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Standing O for Mariners' Brandon Bantz one of weekend's highlights

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

SEATTLE -- We had divisional clashes between Detroit and Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis and Arizona and San Francisco.

We had a 20-inning game (Mets-Marlins), an 18-inning game (Blue Jays-Rangers) and Yasiel Puig's ongoing escapades.

But the coolest story of all might have been in the third-inning here Saturday, when Seattle Mariners fans gave Brandon Bantz a third-inning standing ovation before his first major-league plate appearance.

Um, that's Brandon Bantz.

A week ago, he was the backup catcher at Triple-A Tacoma.

Yep, that's right. Backup catcher.

But Jesus Montero suffered a torn meniscus and Jesus Sucre hurt his hand, and that left only Kelly Shoppach to handle Seattle's catching duties.

And because Mike Zunino, Tacoma's regular catcher, has been playing pro ball for less than a year, what else were the Mariners going to do?

Bantz, 26, was Seattle's 30th-round pick in the 2009 draft and he was in a spot you've probably spent quite a bit of time in yourself when the phone call came Tuesday night from Chris Gwynn, the Mariners' director of minor league operations.

According to Bantz, here's how the phone conversation went:

Gwynn: “What are you doing?

Bantz: “I'm sitting on my couch. What are you doing?”

Gwynn: “You need to get yourself ready. You're going to Seattle in the morning.”

Bantz: “Man, you better not be playing with me.”

Gwynn: “Would I play with you on something like this?”

Bantz: “Holy crap. Cool!”

To say the past week has been a whirlwind would be an understatement. Good thing Tacoma is only a 45-minute drive from Seattle.

Bantz was in manager Eric Wedge's starting lineup on Saturday for a 3-1 win over the Yankees and went 0 for 2 in his debut. The standing ovation came when the scoreboard noted that it was his debut before the third-inning at-bat, a ground ball to shortstop.

Credit plate umpire Laz Diaz with an assist. It was Diaz who told Bantz not to step into the box until he waved to the crowd.

“It was fun, man,” Bantz said. “I was excited. That's really the best way I can describe it. I didn't really have any nerves. I was really calm.”

Why, he still isn't sure.

As for how long he will stay in the bigs, who knows. But let's just say there is a nameplate (homemade, by some Mariner with a sense of humor) over a locker for Pete Vuckovich, the former pitcher who now is a special assistant to general manager Jack Zduriencik. And there is no nameplate for Bantz.

“Vuck, he's the man,” Bantz says, chuckling. “Anytime you're in a Hollywood movie [Major League], you get a name tag.”

Surely, Bantz will be getting his soon.

 
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