Sports

Bloomquist gets Royal welcome in Seattle

Willie Bloomquist returned to Seattle in a position he found himself far too often for his liking.

Out of the lineup.

If the 1996 South Kitsap High School graduate had his way, he would be in the lineup every game. But Bloomquist, who signed a two-year contract with the Kansas City Royals on Jan. 9, said he’s happy with his new team.

“They’ve treated me excellent from day one,” he said. “It’s a breath of fresh air here. I enjoy the city, people and I get the chance to play an awful lot.”

Entering Thursday night’s game against Seattle — his first at Safeco Field since leaving the Mariners as a free agent — Bloomquist already had a career-high 342 at-bats. But with the exception of career highs in triples (seven) and home runs (four), his statistics are similar to the parts of seven seasons he played in Seattle. His on-base plus slugging percentage (.654) is almost identical to his lifetime mark (.647).

“The thing he runs into trouble with is trying to do too much,” Kansas City manager Trey Hillman said. “Sometimes he gets a little impatient with himself and swings out of the zone.”

Bloomquist, 31, likely wouldn’t play most days with those statistics in other cities, but Kansas City has been hindered by injuries throughout the year. Right fielder Jose Guillen has been limited to 79 games with various ailments, while Royals’ shortstop position has been a mess. Mike Aviles (.183) and Tony Pena (.098) combined to play 74 games at the position despite batting less than .200.

“His versatility has been huge for us,” Hillman said. “He was our shortstop for over a month and plays all three outfield positions very effectively. I’m not afraid to put him anywhere defensively.”

Bloomquist became the team’s starting shortstop until Kansas City traded a pair of minor-league pitchers to Seattle for Yuniesky Betancourt on July 10. The two were occasional double-play partners with the Mariners when Bloomquist played second base.

“I always ask him for advice because he knows the league better than I do,” Betancourt said through an interpreter. “I’m thankful for having him here.”

Betancourt and Bloomquist had side-by-side lockers at Safeco Field as the visiting clubhouse attendants put the five former Mariners together near Hillman’s office. The others were Guillen, pitcher Gil Meche and catcher Miguel Olivo. The Royals also had infielder Tug Hulett, who briefly played for Seattle last year, on their roster earlier this season.

“It’s always nice to have familiar faces around you,” Bloomquist said.

The cluster of former Mariners haven’t experienced any more success in the heartland than they did on the coast. Kansas City was last in the American League Central Division with a 49-78 record after Thursday’s 8-4 win.

“It takes time to rebuild and get going in the right direction,” Bloomquist said. “We’re hopefully going in a direction where we can put a winning team out there on a yearly basis.”

After playing on the Mariners’ 2003 team that finished 93-69, Bloomquist only experienced one more winning season in Seattle. And after last year’s 61-101 record, the Mariners brought in a new manager (Don Wakamatsu) and general manager (Jack Zduriencik), and Bloomquist said both he and the team were ready for a change.

But he has fond memories of the Northwest, particularly his time at South. Bloomquist guided the Wolves to their only state championship as a quarterback in 1994 and won another in ’96 with the baseball team.

Some who have played the position at South in recent years, such as Tyler Sartor and Brady Steiger, have commented about manning the same position as the hometown legend.

“That’s flattering to hear,” Bloomquist said. “That program was good before me and it’s been good since I left. I feel fortunate to have played there.”

He still owns a house in Issaquah, which he would like to sell, and continues to live in Peoria, Ariz., in the offseason with his wife, Lisa, and daughters, Natalie and Ava. Bloomquist said he was happy to see friends and family in attendance. His brother, Joe, traveled from Montana, where he owns a fly fishing business.

“It will be good to see everyone,” he said. “It’s good to be back.”

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