We Need You, Eric Byrnes

The other day I happened to be watching the Mariners play in Chicago when a White Sox hitter sent a deep fly ball to left field.

The screaming liner was headed towards the corner, hooking towards the foul line, when left fielder Eric Byrnes came hustling over and made a last-ditch effort to secure the flying object by diving face first into the warning track.

He fell just short of his target, but no matter. In this case, it was the effort that told the story.

That Byrnes was able to pick himself up in one piece was a victory in and of itself. The double that resulted in the aftermath of the play was barely worth a second thought.

Eric Byrnes is 34 years old. His major league career dates back to 2000, when he appeared in 10 games with the Oakland Athletics as a late-season callup.

After spending the better part of the decade as a journeyman outfielder, his professional life reached its apex in 2007 when, as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Byrnes posted career bests in batting average (.286), RBI (83), stolen bases (50), hits (179), runs (103), and walks (57). He also belted 21 home runs and recorded an OPS of .813.

Three years since that breakout season, Byrnes is a shell of his former self where stats are concerned. These days, the Mariners’ fourth outfielder is batting just .111 (three hits in 27 at-bats), has an OPS of .458, and has as many home runs and RBI as I do (zero).

There are some positive signs amongst those figures, however.

For instance, two of Byrnes’ three hits are doubles.

For another, the right-handed hitter has as many walks as strikeouts (six).

And for having been on base so few times, Byrnes still has one stolen base to his credit. That said, it’s apparent that there is still significant room for improvement.

Of any player on the team’s current 25-man roster, Byrnes might deserve the opportunity to improve those statistics more than anyone else.

The former UCLA Bruin might be 34 years of age, but he plays like a teenager hopped up on Red Bull and hormones. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez might be Death To Flying Things, but if last week’s warning track dive was any indication, Byrnes is well on his way to earning himself a moniker of his own: Death Because Of Flying Things. Quite simply, there is no other individual willing to sacrifice himself for the team the way Byrnes does.

It can be hard to appreciate what, exactly, a lightly-used veteran backup brings to the table. The future is limited for a guy like that. The talent is there, but it’s often waning. There’s usually someone pushing the guy on the bench or in the minors for his role.

Byrnes is not unique in this way.

In addition to the fading horizon and the eroding skill set, younger players like Matt Tuiasosopo and Michael Saunders have experience in left field and could eventually claim Byrnes’ job. But for now, at least, the show still belongs to the inimitable Mr. Byrnes.

If there’s anything this team really needs right now, it’s the impassioned spirit of their floppy-haired reserve outfielder. Not to imply that these Mariners lack heart, but it never hurts to have a teammate that will always give the proverbial 110-percent. Byrnes clearly does that.

He might not be able to hit 20-plus home runs, as he’s done in the past. Nor will he be able to record 50 stolen bases as was the case three years ago. He may even have trouble pushing that batting average near his career mark of .259. Yet even in spite of all that, Byrnes deserves the chance to keep proving himself more and more each day.

There may be better players out there, but there’s no one quite like Eric Byrnes. We need him.

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