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Broker by day, Mariners BP pitcher by night

Broker by day, Mariners BP pitcher by night

SEATTLE -- Brett Merrick spent his career in baseball trying to overpower hitters with his fastball and close out wins. Now, a good day on the mound means giving up lots of home runs.

An All-American closer turned insurance broker, the 35-year-old Merrick is in his fourth season moonlighting as the Mariners' batting-practice pitcher, using the arm that still holds two school records at the University of Washington to warm up Seattle hitters before games at Safeco Field.

"Left-handed BP is hard to find," hitting coach Alan Cockrell said. "He's an excellent pitcher, and he does a great job. He throws good, consistent strikes, and he four-seams the ball well. He's fairly firm, which most guys like."

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Merrick's pitches were a little too firm at first. He landed the gig before the 2007 season, thanks to a connection with then-director of baseball management Jim Na, who also played for the Huskies.

Merrick's first day on the job was the last practice before Opening Day, and first baseman Ben Broussard had some friendly tips after his first throwing session.

"He gave me some feedback and said, 'Hey, you throw strikes, you throw good, but dang, you're throwing real hard. We're just trying to get loosened up.' So he gave some advice to slow it down a little bit," Merrick said. "I joked back with him, 'So you want me -- the insurance broker -- to slow my pitches down for you, the big league hitter?'

"I had to learn a little, because I didn't know what speed they wanted. I was always just trying to get guys out. Now, I'm trying to let guys hit bombs off me, it's a whole different type of thinking."

That's a major change of pace from Merrick's previous pitching job in Seattle. He thrived as a closer for Washington, especially in his sophomore season in 1994. He racked up 20 saves in 34 appearances, both still school records, and he remains on the NCAA's all-time leaderboard for saves in a season, just three shy of Southern California pitcher Jack Krawczyk's mark of 23 set in '98.

"It's easy for me," then-UW manager Ken Knutson said at the time. "When Brett's in, I'm done managing."

The Huskies set a school record for wins (46), but they came up a game short of the College World Series that season, falling to a Georgia Tech team that had future Major Leaguers like Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Jay Payton.

That trio bested Merrick's squad in the NCAA Midwest II Regional, but he joined them as a Collegiate Baseball First-Team All-American. Tim Lincecum -- winner of the past two American League Cy Young Awards -- is the only UW player to earn that honor since.

Washington was sub-.500 in 1995, giving Merrick fewer save opportunities (he finished with 10), and he was drafted in the 12th round by Cleveland after his junior year.

Merrick spent the next four seasons in the Indians' farm system, never rising above Double-A. After two injury-plagued years, Merrick called his father to fly out and see him pitch one last time before he hung it up in 1998.

"I just wanted to start my life when I was still young," Merrick said. "If I could apply what I know now to when I was playing, I probably wouldn't have stopped. I think I could have overcome some of the obstacles and made it happen. I think that maybe -- maybe -- I would have had an opportunity if I didn't call it quits. But I'm not looking back, I'm in a good spot right now."

Indeed, Merrick landed on his feet. A connection with former UW quarterback Tim Cowan led to his current job at Kibble & Prentice, where he's vice president of employee benefits.

Before the 2007 season, Merrick got the call that pulled him back into baseball, as Na rang to ask if he could still throw and if he was "fat and out of shape."

Na said finding a lefty to throw was a big draw, but there was another characteristic that made Merrick the perfect candidate.

"It's always tough to have someone come throw BP without getting all goo-goo-ga-ga being there," said Na, who left the Mariners in 2009 and now works with Merrick at Kibble & Prentice. "It was pretty easy to select him, as long as it fit his schedule."

Indeed, Merrick fit right in with the Mariners. His work schedule is flexible (a co-worker, Jim Anderson, also throws BP) and his wife, Billi, was supportive of the decision. Moreover, the manager at the time, Mike Hargrove, had been in charge of the Indians when Merrick was in their system, and Merrick has been a hit with the players and coaches ever since.

"We became immediate friends, and Brett's a class act," designated hitter Mike Sweeney said. "He earned his stripes. He wore a jock and played professionally. I never played against Brett, but I understand he was a great ballplayer. He's definitely been a big help here, coming out and helping us when we need it."

Sweeney recalls taking a trip with Merrick and Ken Griffey Jr. to a fly-fishing-rod company on Bainbridge Island last year, and during the team's off-day on Monday, Merrick went fly fishing with manager Don Wakamatsu, first-base coach Lee Tinsley and bench coach Ty Van Burkleo.

Merrick's getting the best of both worlds with a successful day job and still living the baseball life he once dreamed of. And he already has a lifetime of baseball memories. After his freshman year at UW, Merrick became friends with Reid Ryan, who invited Merrick and Jeremy Giambi to Texas to stay at his family's house and watch his father, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, pitch for the Rangers.

The first game they attended, Nolan Ryan fought off White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura after he charged the mound.

"We were right there, went home and watched the fight on video a bunch of times with Nolan, Jeremy, Reed and the family," Merrick said. "The experiences I've had in my life, I know it doesn't happen to people, but it's happening to me, and I'm really enjoying it."

Mike McCall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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