By Mike London
SALISBURY — At 34, Kyle Seager is one of the world’s youngest retirees, but the former Seattle Mariners third baseman sounds like he’s ready to embrace it.
There were some career numbers out there to pursue — 300 homers and 1,000 RBIs — monumental numbers that looked very attainable with two or three more MLB seasons, but he’s never been obsessed with stats. He figures it’s time to chase the kids, rather than the numbers.
“It’s a full day with our kids every day,” Seager said with a laugh. “I don’t know how my wife (Julie) handled it without me for so long. And we’ve got a farm, with animals. I won’t get bored.”
There are three young Seagers now. Crue is an 8-year-old who probably has the best swing at Rockwell Elementary School. Audrey, 5, and Emelyn, 3, are in pre-school.
Seattle made a strong run at a wild-card spot with a 90-72 record, but the Mariners fell short of the playoffs, as they did in all of Seager’s 11 seasons. The 2021 season ended on Sunday, Oct. 3, and the Seagers were headed back to North Carolina shortly after that.
“Two or three days after the season, we were back here,” Seager said. “And we don’t intend to ever leave. This is home now.”
That last game against the Los Angeles Angels was emotional. Seager knew it would be his last game with the Mariners. So did the Mariners, who had decided not to exercise the option year on his contact.
His son threw out the first pitch.
Seager was taken out of the game in the ninth inning, so fans could say goodbye and thank you for 11 seasons. The Mariners presented him with third base. He had tears streaming. So did many of his teammates.
What Seager didn’t know that night, for certain, was that it would be his final MLB game.
He was expected to find a new home and sign a free-agent contract. After all, he’d just achieved career highs for homers with 35 and RBIs with 101. He takes care of himself, and his exit velocities were the highest of his career. He wasn’t exactly over the hill.
“My wife made me promise to take some time after the season to make a decision on whether to retire or find another team and not to make a hasty decision while I was still worn down from the grind of a long season,” Seager said. “But with each passing day, it became clearer to me that it was the right time to walk away. Physically, I know I could have played for two or three more years. But I’m just ready to be home now, to be with my family. I’ve been on the road long enough. Priorities change.”
The Texas Rangers, who signed Kyle’s incredibly talented younger brother, Corey, to an astronomical contract, would have been the most intriguing destination for Kyle to chase after that elusive playoff berth. He loves Texas and he always hit better in Texas than he did anywhere, but he was able to say no thanks to the Rangers and every team that checked in with him.
“There were some nice offers, and I was flattered and humbled by the calls that I got from interested teams,” Seager said. “I did talk to several teams. But I know I’ve made the right decision.”
Seager doesn’t have a Twitter account. He’s never been one to get caught up in social media drama. Julie Seager made the retirement announcement for her husband shortly after Christmas.
“Today I’m announcing my retirement from Major League Baseball. Thank you to all of my family, friends and fans for following me throughout my career. It’s been a wonderful ride but I am unbelievably excited for the next chapter of my life.”
At least he won’t have to lose sleep over baseball’s management/labor disputes.
Local baseball fans became aware of Seager as far back as 2003. The summer after his freshman year at Northwest Cabarrus, he made an impression on everyone for the Kannapolis American Legion team. In high school ball, he got better every year as a solid shortstop and led coach Joe Hubbard’s Northwest Cabarrus team to a runner-up finish in 3A in 2005.
He wasn’t considered physically gifted as far as size, strength, speed or arm strength, but he was a lefty hitter with extraordinarily quick hands and the ability to make consistent hard contact. He signed with the University of North Carolina. He wasn’t drafted after he graduated from high school in 2006.
He had a terrific three-year career at UNC, set records for doubles, put up monster batting averages and made All-America teams. He played on great squads that went to three straight College World Series. He is considered by many to be the best offensive second baseman in Tar Heel history.
He still was never considered the best player on his team and was a third-round pick by the Mariners in 2009 mostly because they’d scouted his celebrated teammate Dustin Ackley so frequently. Seager received a signing bonus of $436,500.
Seager crushed the minor leagues as far as batting average —.345 in 2010 — and he was batting .333 in the minors when the Mariners promoted him to the major league roster in 2011.
When he first arrived in the majors, he was expected to be a utility man who could fill in at second base, shortstop or third base, but his work ethic allowed him to exceed all projections.
By 2012, he was Seattle’s starting third baseman. He stayed in that role the rest of his career.
“I took a long look in the mirror and I realized that if I was going to stick around in the major leagues, it was going to be as a third baseman, so I set out to make myself as valuable as I could be at that position,” Seager said. “I wasn’t that guy who could run and steal bases and hit at the top of the lineup. They put me in the middle, and your job in the middle of the lineup is to drive in runs and hit some homers. Maybe the analytics guys don’t, but I always valued RBIs more than anything.”
Batting average and doubles had always been Seager’s thing, but he traded average for power as the years went by.
“That meant adjustments at the plate and it meant adjustments in my offseason workouts,” Seager said. “I had to transform myself.”
Seager is 6 feet tall. He bulked up from 180 pounds in his early college days to 216 in his final season in the majors. There were fewer singles and more strikeouts, but the homers never stopped. He hit at least 20 longballs in each of his full seasons.
He walloped 242 homers for the Mariners — 86 of them against lefties — and drove in 807 runs. He played in 1,480 games, starting 1,412 of them at third base. He ranks fourth in franchise history in games, hits, home runs and RBIs.
In all of MLB history, only 183 players have played at least 10 seasons and played for only one team. Seager is one of those 183.
His 35 homers in 2021 current rank him second all-time for the most by a player in his final season. Only David Ortiz, who smacked 38 in 2016, hit more in his farewell tour in MLB.
Seager won a Gold Glove in 2014, made the All-Star team in 2014 and received MVP votes in 2014 and 2016.
After that strong 2014 season, the Mariners signed Seager to a seven-year contract for $100 million. They got their money’s worth.
It was a productive career and a durable one. In eight of his 11 seasons, he played in 154 or more games.
“Looking back, that’s what I’m proudest of,” Seager said. “Just the consistency. Going to work every day. Competing every day for so many years and giving it all I had every day.”
He says his biggest thrill in the big leagues wasn’t a home run. It was playing third base when Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game for the Mariners in 2012.
“I was also part of quite a few no-hitters,” Seager said. “Although some of those no-hitters I was on the wrong side of.”
He saved one no-hitter, making a diving stop behind James Paxton in Toronto in 2018. Paxton became the first Canadian pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Canada.
There were some memorable nights, such as his three-homer game against the Detroit Tigers in 2019.
Kyle and Corey played against each other for the first time in the big leagues in August 2020 — and both brothers hit a home run.
Seager is convinced that playing four years of high school basketball (he topped 1,000 points for Northwest Cabarrus) and several years of soccer helped him a lot more than it hindered him as far as making it to the top level of baseball.
Sports specialization — to do it or not do it — is a subject he doesn’t mind getting on a rant about.
“Playing those other sports wasn’t just a break from baseball, it made me a better athlete, made me use difference muscles and forced me to learn how to make adjustments,” Seager said. “It wasn’t much fun trying to guard Steph Curry or Ish Smith on a basketball court, but those nights helped me in the long run. You’re not going to be successful in the big leagues if you can’t make adjustments.”
Maybe you’ll get to see Crue Seager playing for East Rowan in about seven years.
And not just baseball.
“He’s on teams now, and I just want him to have fun playing sports the way that I did,” Seager said. “You’ll see us around in Salisbury. We hit the Chick-fil-A pretty hard.”