SAN FRANCISCO -- When right-hander Tim Lincecum starts against the Mariners on Saturday, one day after his 28th birthday, it won't be just a homecoming -- it'll be a happening.Lincecum will make his first pitching appearance in his home state since the Giants drafted him in the first round in 2006. He lives in Seattle during the offseason, and said earlier this week that he'll always consider Washington home, captivated by what he fondly called "that damp, green, mountainous feeling." Forget for a moment about Lincecum's season-long slump, reflected in a 2-7 record and 6.00 ERA. That's not the Lincecum that Seattle fans will flock to see. Rather, Safeco Field likely will be packed by locals who cherish Lincecum's roots. He was born in Bellevue, graduated from Liberty High School in Renton and attended the University of Washington. The Mariners created an uproar when they bypassed Lincecum in that '06 Draft. Picking fifth overall, they took right-hander Brandon Morrow from the University of California. Lincecum went to the Giants with the 10th overall pick.
The charismatic Lincecum won the National League Cy Young Award in 2008 and 2009, helping restore the Giants to prominence while infuriating Mariners fans -- mainly because Morrow posted an uninspiring 3.96 ERA from 2007-09. Morrow has improved with Toronto, building a 28-22 record with a 4.31 ERA since 2010.But he wasn't Lincecum, who certainly would have been a huge gate attraction for the Mariners, not to mention a significant asset for the ballclub. And on Saturday the organization will receive a taste of what could have been. So will Lincecum, though he regards this as a business trip, not a visit home. "I'm going to take it in for what it's worth but also try to be focused on the task at hand, which is winning," Lincecum said. "[I won't] take it for granted just because I get to have family or friends around. I want to focus on the game, getting a win and remedying whatever's been going on right now." Lincecum acknowledged that vast numbers of people at Safeco Field will adore him. But, he added, maintaining his grim determination, "The task at hand is to win and give the people a reason to still feel that way." Most likely he already has cemented his status as a favorite son among Seattle fans. "I think he's one of the prides of that city," said left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who lives in Spokane and graduated from high school in nearby Colbert. "I think everybody knows who he is, and I think they all know exactly what he's done with the two Cy Youngs." Said Arizona utility man Willie Bloomquist, a native of Washington who spent his first seven Major League seasons with the Mariners: "Hopefully, there's pride in the sense that he's gone out and done what he's done, and he's able to go back and showcase himself." Elsewhere in the country, some fans might be surprised that Washington can trumpet such ballplayers as Lincecum, Grady Sizemore, Lyle Overbay and, from previous eras, Ryne Sandberg, Jeff Conine, Earl Averill, Fred Hutchinson, Steve Kline, Billy North, John Olerud and Mel Stottlemyre.
When Lincecum talks Washington baseball, he reciprocates whatever fierce pride he inspires among denizens of the Evergreen State."I always kind of felt, with baseball in Seattle, that we had to prove to everybody that we have baseball players up there who can play," he said. "That regardless of the weather, we're going to find a way to get the game in and show you that we can play the game and play it the right way. I felt like [there was] a stigma that players up there were fighting." Bloomquist agrees.
"Growing up there, you get a sense that baseball in the Northwest is not as respected as it should be," he said. "Obviously, you get the weather you have to deal with, with the rain and all that stuff, but there's a lot of good players that come out of there. You kind of take a sense of pride in the fact that you battle the elements and you're able to come out of that area and do something to make it."Fans might be less likely to take such fervent stands on behalf of baseball in Washington. Though the sport may be a passion for many, it's an obsession for few.
"Seattle is nothing like St. Louis," said Milwaukee first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who grew up in Federal Way. "But it's a good baseball town.""I think the Northwest is a well-rounded community," Bloomquist said. "When it's baseball season, they're diehard baseball fans. But it ends when baseball season ends." That's probably true enough. But when Lincecum, fresh off his dominant 2010 postseason performance for the Giants, raised the 12th Man Flag at a Seattle Seahawks game, he received a tremendous ovation. So perhaps Saturday's crowd will be divided among Mariners fans, a smattering of Giants fans and a generous helping of Lincecum fans.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.