SEATTLE -- The Mariners may be on the road, but Safeco Field has still seen plenty of action the past couple days. With the Mariners in Minnesota to play the Twins, talented high school players from the West Coast took over the field to take part in the third annual Mariners Cup. "We have a first class facility in Safeco Field ... and Bob Fontaine, our scouting director, when he came on board, noticed Safeco Field, noticed that we ran a scout team, and he said, 'Why don't we use Safeco Field as the venue and invite some teams to come up that are run by their particular scouting departments?'" said Jim Fitzgerald, Mariners Cup director and Northwest area scout.
"They could wear big league uniforms, and these high school kids for three days could get a taste of what life is like in the big leagues." The Mariners had two scout teams (the Northwest Mariners and the USA Mariners), while the San Francisco Giants also brought a scout team up with players from Northern California. Over the course of three days, each team (composed of incoming seniors in high school) played four games. The two games on Wednesday were held at Everett Memorial Stadium -- home of the Class A AquaSox -- while the remaining four contests on Thursday and Friday were played at Safeco. The Giants team took the 2008 Mariners Cup with a record of 2-1-1. The two Mariners teams were coached by Mariners scouting staff members, while the Giants scouting staff coached their team. Former Mariners player Rich Amaral coached the USA Mariners squad with his son, Beau, a member of the team. The USA Mariners club was composed mostly of Southern California players, since the Mariners run a scout team down there, too. The PA announcer, video scoreboard and most other normal aspects of Safeco field were in full operation for the event, and the teams wore the Major League uniforms of their respective clubs. Fitzgerald said the Mariners Cup is a very competitive affair, as the winning team from the three days had its name engraved on the cup that's displayed in the lobby at Safeco Field. He also said a fourth team will probably be added for next year's Cup. "You get a competitive feeling, unlike some of the showcases where guys just go in and pitch their two innings or get their four at-bats, and no one keeps score," Fitzgerald said. "This has that competitive feel to it where the Giants want to get their name on the cup, and the Northwest team wants to keep it in the Northwest, so ... you get guys stealing bases, bunting, hitting and running." On Wednesday, the Northwest Mariners team tied the Giants at 10, and then proceeded to tie the USA Mariners, 2-2. On Thursday at Safeco, the Giants beat the USA Mariners 3-2, and then defeated the Northwest Mariners 5-4. On Friday, the USA Mariners shut out the Giants 3-0 and tied with the Northwest Mariners, 3-3. The Mariners scout team has been in existence long before the Cup, and the Northwest Select team has some notable alumni, such as Grady Sizemore, Jeremy Bonderman and Jacoby Ellsbury. In addition to giving these high-school players a chance to play in a big league stadium, it provided scouts a chance to look at the next class of prospects. Since 2000, 93 players from the Mariners Northwest Select team have had their names called in the First-Year Player Draft. "It's a good time for scouts to get a head start on the 2009 Draft, and we just try to put guys in that are entering their senior year, so they'll be eligible for next year's Draft," Fitzgerald said. Wood bats are used in the Cup to give it an authentic Major League feel, and players warm up in the bullpens and take on-field batting practice. "The best feeling I get is when I escort the kids onto the field for the first time, and seeing their eyes, and watching the parents sit in the stands and seeing their kid wear a Mariners, or a San Francisco Giants uniform. And they look like big leaguers," Fitzgerald said.
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.