$n$ Mariners CFO visits Walla Walla

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WALLA WALLA - Kevin Mather remembers waking up around 3 a.m. Wednesday, just about the time his Seattle Mariners were cracking the seal on the 2012 big league baseball season against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo.

But that's as far as it went.

"I thought about it for about three seconds," the Mariners chief financial officer said of the idea of flipping on the television and watching the game. "And then I went back to bed."

So Mather didn't learn of the M's 3-1 victory over the A's in 11 innings until a few hours later as he prepared to visit Walla Walla for the very first time. Mather and Walla Walla Sweets owner John Stanton came to town to speak at the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce's quarterly luncheon at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center Wednesday afternoon.

Stanton, a 1977 Whitman College graduate and a minority owner of the Mariners, did a little better in the wee hours Wednesday.

"I have to confess that I didn't start watching until the fifth inning," Stanton said. "But from what I understand, I am a better person than the CFO of the Mariners."

Stanton then kidded that Mather was probably more interested in the 47,000 fans who filled the Tokyo Dome than he was in Ichiro's 4-for-5 day, Felix Hernandez's eight great innings on the mound, Dustin Ackley's home run and two RBIs and Brandon League's terrific save.

"Kevin is more likely to know total attendance last year than the team's record," Stanton joked.

Mather joined the Mariners in 1996. He oversaw the construction of Safeco Field, is in charge of the building and its lease negotiations and basically runs the team's finances.

Which is not to say he is not a baseball fan.

"I grew up in Wisconsin a huge Brewers fan," he said. "I was one of those weird kids who would sit on the front steps and 6 p.m. and listen to Bob Uecker call Brewers games while other kids were off doing what 16-year-old boys should be doing."

Before joining the Mariners, Mather worked in the Minnesota Twins organization. And he recalls attending a revenue sharing meeting in 1993 when former Mariners executive John Ellis was chided by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

"I was there representing small-market teams, and Seattle was the smallest of the smalls," Mather recalled. "John Ellis was the chairman of the Mariners, and George Steinbrenner turned to John and said, ‘You mean we are really going to give seven million dollars to that pathetic franchise in the Pacific Northwest. We ought to buy it and put it out of its misery.'

"I remember John struggled to respond to that because some people would have said that was the right thing to do. But the Mariners had their magical run in 1995, made it to the playoffs and we actually paid revenue sharing that year. And we've paid it every year since."

Mather said he understands why the Mariners were selected to represent Major League Baseball in Japan earlier this week. But he also understands the difficult position it put the organization in.

"Right or wrong from the Mariners' perspective, this is bigger than Seattle," Mather said of opening the season in Tokyo. "Baseball is trying to expand, and Japan is a huge baseball market. And Seattle has the right personnel.

"Ichiro is so important over there. Ichiro is bigger in Japan that Michael Jordan is here."

Nevertheless, nine days in Japan has been problematic, Mather said.

"To begin with, we had to start spring training 10 days early," he said. "And we are missing our two best weekends of spring training. Seventy-two percent of the fans at our spring training games come from the Pacific Northwest, and the last two weeks of March are the best travel time.

"So we are missing golden opportunities, not to mention how bad it is for our players' body clocks. It's terrible for the Mariners, but at the end of the day we will get over it.

"We just won't feel like it for a week or two or three."

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