Yuniesky Betancourt

Best-Bet Mariner

Most of Seattle’s many immigrant athletes got here on planes. Yuniesky Betancourt took a boat, but it wasn’t exactly a luxury cruise. The Mariners shortstop, packing nothing but his talent, stole away from his native Cuba one night in late 2003. It took four days to make it to Cancún, Mexico, and another 20 months to get to Seattle, where Betancourt may well become the greatest shortstop in franchise history.

That would mean eclipsing the accomplishments of Omar Vizquel, the consensus best Seattle player at the position. But many already compare the range, arm strength, and accuracy of the 24-year-old Betancourt with the tools shown by Little O during his five years here. More important in the life of the franchise: Betancourt looks like a potential .300-plus hitter, while the best batting average Vizquel ever put up here was .294. Through July 28 of his first full season here, Betancourt hit .304. Since the All-Star Game break, he’s batting .400.

Betancourt has moved out of the ninth spot to a more productive place in the middle of the batting order. Fans, meanwhile, seem to be fixed on the shortstop’s slick fielding and infectious grin. The latter was on display as Betancourt considered a couple of questions posed via a translator. The first query wasn’t answered because it regarded the family Betancourt hopes to bring to the United States from Cuba.

He’s “a bit hesitant to talk about what life in Cuba would be like now, but he said that he wouldn’t have any of the opportunities that he has here,” said bilingual team rep Gillian Hagamen.

As for Seattle, he said he likes “everything about the city, especially the people and the weather in the summer. If the summer weather lasted year-round, Seattle would be the best city in the country.”—Mike Henderson

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