BY Stanley Holmes 06:23PM 04/12/2011

Sounders practice a hit

The Sounders took a break from serious practice to play a bit of softball Tuesday. In many cases, it wasn’t pretty.

Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller wasn't much of a threat on the mound Tuesday at Sounders practice. / Kyle Scholzen, Sportspress Northwest

No current Mariner needs to worry much about the Seattle Sounders replacing them at Safeco Field. Other ball players, yes. But as the Sounders demonstrated at training Tuesday, they have much to learn about America’s favorite pastime.

The team spent the training session playing an intersquad softball game replete with gloves and a home umpire. Captain Kasey Keller’s blue team won. It’s safe not to ever bet against Keller — even in softball or Backgammon.

Still, the Mariners might consider a couple prospects. Taylor Graham hit two homers into the high trees — impressive. Osvaldo Alonso — drawing on his Cuban roots — made a diving save at shortstop. Fredy Montero was decent at first base with one arm in a cast.

Coach Sigi Schmid said he felt it was the right moment to give the squad a break from regular training. He wanted to continue to tighten the bonds of a young team and to let the players have some fun playing baseball. Sometimes it’s good to take a break from all the seriousness.

Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is greeted by teammates after hitting a two-run home run during practice. / Kyle Scholzen, Sportspress Northwest

As Sounders owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer said, quoting former Sounders coach Jimmy Gabriel: “It can’t always be serious, it can’t always be fun, but it always has to be serious fun.”

“I just felt it was time to have some fun,” Schmid said, who offered that he has taken his former LA Galaxy team on beach-training outings. He’s taken teams go-kart racing and that was a blast. “We used to go and do paintball all the time when I was in Columbus. I think sometimes it’s good. We work hard enough we put in the effort every day, so now they can play a little a bit for some fun.”

Schmid, who said he was a long jumper and a Little League pitcher in addition to a soccer player in his younger days, found it amusing to watch his players try to master America’s game.

“It’s always interesting when you put a bat to a foreigner’s hand, or a glove, or two gloves to a hand, like in Leo’s case , and he still can’t catch it,” Schmid joked. “Ozzie thought he was Ozzie Vizquel, the new shortstop. The only bad news for Adrian (Hanauer) is that he is now waiting for his Major League contract.”

When asked about Steve Zakuani’s challenged effort to get the ball to first base, Schmid asked: “Mary Zakuani? It was not the most velocity I’ve ever seen on a throw.”

Or as Keller quipped: “Probably don’t want to throw with your weak hand.”

Leo Gonzalez clearly had trouble spotting and catching fly balls in left field — much to the amusement of his teammates. Others could play. Pat Noonan ripped one right at Keller, who was pitching, and Keller was forced to make a reaction save and knock it down.

“Good thing I didn’t need any more kids, because it was close,” Keller joked. “I was trying to get out of the way. Still had the composure to make the double play.

“It was a fun day.”

Or as one player shouted out at the end: “This was the best practice ever!”

Next up: The Philadelphia Union on Saturday.


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