Former teammates surprised by Boone retirement

Updated: March 2, 2006, 4:20 AM ET
Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Even though many of Bret Boone's former teammates on the Seattle Mariners were still in constant telephone contact with him, his decision to retire caught them off guard.

"I talk to him every day," first baseman Richie Sexson said. "He's one of my better friends in the game. I talked to him two days ago and everything was fine. He was hitting the ball the other way. It felt like he was doing some of the things he used to do."

Designated for assignment and then traded by the Mariners to Minnesota last July, Boone ended his 14-year major league career Wednesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., at the New York Mets' spring training camp.

In his last 74 games with the Mariners, he hit .231 with seven homers and 34 RBIss. He hit .221 in 88 games with the Mariners and the Twins last season, then signed a minor league contract with the Mets.

"I was a little bit surprised only because I talked to him about a week ago and it seemed like he was pretty excited for spring and everything to get going," utilityman Willie Bloomquist said.

"Wow, I had no idea," left fielder Raul Ibanez said. "This is a shock. This really takes me by surprise. I thought he had a lot of baseball left in him."

In Seattle, where Boone still has a home, he became a fan favorite after helping the Mariners tie a major league record with 116 victories in 2001.

Boone also was a favorite in the Mariners' clubhouse and was fondly remembered by some of his ex-teammates. Bloomquist said Boone taught him a lot about playing hard and playing at less than 100 percent.

"He was really a professional and he taught me a lot about the game that isn't written out anywhere," Bloomquist said. "Just being around him taught me how to go about my business."

Sexson, who led the Mariners with 39 homers and 121 RBIss in his first season in Seattle in 2005, said Boone, 37, didn't want to play any longer because he wasn't as good as he used to be.

"I think it was the right one," Sexson said. "I think if deep down inside, he didn't feel like he could be the player that he was. I wish him the best."

Boone's self-confidence was admired by former teammates. He liked to talk about himself in the third person.

Closer Eddie Guardado remembered how, in 2003, Boone reached down to golf a low split-fingered fastball from Guardado, then with the Minnesota Twins, for a double. Both made the American League All-Star team that year and Guardado asked him how he managed to reach the low pitch.

"He told me, 'Boone gets those sometimes," Guardado said with a laugh.

Boone hit 143 of his 252 career homers with the Mariners, one of which was remembered by Ibanez, who was playing for the Kansas City Royals in a game in Seattle.

"He hit a home run off Paul Byrd to right-center field when we were playing against him," Ibanez said. "It's the farthest opposite-field home run I've ever seen a right-handed hitter hit at Safeco Field. It probably went 15 rows back. He did the bat flip and the whole thing. I got to second base later and he told me that was the first hit he ever had off Byrd."

As it turned out, the Mariners made the right decision by designating Boone for assignment last season.

"It's a sad day, but he should be proud," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He had a career a lot of people would have loved to have had. He's a smart guy with a lot of pride. It's never an easy decision."<

Notes: RHP Felix Hernandez, 19, is scheduled to start and pitch one inning when the Mariners open their spring training season Thursday with their annual exhibition charity game against the San Diego Padres. Hernandez is scheduled to be the No. 5 starter for the Mariners this season. ... 3B Adrian Beltre leaves on Thursday for Orlando, Fla., to play with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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