SEATTLE -- He may have been the most accurate righty to step foot in the Kingdome and Safeco Field, and yet Rick Kaminski never wore a Mariners uniform.
Kaminski, known to Seattle fans as simply "The Peanut Man," passed away Wednesday at the Evergreen Medical Center due to a large brain hemorrhage, said his partner, Candi Mindt-Keener. He was 67 years old.
"On behalf of everyone at the Seattle Mariners, our deepest sympathies go out to Rick Kaminski's partner, Candi, his family, his many friends, and fans," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said in a statement. "Rick loved what he did and the fans loved him for it. He will be sorely missed at Safeco Field as well as Peoria, Ariz., where he got in his Spring Training along with everyone else."
"The Peanut Man" was famous among the Mariners faithful for his lovable personality and for having perfected the art of tossing peanut bags. Whether it was behind his back, over the shoulder or line drives, Kaminski had it down to a science.
And it wasn't just his throwing skills that made him a fan favorite since 1977. Kaminski always seemed to have that smile on his face, and being a vendor was more than just a job.
"It was all about making the people enjoy being there in the stadium and having fun," Mindt-Keener said.
Kaminski, who was also an avid golfer and caddied on the LPGA Tour, was a fixture in the stands from the beginning. The Seattle native was in the printing business and was also studying to be a lawyer, but when jobs became available at the Kingdome in 1977 -- Seattle's first season in the Major Leagues -- he thought being a vendor would be a nice part-time job.
Funny how things work out. Kaminski loved the job from the start -- so much so, in fact, that he decided to keep doing it for 33 more years. Simply put, Mariners games were where Kaminski wanted to be.
For more than three decades, he got to know many fans and eventually had moms and dads come to the park that knew "The Peanut Man," when they were kids growing up.
"He found his love," said Mindt-Keener, who met Kaminski seven years ago in Peoria, Ariz. "He loved going to work each and every day and going down in the stands before the game and seeing all the season-ticket holders and chatting with each one of them. He knew them all by name and they all knew him. He was their biggest fan."
Soon enough, Kaminski's nickname was born because he seemed to master the art of throwing peanut bags to fans and took pride in his accuracy.
"He knew exactly how to line-drive it into someone or how to lob it and have it drop into their lap," Mindt-Keener said. "He knew exactly how to make it work."
His talents became so well known around the Mariners community that during one Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., a fan took stats of how many throws Kaminski had and how many misses. The end result was a 98-percent accuracy mark.
With the tossing talents came a big smile and a love for mentoring. Kaminski would often take the younger vendors under his wing, teaching them how to make the fans feel welcome and enjoy the game, even if it was a blowout.
Fellow vendors weren't the only ones learning lessons from "The Peanut Man." Kaminski had youngsters who had trouble handling his throws and would take the bag back and throw it again until the kids made a successful grab.
"The kids were a big part of it, teaching them how to catch," Mindt-Keener said.
Kaminski had been working at Safeco Field until two weeks ago and "was not going to retire until the Mariners made it to the World Series," Mindt-Kenner said. By Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of fans shared their memories of Kaminski on the "Rick The Peanut Guy" Facebook fan page and ideas such as a Peanut Man bobblehead have already surfaced."
Hundreds of fans shared their memories of Kaminski on the page and ideas such as a Peanut Man bobblehead have already surfaced.
"That's something he always talked about wanting," Mindt-Keener said of the bobblehead.
The Mariners will honor Kaminski with a moment of silence before the national anthem at 6:35 p.m. PT on Friday.
-- Taylor Soper
Wedge: 'Veterans have underachieved all year'
NEW YORK -- Manager Eric Wedge said Wednesday morning that a lack of veteran production has been the biggest problem for his Mariners club as it tailspinned through a losing streak that was at 17 games going into the afternoon's game against the Yankees.
"We've talked about the veterans all year long," Wedge said. "You can't expect the kids to lead you out of this. The veterans have to do this. At best, the veterans have underachieved all year long, with the exception of one or two guys. So that's where we are."
Seattle's first-year manager noted the number of experienced players who opened the season in key roles but have not lived up to expectations, mentioning Ichiro Suzuki, Chone Figgins, Jack Cust and Franklin Gutierrez by name. Infielder Jack Wilson also opened the season in a starting role, but has since lost his place, and Milton Bradley was released completely.
"Look at our Opening Day lineup and you do the math. You know?" Wedge said. "But nobody cares. You either win or you lose, and that's what I have to understand and I do understand."
Wedge noted there's "a couple guys we can move forward with who are further along in their career," but otherwise the club needs to grow leadership from its young core of players as happened in his previous job in Cleveland.
"What we did there is what we'll need to do here," he said. "Because there isn't a great deal of leadership out there anymore with veteran guys for whatever reason, you have to develop it.
"The advantage I had in Cleveland, I was in their Minor League system and everybody knew what I was about before I got there. I come over here and everybody is new, not just me but the staff and everybody else," said Wedge. "So you have no idea what you're getting and it takes some time to figure out what you have. We were able to surprise some people early on, but you knew we were barely squeezing by. And you saw this tough stretch of games coming."
But Wedge said he didn't think his tough approach is why the team is struggling now.
"I don't know if that holds water because of what we did until 17 games ago," he said. "I haven't changed in the last 17 games. We were one of the best stories in baseball to that point and rightfully so, by comparison. But like I've said before, we weren't as good as that and we're not as bad as this."
General manager Jack Zduriencik agreed that many of the veterans have been a disappointment this year, though he pointed out shortstop Brendan Ryan and catcher Miguel Olivo as two bright spots.
Zduriencik said he's fully supportive of Wedge and the job he's doing, even in the face of the losing streak.
"Eric has done a great job. It's not easy," Zduriencik said. "I talk to him every day, we're together a lot and I respect what Eric has done. He's tried everything to make the right combination and make it all click. Sometimes you hit the perfect storm of everything that tends to go wrong.
"I think Eric has been a good leader. He's been very consistent with his demeanor. He's wearing it right now. It's tough on him, but he's done everything and he will continue to do a good job as we continue to go through this. He's the right man at the right time. It's just unfortunate we're going through what we're going through."
Amid club's struggles, Ryan continues to shine
NEW YORK -- Throughout the Mariners' recent struggles, one bright light continues to be the play of shortstop Brendan Ryan.
The 27-year-old Ryan is well known as a defensive wizard, but he also had a 10-game hitting streak entering Wednesday and is the top hitter in the American League in road batting average since May 13, at .347 with 18 runs and 17 RBIs in 124 at-bats.
On Tuesday, he recorded the Mariners' lone hit with a seventh-inning single off CC Sabathia in the 4-1 loss to the Yankees.
"He's been playing his butt off out there, both offensively and defensively," said manager Eric Wedge. "He brings a tremendous amount of energy to the ballpark, and there is no quit in him. There's no quit in any of those guys out there. We've been overmatched for a while, but you still have to find a way to win a ballgame, and the only way you're going to do that is if people step up."
Ryan has been one of the few stepping up at the plate, and he found a way to at least get one hit off Sabathia and break up the Yankees ace's perfect-game bid.
"The way he was throwing, I wasn't really trying to work the count," Ryan said. "The first thing you think you can barrel up, you've got to move the bat. He had to throw a strike, and fortunately it was over the middle of the plate. The only thing I didn't do was foul it off, thank goodness. But it didn't mean much."
Ryan took advantage of Sabathia's first 2-0 count in the game.
"I thought, 'If I'm going to get one, this may be a good time to get something to hit,'" he said. "I broke my bat on it. It wasn't like I smashed it in the gap. He threw a fastball for a strike and I just wanted to be ready to hit."
Wright says players are sticking together
NEW YORK -- Mariners reliever Jamey Wright has been on eight teams in his 16 years in the Major Leagues, but he's never been through anything quite like the 17-game losing streak that so swiftly changed the fortunes of a club that had been battling for first place three weeks earlier.
"This is the same team. It's not any different," he said. "Just the games we were finding ways to win, now we're losing. Our pitching was really good. Now we're getting down 5-0 or whatever, and it makes it a lot tougher."
Wright says the players have stuck together and are maintaining as positive an attitude as can be mustered under the circumstances.
"I don't think anybody is looking for tall buildings or bridges to go up on top of yet," he said. "There are plenty around here. If you wanted to do that, this would be the place to find one. But everyone seems to still be in pretty good spirits. It's a brand new day and hopefully we'll get one under our belts today."
And once the Mariners get one, he suspects the club will get back to playing like it had been before things went south.
"I don't see us winning one game and then losing 12 more," Wright said. "I'm not saying we'll rattle off 20 in a row or go to the World Series, but once we get that one under our belt, everyone can take a deep breath and then going back to doing what we do, which is playing good baseball."