Jack-Of-All-Trades Bloomquist A Natural-Born Ballplayer

JOHN MCGRATH
Tacoma News Tribune

When Willie Bloomquist got his late-September wake-up call to start in left field last year, he responded by promptly waking up the Mariners. Resigned to counting down the dates left on the schedule after the front office failed to trade for a stretch-drive reinforcement, the team finally stopped pouting about what it didn't have and made do with what it did.

And while the impossible push toward a wild-card berth turned out to be a too-little, too-late glimpse of What Coulda Been, Bloomquist's brief performance as an everyday player - 15 hits in 29 at-bats, with four doubles, seven RBI and 10 runs scored - compelled former manager Lou Piniella to second-guess himself.

'I wish,' Piniella said as the long shadows of early fall descended upon Safeco Field, 'I'd have used the kid earlier.'

Bloomquist's smashingly successful audition earned him nothing more than a roster spot for 2003, and until he hit a grand slam and drove in two other runs subbing for ailing third baseman Jeff Cirillo on the eve of the All-Star break, the 25-year-old utility man had the tough task of riding the bench while keeping his legs loose and his mind keen.

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