Following two summers of seasoning on the Mississippi River in Clinton, Iowa, Chris Mariscal is back in the Central Valley. The Clovis North High School alum spent his first pro season with the Everett AquaSox in Short-Season Class A before spending the previous two years in Class-A Clinton with the LumberKings. Now in his fourth pro season, Mariscal is back in California with another chance to play in front of his friends and family.
"It's always nice coming over, playing in the Cal League and having my family come and support me when they can," said Mariscal. "It kind of feels like home. I get to go home on the off days sometimes. It's just a blast out here."
Mariscal left the Central Valley in 2014 when the Mariners drafted him out of Fresno State with their 14th round pick. In his first two professional seasons, Mariscal batted just .244 with stops in the Northwest League and Midwest League. Following his first season with the Clinton LumberKings, the Mariners made a change at the top of the Minor League food chain.
Andy McKay took over as the Seattle Mariners' Director of Player Development prior to the 2016 season. It was a hire by Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto that was met with intrigue.
McKay is a mental-skills coach who was hired away from the Rockies where he was the Peak Performance Coordinator. In the Rockies organization, McKay was not trying to bring about peak performance by directly improving any physical attributes. McKay's focus was on the mental side of the game.
Now as the Director of Player Development for Seattle, McKay has had the opportunity to implement a system in the minor leagues to focus on mental development as well as physical development. This system has taken on a title of "The Process."
"The new system is really great. Andy came in and changed the culture. It was a blast going in and playing while implementing that process," Mariscal said of the changes going into his improved 2016 season. "Controlling the zone and actually really focusing on that. I was just focusing on the process every day, taking each day and trying to be there present while not worrying about the future."
Although "The Process" tries to keep players' focus on the steps they need to take to get to the big leagues, rather than the results and numbers on their way to the show, Mariscal's stats did make a jump during the first year under McKay's vision.
With a return to Clinton for the second straight season, Mariscal batted over .300 for the first time in his career. He continued to improve as the season went along, and carried that over to the start of 2017. From August 4, 2016, to April 19, 2017, Mariscal reached base in 39 consecutive games while hitting .359 (51-for-142) with 31 runs scored, eight doubles and three home runs.
"I was definitely eating a lot better and doing a lot of maintenance work. I was taking care of my joints and doing a lot of mobility drills which really helped," Mariscal expanded on his success in 2016. "[I was] trying to be accountable, taking care of my body more and knowing what kind of player I am; just bringing the professionalism every day."
Although the Mariners have Mariscal focusing on the individual steps to get to the big leagues, the former quarterback of Clovis North High School's football team is not far from a vibrant past.
"It was always baseball [first] but I loved football and I miss it," Mariscal reminisced of his football days with Clovis North. "I will say, I was probably a little short to play quarterback but I had a blast playing on Friday nights. They were probably my most fun memories that I've ever had."
With baseball always the number one priority for Mariscal he was able to make a quick decision on his college commitment.
"I committed pretty early [to Fresno State]. I committed at the end of my sophomore season. I choose Fresno to stay home locally and because of the tradition there," explained Mariscal. "A couple of my high school friends that I played against and played summer ball with were committed [to Fresno State] as well. We all wanted to go to the same college together."
In 2008, that tradition at Fresno State grew to an unexpected height in front of Mariscal's eyes when Fresno State shocked everyone in the college baseball world by becoming the lowest seed ever, in any sport, to win a NCAA national championship.
"When [Fresno State] was in the regionals, I was always listening to them on the radio. Then watching them on TV in Omaha, watching them coming back, the Wunderdogs, it was a blast," said Mariscal, referring to the nickname the Fresno State Bulldogs picked up during their improbable run. "I still talk to some of the guys that were on that team."
So after his childhood in the valley, his Friday night lights in Clovis, his weekend series' in Fresno, his pro debut in the Pacific Northwest, and his two years of growth in the humid Iowa summer, Mariscal is back traveling Highway 99 with a fond eye on the past, his focus off the prize in Seattle and his attention on the process today.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.