One-on-one with Bobby Livingston

Too often lost in the shuffle of top-notch Mariners' pitching prospects is that of LHP Bobby Livingston. Only 21-years-old, the southpaw went 15-7 last year at Mid-A Wisconsin with a 2.73 ERA and was named the Timber Rattlers' Pitcher of the Year. Not bad for a guy who's received very little ink over the years. We caught up with Livingston recently and got to learn a little more about him.

Talk to Bobby Livingston for 10 minutes, and baseball starts to pulse through your bloodstream.

Drawn in by Livingston's passion for the game, you find yourself wanting to be out there on the mound, in his mind, working out of a jam with two outs and runners at the corners.

That's just the way you feel when you chat with Livingston, a 21-year-old left-handed pitcher from Lubbock, Texas and the Seattle Mariners' fourth-round selection in the 2001 June draft. Any way you slice it, the two-year pro loves the game.

It's been that way ever since Livingston picked up a baseball at age eight.

"It just comes really natural," he said recently over the phone in his heavy Texas drawl. "I think it's just my God-given ability."

It's that ability that has allowed Livingston to post terrific numbers in his first two seasons with the M's organization, using a two-seam fastball, a four-seamer, slider and changeup to get the job done.

"My two-seamer has good movement away," he said. "I have a good changeup, good curveball. What helps me the most, though, is my ability to know how to pitch."

Where'd that come from? Again, Livingston credits The Man Upstairs.

At Everett in 2002, his first professional season, he went 6-5 with a 3.02 ERA and had an amazing 76-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last year at Wisconsin, he kept up the eye-popping totals with a 15-7 record, a 2.73 ERA and a 105-to-28 K/BB ratio.

He says his superior control has come naturally, and has never been something he's really had to concentrate on too hard.

"That goes in with the God-given ability," said the 6-foot-3, 193-pound hurler. "I just have a real good feel for the strike zone and a real good feel for my release point."

Thought of as one of the state of Texas' top high school pitching prospects prior to the 2001 draft, many major league teams cooled on Livingston before draft day for two reasons: he had already committed to play collegiately at Texas Tech and he'd seen the velocity on his fastball fall into the 86-87 mph range.

Still seeing a wealth of potential, the Mariners couldn't pass him up in the fourth-round. Livingston's made them proud ever since.

With a fastball that tops out at 90 mph this spring, Livingston gets frustrated when people question, even today, his velocity or refer to him as a soft-tossing southpaw.

"It doesn't matter how hard you throw," he said, repeating himself a time or two. "The best example of that is Jamie Moyer. I think throwing 90-plus is just a bunch of hype."

Believe that theory or not, it'd be hard to argue with a guy who's went 21-12 with 181 strikeouts and 42 walks in his first two seasons of pro ball.

Excited to be nearing the regular season, Livingston says he's had a good time this spring. He plans on soon finding a place to live in Arizona to make his year-round residence, hoping to stay near the team's facilities during the off-season to stay atop his game.

And with a season in frigid Wisconsin now behind him, Livingston says he's glad to have it in the rear-view mirror. Unable to hide his strong feelings for the cold nights in Wisconsin last year as a member of the Timber Rattlers, Livingston said it was at times pretty miserable.

"It was atrocious," he said. "Nobody likes playing in the snow and 30-degree weather."

The 2004 season will lead the left-hander to San Bernardino, Calif., back to the warmth that he was used to growing up in the south. Livingston will begin the year there with Inland Empire, the Mariners' highest Single-A affiliate, doing so with the same manager he had last year at Wisconsin, Daren Brown.

Also there will be pitching coach Dwight Bernard, who spent last season as Milwaukee's Minor League Pitching Coordinator. Livingston has already taking a liking to the 51-year old Illinois-native.

"Dwight seems like he knows what he talks about," said Livingston, who will wear No. 14. "He seems like an old school guy. He's funny.

As the final weeks of Spring Training draw to a close, the Inland Empire 66ers find themselves that much closer to getting the services of one of the organization's finest young arms.

And nobody will be happier to put on a 66ers uniform than Livingston, a fan of the game, a fan of the sun and a fan of the regular season.

"I'm ready to go," he said. "Everybody is ready to go."

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