has you believing he thinks it's quite normal to have an on-field conversation with a buffalo. Fans who've seen how offbeat and funny Ryan can be during interviews will likely see him coming off as genuine and less rehearsed in the ad.

Wilhelmsen is nearly up there with him, acting-wise. That isn't much of a surprise given his all-around loose nature and ability to improvise.

Dustin Ackley has a spot titled "Ackley Fan Mail" in which he has to deal with fans making special requests of him. Michael Morse, Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager share a spot called "Focused and Relaxed" in which they discuss clothing items needed to find inner peace and balance on the field.

Raul Ibanez makes a quick appearance in a spot titled "One Wish" that mainly features a non-player actor. Another non-player spot called "The Lineup" is about a fan who names his children after Mariners players.

The commercials are again a collaboration between the Mariners and the Seattle-based Copacino+Fujikado ad agency. They are directed by Ron Gross of Mercer Island-based Blue Goose Productions.

Martinez said the "True to the Blue" tagline is "about the connection fans have to the past, present and future of Mariners baseball. It's a way to say, 'I'm a Mariners fan.' "

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @gbakermariners. Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners.

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