PEORIA, Ariz. -- While most Mariners players are just getting to know Lloyd McClendon for the first time this spring, the new skipper goes back with utility man Willie Bloomquist.
Bloomquist was a player on the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League in 2000 in what was one of McClendon's first managerial jobs as he prepared himself for a Major League opportunity.
After his playing career ended in 1995, McClendon became hitting coach with the Pirates from 1997-2000. But he had the bug to manage and he got a shot to skipper a California Fall League team in 1999, and then Peoria in the AFL in 2000, earning his managerial chops the hard way.
It didn't take McClendon long to earn the respect of a hard-nosed young ballplayer named Bloomquist, who was one of several young Mariners prospects on the Peoria squad trying to earn his own way to the Majors after being drafted in the third round by Seattle in 1999.
"He was interviewing for the Pittsburgh Pirates job at the time, so he was kind of back and forth a lot," Bloomquist recalled. "But I remember even in the Fall League games, he'd go out and argue every once in a while with umpires. I was thinking, 'This guy has a little fire in him,' which was pretty cool."
McClendon has since managed in the Majors for five years with the Pirates, worked on Jim Leyland's staff as a coach for eight years and now is back in the managerial saddle with the Mariners this spring. And one of his first moves as a skipper was to encourage general manager Jack Zduriencik to pursue the 36-year-old Bloomquist, who has since played 12 years in the big leagues.
"Willie is ideal for that role," McClendon said. "You talk about veteran players that are tough mentally as well as physically. Not only that, he's the type of guy that makes teammates better, too, because he pushes their expectations. When I took the job, I said we've got to have this guy. Because I knew him and managed him early on in Fall Ball and I knew what kind of character he had and what he brought to the table."
What does McClendon remember of the young Bloomquist, who had played two Minor League seasons in the Mariners system when he was asked to participate in the AFL with many of the top prospects in baseball?
"He was a young kid trying to play baseball and get a degree at the same time," McClendon recalled. "I said, 'I'd like you to play baseball.' I can't remember who the farm director was back then, but we didn't hit it off too good because I had a simple rule. If you don't practice, you don't play. He finally got to practice and then he played.
"I thought at that time he was going to be a big league player. There was no question in my mind. He was a very talented young man. We had some talent on our club, too. Jack Wilson, Juan Uribe, Willie. We had quite a few good players on that team."
Bloomquist finished up his degree in business administration that fall at Arizona State and McClendon took care of his own business as well, getting hired by the Pirates midway through the AFL season.
Since then, the two followed their own paths through Major League Baseball until reuniting this spring.
"It's funny how things go in circles sometimes," McClendon said.
Bloomquist is the ultimate realist when it comes to baseball, however. He knows his history with McClendon means very little when it comes to how things will play out this season.
"That's obviously great that I have his confidence," Bloomquist said. "But for me, it's always about what you do between the lines. If I go out and do what I'm capable of on the field, then we shouldn't have any issues. But if I'm going out and stinking it up, then obviously the fact of him liking me isn't going to help me too much. It's up to me to go out and perform."
Bloomquist says McClendon is a manager who speaks his mind with players, but also gives them latitude to show what they can do if they've earned his trust.
"He's a guy that will give you enough leeway because he expects you to do things right until you show him you can't do it right," Bloomquist said. "Then he'll get a little fired up, I guess, for lack of a better term. That's what I've seen of him. He wants things done the right way and is going to give you the opportunity to show him you can do it the right way, until you show him otherwise."
That direct approach was evident even in McClendon's AFL days, according to Bloomquist.
"He was dealing with Minor League guys at the time," he said. "But yeah, he'd tell guys how he expected things to be done and go do it. And if you didn't, he'd let you know about it. From what I've seen so far, he has a similar approach now where he wants things done a certain way. He's not going to eyewash it and just do drill work over and over and over just for the sake of doing it.
"You go out and do it right and then move on to the next thing. He expects you to do things the veteran way and he'll give you the opportunity to do that. And as long as you show him you can, no problems."
And for McClendon, those early AFL days did more than just introduce him to Bloomquist. Ultimately, that job helped convince him that he really did want to pursue a career as a manager.
"Probably more than anything, it just gave me the conviction that this was what I wanted to do," McClendon said. "It was very enjoyable working with so many talented young men. You could see the gleam in their eyes and the willingness to learn and want to learn. It was a pretty good experience."