Saunders Impressive in Season Opener

EVERETT, Wash. – The Everett AquaSox ended their 2005 season opener with a fireworks session and some youngsters running around the bases. Unfortunately for the Mariners Short Season Class A affiliate, none of the fireworks came off the bat of the hometown nine, nor did many of the youthful sprints come from the fleet-footed AquaSox lineup.

The Boise Hawks of the Chicago Cubs organization defeated the AquaSox 7-2 last night, spoiling the party for the 4,011 that attended the club's first game of the season.

Despite the loss, Sox outfielder Michael Saunders was happy to get his professional career under way and step out onto the field in an Everett uniform.

"Definitely good to get out there, finally," said Saunders, the M's 11th round draft choice last June. "I've been down in the desert for so long, it's exciting to get out there and play ball. It was something else playing in front of all the fans."

Saunders started in right field for the AquaSox and hit fifth in the lineup, driving a double off the wall in right field in his first career plate appearance.

"I got some jitters out of the way," said the left-handed hitting Saunders of his two-bagger. "I felt real good out there."

The 18-year-old Victoria, B.C. native finished the night 2-for-4 and drove in one of the two AquaSox runs on a single in the sixth. Saunders is looking forward to the season ahead, including a chance to play in front of family, scheduled to attend games on the current five-game home stand.

"They are coming up this weekend," said Saunders. "That will be nice to have them here."

Right field is one of many positions that Saunders has played in his baseball career, including shortstop and third base.

"I was a shortstop until I grew to 6-4," said Saunders. "Then they moved me to third base and that's actually what I got drafted as. But I felt like I wasn't ready to turn pro yet, so I went to junior college at Tallahassee Community College. I played right field and I stayed out there all year and got pretty comfortable out there. I guess the Mariners rethought things and after the draft in '05 they found out they like me anywhere in the outfield."

Saunders doesn't have a preference as to where on the field he plays, as long he's in the lineup.

"As long as I'm playing, I'm happy," he said.

Along with Saunders, right-hander Marwin Vega and 1B/DH Brian Sabatella were the lone bright spots.

Vega started and tossed four impressive frames, allowing just three hits and an earned run, despite picking up the loss. The 18-year-old Colombian featured a good fastball, sitting in the 87-90 mph range and with good movement, a curve ball that he kept away from the middle of the plate, and a quality change-up that was often clocked around the 70-mph mark, nearly 20 mph off the velocity of his fastball.

Vega (0-1, 2.25) struck out four and did not walk a batter.

Sabatella, the M's 9th round draft pick earlier this month, went 1-for-4 with his 1st home run as a professional, a line shot to center field leading off the bottom of the ninth.

The Sox continue their home stand with four more games versus Boise, beginning tonight at 7:05 pm. Left-hander Paul Fagan, the M's 4th rounder in 2003, will take the mound for Everett.

NOTES:
  • Hawks starting catcher Mark Reed is the younger brother of Mariners centerfielder Jeremy Reed. The younger Reed was a fourth rounder in 2004 by the Cubs and is a spitting image of his older brother at the plate. Reed went 2-for-4 with a walk for Boise.
  • M's fourth round pick Justin Thomas pitched a scoreless ninth for Everett in his pro debut. The southpaw did not allow a hit and walked one.

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