March Madness makes way into Mariners' clubhouse

March Madness makes way into Mariners' clubhouse

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The NCAA basketball tournament bracket hadn't even been released yet on Sunday morning when the banter started in the Mariners' clubhouse.

Baseball is foremost on the minds of players preparing for the regular season in three weeks, but March Madness is a welcome break from the daily grind. Especially if your former college happens to be a hoops powerhouse.

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So it was that Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager had teammate Chris Taylor square in his sights after Seager's North Carolina Tar Heels knocked off Taylor's Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC Tournament championship game on Saturday night.

"I've given him about as hard a time as I can, so far," Seager said. "I haven't seen him today when I haven't mentioned something about it. It would have been better if I'd got to see the game -- I didn't -- but I saw the score and that was all I needed."

Both teams are No. 1 seeds in the tournament, which opens Thursday. And Taylor, competing for a utility infield spot behind Seager, will quietly wait for potential sweet revenge.

"Yeah, Seager likes to talk. That's what he does," Taylor said. "We beat them a couple weeks ago actually and I don't think I said anything. He's worn me out pretty good today. I'd definitely be happy if we ran into them down the road."

Seager, sticking his head in the conversation, welcomed another opportunity to toss wood on the fire.

"You would be happy because that would be like a national championship game," Seager said. "Losing in the national championship is good. That'd be a good run for you guys."

"See," said Taylor, rolling his eyes. "He's still going."

Most Major League players get involved in March Madness the same as workers in offices everywhere in the country, by filling out brackets and competing for bragging rights -- and perhaps a little cash -- over the next few weeks.

"There's nothing like March Madness," Taylor said. "All the guys get into it, so it's always a good time."

Many of the Mariners have natural rooting interests in tournament teams. Seager and catcher Chris Iannetta went to North Carolina. Nathan Karns attended Texas Tech. Stefen Romero grew up rooting on Arizona, then played baseball at Oregon State. Pitcher Cody Martin played four years at Gonzaga, which enters its 18th straight tournament as a No. 11 seed.

"I haven't watched a lot of college basketball this season, but I have been following the Zags," Martin said. "They've kind of had an up-and-down season, but they've battled back to knock off BYU and St. Mary's in the [West Coast Conference] tournament, which was pretty awesome. They usually knock somebody off when they're seeded low."

Seager's interest in basketball predates his North Carolina days as he grew up playing the sport along with his two brothers through their high-school careers.

"It's hard to go to North Carolina and not be a hoops guy," he said. "That's a pretty big deal there. But basketball was always one of my favorite sports. I always had the most fun playing basketball. That was something all three of us did."

So did he ever skip school to stay home and watch the Madness play out in March?

"No," Seager said. "And I'd never admit that even if I did."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.