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Chavez brings smile, speed to Seattle

Chavez brings smile, speed to Seattle

SEATTLE -- A Seattle-based baseball writer approached Endy Chavez in the Mariners clubhouse recently and explained to the veteran outfielder that he had something important to tell him and hoped Chavez wouldn't get mad.

"I just wanted you to know that I'm a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and when you made that catch against Scott Rolen in Game 7 [of the 2006 National League Championship Series], I hated you," the writer said. "But now that I see you every day and you're smiling all the time, I can't possibly hate you."

Chavez, of course, is widely known for that home-run-robbing grab over the left-field wall at Shea Stadium as a member of the Mets. But now that he's a Mariner, having been traded in the multi-player deal that sent J.J. Putz packing from Seattle, he's proving to be quite a catch for his new team.

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"I really like it here," he says, flashing the very smile the writer was referring to. "I'm very comfortable with my teammates, the front office, and I like the city. I think this is a good fit."

He isn't the only one.

Through this season's 13 games, Chavez has seized the majority of the starts in left field and the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He's off to a fast start at the plate and his defense has been stellar as usual.

Through Sunday's game, Chavez was batting .383 with a .442 on-base percentage, five runs scored, one home run, six RBIs, four stolen bases and an American League-leading two bunt base hits.

The Mariners, meanwhile, are leading the AL in sacrifice bunts and bunt base hits and are in first place in the AL West with an 8-5 record.

And Chavez has done it in the outfield, too. He's shown excellent range in tracking down fly balls and a good arm, throwing out Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson, one of the fastest runners in baseball, in a play at the plate on Saturday night.

"He's been a huge catalyst for us," catcher Rob Johnson says. "He's getting it done at the top of the order, making things happen for our offense, he's playing great defense, and he's also a great guy who's a lot of fun to be around.

"He might only be 170 pounds, but he packs a serious punch when it comes to passion for the game."

That passion has played out on the field and off, with Chavez finding himself in the unique position of being a mentor and leader for younger Latin players such as shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and Chavez's countrymen, Venezuelans Jose Lopez and Franklin Gutierrez.

"I feel like I can really teach them a few things," says Chavez, who said he learned the ins and outs of being a big leaguer from Venezuelan stars Melvin Mora and Edgardo Alfonzo while playing alongside them on the Magallanes team in his native country's winter league.

"They pull their own weight, but I think I can tell them about situations in the games, about bunting, how to be ready, how to think about these situations and be ready for whatever happens."

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu has been impressed with Chavez's style of play and spirit.

"The veterans have taken it upon themselves to lead this team, and Endy's right there with those guys, along with Ken Griffey [Jr.], [Mike] Sweeney, [Adrian] Beltre and [Jarrod] Washburn," Wakamatsu says.

"Especially with helping Gutierrez with center field, because Endy's got of a lot of experience there. All of it helps a ballclub get better."

For Chavez, that's what it's all about.

"I want to win," he says. "I've been on a winning team, a very good team, and I've been to the playoffs. I don't know if this is something that I can share with the guys now, because we have a long way to go, but I believe we have a good team and we have a chance to play [in the postseason].

"We have to keep doing things the right way and it will pay off."

So far, it's working.

And while Chavez is in a different league now and far removed from the New York spotlight that shined brightly on him as a Met, he still can't go very far without being identified as the man who made one of the great catches in October baseball history.

In fact, that 2006 ice-cream-cone-style grab was one of the first things Chavez's new Seattle teammates wanted to talk about when he first arrived on the scene in Peoria, Ariz., for Spring Training.

"Oh yeah, they asked about it right away," he says with yet another smile.

"They like that catch very much."

Doug Miller 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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