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Originally published March 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 14, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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M's out to raise 2 teenie poppers

If you have an achy back or a fading memory or have uttered the phrase "I feel old" anytime in the last year, do not read any further. This isn't going to...

Seattle Times staff reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. — If you have an achy back or a fading memory or have uttered the phrase "I feel old" anytime in the last year, do not read any further. This isn't going to help.

The Mariners started minor-league camp last weekend, and among the baby-faced hopefuls were two infielders born in 1990. That's 1-9-9-0.

It seems like yesterday. Or maybe the day before. The collapse of the Soviet Union. Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. Nelson Mandela released from jail. Germany reunifying. Lou Piniella managing the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series championship.

"Guess I've been around a long time," said Jamie Burke, the M's 35-year-old catcher. "That makes me feel old."

Burke was graduating high school in 1990, a few years ahead of Jarrod Washburn, the Mariners starter Tuesday. And Pedro Grifol, the Mariners' minor-league coordinator of instruction, was playing college baseball at Florida State.

"It doesn't seem that long ago," Grifol said. "But really, I was just a pup."

Sort of like Anthony Phillips, the still-growing middle infielder from South Africa. His birthday? April 11, 1990. He's 16, two birthdays from legal driving age in his home country, so young another player asked his friend if Phillips really belonged in camp — as anything other than a batboy.

In fact, the Mariners asked him for his Social Security number the other day. One problem: He won't get one until he's 18 because he's on a work visa.

Phillips grew up in Bellville, Cape Town, idolizing Ken Griffey Jr. He also played rugby and badminton. He's been here only a week, and he misses the scenic coastal town — "mountains, islands, sea, and the food isn't as fatty," Phillips says — where he grew up.

"My favorite thing is baseball," said Phillips, all of 5 feet 9 and 160 pounds. "I would do anything to make it. I want to be playing in the major leagues by 25, 26. But I can't think about that. That's 10 years from now."

Ah, youth.

Like Carlos Triunfel, another middle infielder a year or two away from facial hair. His birthday? Feb. 27, 1990. He just turned 17, and he's the proud owner of a Honda Accord he purchased with a $1.3 million signing bonus.

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While the Mariners know almost nothing about Phillips, they watched Triunfel play in Instructional League last fall. He plays nothing like a 17-year-old, smashing line drives from gap to gap, forging an impression.

The New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox were among the teams that showed interest in the kid from the Dominican Republic. The Mariners showed more, and so Triunfel left home, left three younger brothers and his family and the house he bought for them.

He wants to make the majors by age 20. Sounds ambitious, until you consider that's three years away.

"They think I can do a lot of things 20-year-olds are doing," he says. "Right now."

That's the advantage for the Mariners. Young players are taught fundamentals. Bad habits are corrected sooner and more easily. They are in the system, away from family and distractions, minds ready to be molded.

"You put four or five years into them," Grifol said. "They're in the system four or five years, and then they're only 21, 22. Some of the guys here show up at 21 at the same stage. So I'm really excited about those two kids."

They are the first players in the organization to be born in 1990. Two kids who never knew the Cold War, never knew West Germany, never knew the terror that was Mike Tyson before he went all crazy. Now doesn't that make you feel old?

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

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