Haniger returns with a bang: 'It's cool to feel wanted'

February 25th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The ovation was the loudest of the afternoon, and that's before walked into the batter's box. The returning Mariners outfielder evoked an even louder echo with what he did next.

In his first Cactus League at-bat on Sunday, Haniger blasted a solo home run against a hanging breaking ball from Cleveland's Tyler Beede that lasered into the home bullpen at the Peoria Sports Complex during the Mariners' 8-4 loss against the Guardians. According to Trackman data, the deep fly had a 108 mph exit velocity and traveled 384 feet.

"It's great when you have success in your first at-bat, but that was awesome," Haniger said. "I've definitely missed playing in front of our fans. So it's cool to hear them -- and I definitely heard them."

The homer told Haniger that his swing is in a good place, but the crowd's reaction told him that his Seattle homecoming has been mutually anticipated.

"I know it's just Spring Training, but it's cool to feel wanted," Haniger said. "I've always loved playing in Seattle, and it's always felt like home, so it's a cool feeling to be back."

Haniger spoke at camp's outset about how "at home" he felt in his return to the Mariners following one season in San Francisco. But in the few weeks since he arrived in Arizona, it's been beyond the familiar faces and feel.

Beyond the high performance and training staff, Haniger has pow-wowed extensively with director of hitting strategy Jarret DeHart, who was here during his last stint, and Brant Brown, Seattle's new hire as offensive coordinator. DeHart specializes in mechanics and Brown in approach, a blend resonating early.

"They know my body really well, and they teach me things that I don't know about myself," Haniger said. "Like, 'Hey, this is actually how you prefer to load.' And I'm like, 'Oh, interesting,' and then I try it, and I'm like, 'Oh, you're right.'

"I think in the past, I used to try to really think about staying tall," Haniger said. "And for me and how I move, you don't want to dive completely or lose posture too much. It's more that I need to hinge more and that's the first thing they brought up to me, and ... it cleaned up a lot of stuff."

Haniger is being eased into action, a by-design effort given that he's entering his age-33 season and as in tune with his body as anyone within Seattle's clubhouse. He was the designated hitter instead of playing right field and will probably have one or two off-days between games in the early going.

A slow-and-steady pace, especially given his well-chronicled history of flakey injuries, is something he's fine with.

"Once you're established and you kind of know you've made the team, how can we make sure I'm ready for Opening Day and feeling really good?" Haniger said. "And then try to eliminate as much wear and tear as possible. ... I think you get to a point where you're like, 'OK, I have to trust myself and my abilities,' and not work yourself to death."