Bliss' debut a dream 10 years in the making

May 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- Isiah and Rhonda Bliss probably didn’t want to deal with an airport the Sunday before Memorial Day anyway.

’ parents had flown west from LaGrange, Ga., to spend time with their son over the holiday weekend and watch him wrap up an 11-game homestand with Triple-A Tacoma. On Sunday afternoon, after going 1-for-2 with a home run against Las Vegas, Bliss prepared to fly out on the Rainiers’ upcoming road trip, while his girlfriend, Katelynn Hadjopoulos, got ready to take Isiah and Rhonda to the airport to go back home.

Then, Tacoma manager John Russell called Bliss into his office, and just about every plan changed.

“I’m still smiling about it,” Bliss said. “Those are the words you’ve been waiting to hear: ‘You’re going to the big leagues.’”

With Jorge Polanco going on the 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain, the Mariners called up Bliss, their No. 11 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Instead of flying to Sacramento, the 24-year-old infielder made the drive up I-5 and was in the starting lineup at T-Mobile Park on Monday as Seattle opened its series against Houston, batting eighth and playing second base.

Bliss got called into action on the very first pitch of the game, catching a popup off the bat of Jose Altuve, and went on to go 0-for-2 with a walk.

Rhonda and Isiah were seated 20 rows back of home plate, along with Hadjopoulos and a couple other family members.

“It was a whirlwind,” Isiah said. “We were already planning, whenever he made the [big leagues], we were coming. It just happened to work out at that time. We got the information, and we immediately changed our itinerary to make sure we were here for tonight.”

Now, they’ll be in Seattle through Wednesday.

“It’s exciting,” Rhonda said. “It’s overwhelming, and we’re enjoying everything.”

Bliss, who was selected in the second round of the 2021 Draft by the D-backs, came to Seattle with Josh Rojas and Dominic Canzone in the deal that sent Paul Sewald to Arizona last July, before the Trade Deadline. After racking up 10 homers and 20 stolen bases in 47 games with Tacoma to end 2023, he earned a non-roster invite to Spring Training this year and ran with it. Bliss had a .333/.368/.500 slash line in 19 games in Cactus League play. Then, he went back to Tacoma, knowing that his call was coming.

He had to shake off a bit of a slow start to the season -- he went 4-for-25 in his first seven games -- but the hits soon came rolling in.

“I think early, I was just trying to do too much,” Bliss said. “Trying to make it up here, trying to impress, when in reality, what I do in my game is what they want. Just going back to what I do, how I do it, and just being myself.”

In 50 games at Tacoma, Bliss logged an .827 OPS with 28 steals (most in the Mariners organization) and seven homers (tied for second).

“He’s played really, really well on all three sides of the ball -- in the batter’s box, defensively and on the bases,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said. “He’s been an impact player. You see him really control the strike zone in the past month, too. The walks have gone up, the strikeouts have gone down. He’s hit for power.

“He’s done a lot of things well, particularly over the past month and it just made a lot of sense for this to be his time.”

And it makes sense for this to be his place.

On December 10, 2014, the Mariners’ Twitter account posted a photo of then-Safeco Field, half shrouded in shadow and half brightly-lit. On it, 14-year-old Ryan Bliss commented “my dream … one day” with a trio of emojis: a smile, an airplane and a baseball.

That comment resurfaced when Bliss was selected to play in the 2023 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Seattle.

It was extra fitting three weeks later, when he was traded to the Mariners.

It became downright poetic on Monday -- 3,456 days after that post -- when Bliss made his Major League debut at T-Mobile Park.

“I absolutely love that tweet,” said Hadjopoulos, who said she has it bookmarked in her phone. “Because it describes his personality so much. If you know him, he’s such a dream-chaser. If he wants it, he’ll do it. It’s crazy.”