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Originally published May 9, 2010 at 8:07 PM | Page modified May 9, 2010 at 8:16 PM

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Steve Kelley

Wilson's big day tribute to fired hitting coach

Josh Wilson turned this 8-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels into a small, personal tribute to the coach he calls, "Ace." He honored fired hitting coach Alan Cockrell by having his best day in the big leagues.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Josh Wilson got the bad news when he first walked into the clubhouse Sunday morning.

The Mariners' five-week hitting slump had claimed its first victim. Alan Cockrell, Wilson's good friend, his mentor and the best hitting instructor he has ever known, was fired.

"I've never been around a better hitting coach," said Wilson, whose three-run homer off a 2-1 slider from Ervin Santana in the fourth gave the Mariners the lead. "Today is tough. It's really tough. It hurts. I'm definitely going to miss him, big time."

Before the game, Wilson got to say a brief good-bye. He told Cockrell, "You don't deserve this fate." He saw the pain on Cockrell's face.

Then Wilson turned this 8-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels into a small, personal tribute to the coach he calls, "Ace."

He honored Cockrell by having his best day in the big leagues, going 3 for 3 and coming within one last swing of hitting for the cycle.

"You can say it was a tribute," Wilson said, "but it's not going to bring him back. It's nice that we finally produced, but I know if I'm the hitting coach and I'm the one who's gone, I'm looking around like, 'Where the hell was that last week?' "

Wilson used all of Safeco Field's real estate. He started his day with a single to center. His fourth-inning home run hooked just inside the left-field foul pole. And his sixth-inning triple found the right-center field gap.

Still, he called the day "bittersweet."

"I just wish this could have been one day sooner and see if things might have been different," Wilson said. "(Cockrell's firing) is nothing about him. He prepared harder than anybody. Obviously we all feel responsibility. There's no other reason he's gone, but that we didn't produce."

Wilson and Cockrell were together in Class AAA in Colorado Springs in 2006 when Wilson hit .307. They were reunited last season when the Mariners claimed Wilson off waivers from San Diego.

Cockrell made hitting simple for Wilson. He didn't try to correct Wilson's swing. He didn't paralyze Wilson with too many ideas. Cockrell trusted Wilson's swing and taught Wilson to trust it.

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"Ace was the reason I came back to the Mariners this year," Wilson said.

In the eighth inning, Wilson came to the plate knowing he needed a double to hit for the cycle.

Ty Van Burkleo hollered to him, "You better be going for two." Wilson promised the Mariners' bench coach that he'd be rounding first base even if he hit a ground ball to short.

And even though the preceding hitter, Ryan Langerhans, walked on four pitches, Wilson hacked at Brian Stokes' first pitch for strike one.

"I was ready to hit anything in the vicinity," Wilson said.

But Stokes couldn't find the plate and Wilson settled for a walk.

Wilson, 29, who is playing shortstop while Jack Wilson is out with a sore hamstring, is a baseball lifer. This is his 12th year in professional baseball and the Mariners are his ninth organization. He has played for six big-league teams.

Last year he played in 72 major-league games for three different teams: Arizona, San Diego and Seattle.

At times he must have felt as if baseball's waiver wire was his personal Facebook account. Want to know what's up with Josh Wilson? Check the waiver wire.

"The first time you're put on waivers, it's tough," Wilson said. "The sixth or seventh time? Not so much. It's just another day at the ballpark. It's, 'Ok, where's the next opportunity?' "

He remembers a line from a guide about the mental aspects of baseball that said the Chinese symbol for problem and opportunity are the same.

"I get put on waivers and it's a problem that I'm not with that team anymore," he said, "but hey, it's an opportunity that I'm going to have a chance to go somewhere else, or go back to Triple-A and get better.

"Waivers is a scenario that for some guys might kill them. Might make them think that they're not good enough, but for me it's always an opportunity to go and get better and have a chance to come back. Besides, I love baseball. I don't want to do anything else but play baseball."

On Sunday, he celebrated that love for the game while thanking his hitting coach the only way he knew how, hitting line drives that sliced through the gloom.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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