Veteran John Olerud knows the team needs his sweetest swing

SEATTLE John Olerud will be 36 when his contract with the Seattle Mariners expires in fall 2004. His son, Garrett, will have just started first grade, and his daughter, Jordan, will be in kindergarten.

And Olerud, the Seattle native who really enjoys playing in his hometown, will seriously consider retiring if the Mariners don't offer him an adequate extension.

'It's one of the things I've been thinking about: When my kids start school, is that the time to start thinking about calling it quits in baseball and be at home a little more?' says Olerud, the Mariners' trusty first baseman.

'It's tough when the kids are in school. You go to spring training, and you don't see your kids, unless you take them out of school and put them in one down there (in Arizona). You don't see them until they're out of school if you're playing someplace other than home. Then they leave early to get back to school.'

Olerud signed a two-year, $16 million contract in December. It'll pay him $7.7 million this year. Would he take less money to stay in Seattle and keep his family at home?

'At any cost? Does that mean $100,000 less? I don't know,' says Olerud, smiling. 'What I've typically done is evaluate the situation when the contract is up and make a decision from there.

'This has been great for my family, and it's home. It's a good situation. You just don't weigh money when it comes to making a decision like that; what's best for your family, what's best for your career?'

Injury slows 12-year groove

Then again, without any prospects on the horizon, it is unlikely the Mariners will be able to replace their first baseman. So, he might finish his career in Seattle.

Olerud grew up in suburban Bellevue and attended Interlake High School and Washington State University.

'We always have baby sitters,' Olerud says of playing in his hometown.

Olerud joined the Mariners in 2000 and has been one of the pillars in Seattle, helping the club amass 300 wins in the last three seasons, including 116 in 2001. This year, admittedly slumping, he was hitting .274 with six homers and 53 RBIs through Wednesday, although he hit homers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But Olerud has been nursing a tender right hamstring since June 30.

'He's been in 12 years of a groove, but the injury set him back a little bit,' Manager Bob Melvin says of the career .300 hitter. 'He wasn't able to use his legs like he usually does. He's feeling a lot more comfortable.'

Toronto time stands out

Known as unflappable, steady, stoic and deadpan, Olerud feels himself pressing these days. He knows how much the Mariners need his left-handed bat to be a threat behind Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez.

'Anytime you're slumping, it's hard on the confidence,' he says. 'You try to play it off and say it'll come around. When it's not coming around, it's tough.

'I know I'm capable of getting hot for a couple months. You need to keep working on your swing and try to have quality at-bats.'

You mean Olerud, who has possibly the big league's sweetest swing, still must work on it? Yes, Melvin says, especially with the injury changing his stride and his stroke. Everybody needs to make adjustments.

Olerud bases his performance off 1993 and says his only personal goal would be to get back to that neighborhood, when he hit .363 with 200 hits, 109 runs scored, 54 doubles, 24 home runs and 107 RBIs all career highs. He watches videotape from that year to break down his hitting. It was the best of times, with his team, Toronto, winning its second World Series title.

'There's always the challenge of getting back to playing your best,' he says. 'You always seem to have ups and downs, but 1993 was the closest year I came to having that consistency throughout the season. It's always a tough thing to do.

'I'm bigger and stronger and feel like I'm in better shape from back then,' he says. 'I don't know if it's mechanical, or whether pitchers are pitching me a particular way. I feel good, and I'm just working on mechanics and timing to get back to that level.'

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