Wedge ready for rebuilding in Seattle

PEORIA, Ariz. — Jody Gerut arrived in Cleveland during Eric Wedge's debut season as a major league manager. Gerut was 25 and eager to please his new skipper, who demanded professionalism and respect for the game.

When Wedge told his players he wanted them to study the game, manage the game with him, Gerut understood the extent to which Wedge — the youngest manager in baseball at the time — was asking his players to learn and watch.

It went far beyond just standing at the top of the dugout steps, leaning on the rail and appearing to pay attention.

"It's not unlike when you're in the ocean and your head is above water. When the game starts, the best players are those who metaphorically put the mask on and look beneath the surface and see that there is a whole other world going on," Gerut explained shortly before he retired in late February. "Eric wants us to live in that underwater world. We're striving to see what is really going on in order to get an edge."

After a year away from the game to refresh himself, Wedge is back on a major league bench — this time in Seattle — again preaching the same principles that put Cleveland within one victory of a World Series appearance in his first stint as a manager at the highest level.

His job description in Seattle isn't unlike what he inherited nearly a decade ago when the Indians made Wedge the youngest manager since 1985. His charge in Cleveland was to take a former playoff franchise, mold young players into pros and bring the Indians back to respectability.

What awaits Wedge in Seattle is remarkably similar, the only difference being perhaps a splash more experience in the Mariners clubhouse.

Nevertheless, what Wedge asks of his club hasn't changed.

He demands high respect. He doesn't want lazy players who don't follow what's happening as the game is unfolding. He's intense, maybe more so than most major league managers, and sticks to a strict regimen.

It's all part of why Cleveland was relatively successful during his seven-year run as the Indians manager, twice winning more than 90 games and barely missing out on a World Series trip in 2007.

"We all love the game, that's why we come back and do it, we have passion for the game, but I don't know, I would say he's got maybe more than anybody, but there are few out there that have more passion for the game than Eric Wedge does," said Seattle bench coach Robby Thompson, who worked with Wedge in Cleveland.

"He takes pride in being a big league manager. He puts it on himself that he is the captain of the ship and he's in charge and the responsibility and it all is on him. He takes it. He feels it's his job to make sure these players understand it. It's not a bunch of hot air. He means it."

But this isn't the same Eric Wedge who managed in Cleveland. He's now 43, with two young children and a mustache that would make "Magnum P.I." jealous. Unlike the 35-year-old who started his first major league season as a manager with the Indians back in 2003, Wedge is now completely comfortable letting his personality show.

The guarded, often bland Wedge that fans and media got to know in Cleveland is gone, replaced by his natural persona, which before was only seen in the clubhouse. Having two small children — his oldest, Ava, turns 5 in April — has provided a different perspective than Wedge had in his first job. It only broadened last year while he was sitting out and spending more time with his family.

"I was 34 years old when I first got that job and you take advice and you try to do the right thing and I was without a doubt much more guarded than I ever would be," Wedge said. "I'm much more open, much more personable, there is quite a bit there. That's my personality. I love life, I like to have a good time. I love this game. I told myself this time around I'm just going to be myself."

It's that personality the Mariners feel lucky to have trying to bring the franchise back to prominence after a decade of insecurity at the top. Wedge is Seattle's seventh interim or permanent manager since Lou Piniella left after the 2002 season.

It's why general manager Jack Zduriencik was insistent on calling Wedge and offering him the job just hours after he left his interview in Seattle. He was scheduled to leave for another interview the next morning and was courted by everyone from Toronto to Chicago to Pittsburgh.

At that point in the process, after a whirlwind of flights and hotel stays, Wedge didn't know what to expect. But he did get a different feel after his trip to Seattle than his other stops.

"Meeting with (chairman) Howard (Lincoln) and (team president) Chuck (Armstrong) and Jack, there was definitely a connection there," Wedge said. "But you don't know what's going to come about and you don't know what they think of you. So when I got that call that Thursday night, I thought it was a courtesy follow up call and it was a lot more than that."

What sold Zduriencik was Wedge's passion and unwavering command that his players follow suit. The 2010 Mariners fell apart amid clubhouse controversy and issues with second-year manager Don Wakamatsu that eventually led to his firing in August.

It was an impression Wedge first left on Zduriencik back in the late 1980s when Wedge was one of the top collegiate baseball players in the country and Zduriencik was a scout. It was backed up by research Zduriencik had done before even bringing Wedge in for his first interview, talking to everyone from his former bosses in Cleveland to guys who managed against Wedge.

Added up, it all fit for Zduriencik, with the hope Wedge can finally bring success back to Seattle.

"When we made up our mind Eric was going to be our manager, Eric was going to be our manager," Zduriencik said.

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