The Seattle Mariners are hopeful that their promising Minor League pipeline will boost the big league club in the near future. In the meantime, players at their alternate training site in Tacoma are aiming to make a difference in society at large.
With the most Black players on the roster of any Major League team, the Mariners have worked to create a culture of empathy, education and acceptance around issues of social justice. That effort has carried through to the team's summer camp at Cheney Stadium. While players there focused on honing their skills and staying in shape in case of a big league callup, they've also come together to discuss systemic racism, police brutality and the country's current climate around civil rights.
Inspired to create their own call to action, Minor League catching coordinator Dan Wilson, director of player development Andy McKay and the players came up with a plan.
Working with the front office of the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, Mariners staff and prospects began reading pertinent and age-appropriate books to area elementary school classes via Zoom calls. Afterward, there's a dialogue about the material as players pose questions and explore those raised by students.
The idea was spearheaded by Wilson, whose wife, Annie, is a teacher and reading specialist with the Seattle Public School District.
"We were hoping to get the guys involved in community service, but it's a little tricky with COVID-19 and not being able to interact with people as much," Wilson said. "With Zoom calls and the virtual education that is going on right now, we thought maybe these guys could be able to read a book to a class virtually.
"The Mariners and the priority they've put on standing up for racial equity and social justice, the two of those things went hand in hand with this idea."
For McKay, the project combined opportunity and importance, along with a chance for the organization to stand up for its beliefs.
"You've got millions of kids at home right now," he said. "This creates more of an academic type of learning opportunity as well as addressing a subject matter that is difficult. I think we have a chance to do some wonderful work here."
Soon after the idea was conceived, Wilson and McKay reached out to the Rainiers community relations department and the project took off.
"We've always been very active with community service at all levels," McKay said. "Obviously, the Rainiers have been a longtime partner of ours and there are quite a few programs that we've participated in. ... Now we're using the Rainiers' connections to their school districts."
Tacoma oversees the production legwork, organizing the readings and supporting the technology.
"The Rainiers have been unbelievable about getting all this done," Wilson said. "We really appreciate their commitment to it. They've been an incredible partner."
Staff and players jumped on board as soon as they heard about the project. Wilson put out a sign-up sheet and was blown away by the response.
"Their willingness to do it was inspirational," he said. "These books are about being able to look past race, look past skin color and understanding a person's individual story. A lot of that resonated with these guys."
For Taylor Trammell, the reaction and support were a testament of the people within his new organization. Recently acquired in a trade with San Diego, Trammell has been especially vocal about his experiences as a Black Minor League player. The Mariners' fourth-ranked prospect has been impressed with the camaraderie among his new teammates.
"These guys within this organization speak up, and it's not just the Black players," Trammell said. "There are guys I've talked to, multiple guys, who are wanting to understand what goes on in this world that they just don't know. I thought that was one of the most amazing parts of being with this organization."
Soon after the trade, the 23-year-old was asked if he'd like to be a part of the project.
"When I got a chance to do it, I didn't bat an eye," he said. "I was honored."
Trammell was assigned the book "Skin Again" by Bell Hooks. Although the selection was random, the book and the reading session moved him.
"[The book] is pretty much talking about loving the skin that you're in," he said. "I have a darker complexion, and growing up, I'll be the first to say I didn't like being Black. ... I struggled with that.
"I'm from Georgia. There would be 90 percent humidity and 95 degrees some days and we're playing in tournaments. I would wear hoodies just to not get darker. I would wear long sleeve shirts just so people wouldn't make fun of me. I don't want a kid who looks like me to go through that."
While the primary objective of reading was to inspire and educate children, the book reaffirmed Trammell's beliefs.
"That's one of the things I liked about that book," he said. "It was more about being true to who you are and loving who you are. Also, it's teaching other people that, yeah, people are different than you. Love them. That is what is unique and beautiful about the world. Everybody is different."
Although conversations regarding race can be difficult, from Wilson's perspective, the simplicity of children's books helps to relieve that.
"I think sometimes with children's books, they have such a simple way of putting things that it can be a profound message," he said.
"The importance here is to change the narratives that are out there. That's a big part of it. Another big part is just educating people on the idea of social injustice and racial inequity, and what that means and what that looks like. Anytime we can help to educate, I think that's important as well."
The Mariners recently wrapped up workouts at Cheney Stadium, but they're optimistic that this is just the beginning.
"The hope is that the program will grow though Tacoma schools, and as our players go home that this is something we can continue for a while," McKay said. "All [the players] need is their phone or an iPad or computer to do a Zoom call. I think we can handle as many requests as we get."
Meanwhile, McKay noted that standing against racism and injustice will remain one of the Mariners' core principles.
"Our organization as a whole has made it very clear how we feel," he said. "The organization has created a culture around empowering us to do things that we feel strongly about. I think we've done a good job of supporting each other and not politicizing this issue.
"This is not a political issue. This is human rights issue."
Trammell also hopes the Mariners can help create a narrative that leads to substantial conversation and change. He's already encouraged by it.
"Love always drowns out hate," he said. "That is what is true to me right now. I'm looking at so many people who are looking at me and saying, 'Hey, we want to help. We don't want this to be a trend or a phase. We want this to be who we are. This is what we want baseball to be.'"
By banding together, the Mariners, the Rainiers and the city of Tacoma are helping make that a reality -- one book at a time.
Katie Woo is an editorial producer for Minor League Baseball. Follow her on twitter at @katiejwoo.