Shed Long decided he would score when he saw the finger point. Over the weekend at Cheney Stadium, he belted a drive deep to left center, saw the ball ricochet off the wall and over an outfielder’s head, back toward the middle of his grass. He put his head down, charged toward third, and peered up only to see Rainiers manager Daren Brown gesturing toward home.
“I looked at Brownie and he pointed home, so I said, ‘OK, I’ve got to go,’ ” Long said.
Long crossed with ease, striding across the plate as the teammates who scored ahead of him and fans cheered the rare event — an inside-the-park grand slam.
“That was definitely my first one,” Long said. “It was a great moment in my career.”
It’s the latest great moment in a breakout season full of them for the 23-year-old utility player, who one day could be a regular in the Seattle Mariners infield.
Long made his MLB debut in May, and has already spent two stints with the Mariners. He’s had a seven-game hitting streak in the majors, and he’s raked for Triple-A Tacoma when he’s been there.
“He’s got a lively way about him, and he’s a fun guy to watch,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently.
His first stretch with Seattle lasted just three games when Long filled in as an injury replacement on a road trip to Boston. He said it felt like a dream.
“All of the work I’ve done in the offseason, in the past, as a kid, in high school every day — quitting football, quitting basketball — now I’m seeing the reason I did that,” he said. “It’s kind of like a reward for all of the work and all of the sacrifices I’ve made in my life.”
His second stint with the Mariners (May 21-June 13) gave Long more of an idea of what it meant to be in the big leagues. He hit safely in 12 of 16 games, slashing at .267/.353/.433 with seven doubles, his first home run, and five RBIs.
It also gave Seattle’s organization a chance to observe a player that could replace Dee Gordon at second base, or Kyle Seager at third, or maybe even the outfield at times.
There were bumpy plays, as with any rookie, and some defensive miscues. Still Servais was impressed with the progress Long made during those three weeks he was with the Mariners, especially considering Long hadn’t played above Double-A until this season, and that he signed out of high school with the Reds in 2013 as a catcher.
“He’s learning a lot,” Servais said. “(Infield coach) Perry Hill keeps a notebook with him on the bench. First coach I’ve seen do that in quite some time. You’ll see guys with charts or whatever, but he actually keeps a notebook, and he’s got a whole page for Shed every night.
“Different things. There’s nuances that come up in the game — how you cover the bases or being in the right position, or anticipating things. Perry is a stickler for the little things, and Shed is getting a crash course on playing second base at the big league level. He’s coming along. I like the improvement he’s made. … He can do a lot of things on a baseball field.”
Long said he and Hill worked on consistency, and cleanly fielding everything that was hit his way.
“We really focused on the fundamentals of successfully fielding the ground balls,” Long said. “I’m just trying to bring that (learning experience) here, and keep it going to where I can get back (to Seattle) and do the same thing.”
When the Mariners returned Long to Tacoma midway through June, Servais noted the club would like to see him continue to progress at second base, more so than any other position.
“He’ll still move around some, but he needs to really continue to develop at second base there going forward,” Servais said. “A lot to like about Shed. … He understands he’s got things to work on, and I thought he took instruction really well. … He’s learning a ton. I’m happy with the way he played, and he’ll be back.”
Long’s field work with Tacoma has been split pretty evenly this season — 20 games at third, 17 at second and 11 in left. While there’s been more of an infield emphasis since he returned to the Rainiers this time, he likes to put in a generous amount of work everywhere.
“I focus on the infield on a daily basis, but I get my work in in the outfield, too, because I want to be able to be wherever they need me,” Long said. “They might want to call and have me in right, have me in center — I just want to be available for wherever they need me, and I want to contribute to the team and do what I need to do to help the team win.”
His attitude doesn’t change based on level. He values his progression just as much with the Rainiers as he does with the Mariners, he said. Since being optioned back, he’s hit .275 (14-for-51), racked up 11 RBIs in 12 games, and has an active six-game hitting streak, including a pair of three-hit games during that stretch.
“It’s just as important as me progressing (with Seattle),” Long said. “It’s still playing baseball, and I’m still trying to get better day by day. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the big leagues or in Triple-A. I’m just trying to be better than I was yesterday.”