December 5, 2002

Winn Rides In On Whirlwind As New M's Left Fielder

Dec. 5, 2002

By Larry Stone
Seattle Times

Randy Winn breezed through Seattle this past weekend with his new wife, still spinning from the hectic turn his life has taken since last season ended.

On Oct. 29, Winn had the rare distinction of being traded for a manager, sent to the Mariners as compensation for Lou Piniella's hiring by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Five days later, Winn and Blessings Robertson were married in Santa Clara, Calif., where they had met 10 years ago when both attended Santa Clara University.

And Winn thought last winter was eventful. All he did then was sink a half-court shot as a randomly selected contestant at halftime of a Los Angeles Clippers game, winning a Mitsubishi Lancer that he eventually gave to his mother.

"I really haven't had a whole lot of time to think about the trade," he said. "When it happened, we were finishing up our wedding planning and all the last-minute details. It's only lately I've had time to sit down and think about it."

During an informal press gathering yesterday at Safeco Field, Winn said that he's confident it's going to be happily ever after, both in his matrimonial and Mariners life. He will be the latest player to attempt to fill the M's black hole in left field.

"It's definitely exciting going to a team that's won 90-something games - or over 90-something - the last few years, and is challenging for a playoff spot," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to it."

The Devil Rays, by contrast, lost 106 games last year, with Winn's emergence as an All-Star center fielder one of their few highlights. Not bad for a guy who, on the first day of spring training, had gone into Manager Hal McRae's office to clarify his status, and was hit with a dose of realism.

"What do you see for me?" Winn asked McRae.

"We're looking for a center fielder, but I think you're more suited to be a part-time player - 350 at-bats," McRae replied.

"Well, I think I can start."

"OK, you have an opportunity to show me what you can do."

Winn beat out Troy O'Leary and Jason Tyner in spring training for the starting job, represented the Devil Rays at the All-Star Game in Milwaukee, and wound up hitting .298 in 607 at-bats, with 14 homers, 75 runs batted in and 27 stolen bases.

"I was happy I went in (to McRae)," Winn said yesterday. "There wasn't any shouting matches, no yelling. We just sat down and talked it out. Hal's been nothing but honest and straightforward with me. We had a great relationship."

Winn has made a habit of proving doubters wrong throughout his athletic career. He was barely recruited out of San Ramon Valley High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, though he was accepted by the Air Force Academy, which wanted him to play basketball.

"I went there on a recruiting trip, and that was interesting, to say the least," he said. "The thing that really sealed I wasn't going there was talking to all the cadets. They told me the stories - no TV, only a certain number of times you could go off campus - and I decided it might not be the place for me."

Winn eventually decided to attend Santa Clara, where he made both the basketball and baseball teams as a walk-on. During his redshirt freshman year in 1993, he was in street clothes on the bench when the Broncos stunned No. 2 seed Arizona in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, led by current Dallas Mavericks guard Steve Nash, still a good friend.

Winn also played in the NCAA baseball tournament at Santa Clara, and quit basketball after his second year. He heeded the advice of a scout he had met in his senior year in high school, who told him he could make a lot of money if he committed to baseball.

"Before that, I never knew how good I was," he said. "I just played."

Drafted in the third round by the Florida Marlins in 1995, he played just three seasons in their system, but got a key piece of advice from the Marlins' minor-league director (and later manager), John Boles.

After Winn hit .315 in rookie ball in '95, Boles suggested to Winn he learn to hit left-handed to bolster his career. Converting to switch-hitting, Winn's average promptly dropped to .270 the next year.

"For about half the season, I wanted to quit (switch-hitting), and there's been a lot of days since I've wanted to quit," he said. "It's probably the toughest thing I've done in sports. It was very frustrating. I went from a season where I could hit, to where I couldn't hit a fastball down the middle."

The next pivotal moment for Winn came when the Devil Rays selected him in the expansion draft in '98, which presented a much clearer path to the big leagues. He split time between the minors and majors for three years before sticking for good in 2001.

"I've never been the huge recruit, never the superstar on any team, in either sport, even in the minor leagues," he said. "I wasn't the No. 1 pick or the No. 1 prospect or anything like that. I've had to work for what I've got."

And now he's ready to work for the Mariners, with teammates he doesn't know (except for a brief elevator encounter with Ichiro at the All-Star Game) and a manager he has never met.

"I'm really interested, and a little bit anxious, to meet my new teammates, because I haven't really met the guys," he said. "Spring training is going to be fun. I'm ready to get it going."