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McLaren thinks team can go a long way

McLaren thinks Mariners can go a long way

SEATTLE -- The comparisons between John McLaren's first stint with the Mariners and his second are expected, though the new bench coach says there's one obvious difference.

"I think we will win our division," McLaren said Saturday from the team's FanFest event at Safeco Field. "We really had no chance when we arrived here in '93. No chance at all."

McLaren -- who was hired in October to be manager Mike Hargrove's right-hand man -- first arrived in Seattle in the spring of 1993 with manager Lou Piniella. Together, these two were charged with turning around a team that had gone 69-93 under Bill Plummer.

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Oddly enough, the composition of that 1993 team wasn't unlike the makeup of the 2007 Mariners. Piniella and McLaren inherited a handful of established veterans like Randy Johnson and Jay Buhner, with a smattering of young talent like Ken Griffey Jr. and Bret Boone.

But in McLaren's mind, that team -- which went on to win 83 games, 14 more than the previous season -- wasn't nearly as far along developmentally as this current team, closer to winning a division title as this team. And that is not just some pie-in-the-sky optimism, either.

McLaren likes the makeup of this team and thinks it has the potential to go a long way, especially with the number of talented young players in place.

"I like youth ... it gives you energy and some innocence to a degree," McLaren said. "It also pushes the older players, and I love competition. I was brought through the Toronto organization where we pushed younger players and gave them a chance."

McLaren spent last season as an advance scout for Tampa Bay and saw the Mariners on several occasions. He saw a roster brimming with young talent, the likes of Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Felix Hernandez -- a pitcher he said compares favorably or possibly better, than Freddy Garcia early in his career.

The Mariners' abundance of youth was one of the attractions that lured McLaren back to Seattle, as did the opportunity to get back in the dugout after a year away. That said, he still had to bring himself to tell Piniella -- his longtime friend -- that he would not be joining him with the Chicago Cubs.

Piniella made it easy on McLaren by assuring him McLaren was indeed doing the right thing by returning to the place where he spent 11 seasons.

"It was a million pounds of bricks off my shoulders," McLaren said. "He sent me a great card with a note inside. It was very supportive. He knew exactly where I was coming from."

Aside from being part of a team he believes is on the rise, McLaren saw something else in Seattle he hasn't found in any of his other coaching stops during his career -- joy.

"I was here when we opened this stadium, it's such a special place," McLaren said. "The fans have always treated me well. They treat the players well. I just thought that it was a great opportunity I couldn't pass up. I always had in the back of my mind that there's never been a stop like Seattle. Now I get to redo it again."

McLaren's fondest memories in Seattle aren't necessarily tied to any specific victory, but more so the general feeling that came in 1995 when the team won its first division title and earned its first trip to the postseason.

"When I had a bad day, I'd always think about '95," McLaren said of the Mariners' first division title, "and how people would spring to their feet with two outs. I want that to happen again."

He thinks that can happen here, and that it can happen this season.

McLaren said the pieces are in place for winning the division title. Last season, Seattle enjoyed a nine-game spike in victories from the previous season. Based on the personnel, McLaren thinks this team can push even further ahead.

He'll do his part by making suggestions to Hargrove. More importantly, he said, will be his role in the clubhouse, where he'll get the pulse of the team by speaking to individual players.

"I'm a people person," McLaren said. "I can put my arm around somebody or grab 'em by the throat. Whatever it takes."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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