By John Perrotto
Kannapolis, N.C., the hometown of the Earnhardts -- patriarch Ralph, son Dale Sr. and grandson Dale Jr. -- will always be synonymous with the sport of stock car racing. However, the Earnhardts aren't the only Kannapolis family that has made a mark in the sporting world. In the heart of NASCAR country, 25 miles north of Charlotte, the three sons of Jeff and Jody Seager have all become professional baseball players. Two took part in the All-Star Game festivities in Minneapolis last week.
Kyle, the Seattle Mariners' third baseman and the first son to reach the major leagues, played in his first All-Star Game. Corey, a top shortstop prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system, just recently promoted to Double-A Chattanooga, participated in the All-Star Futures Game. A third brother, Justin, is a corner infielder for the Mariners' low Single-A Clinton farm club.
Jeff and Jody were at Target Field to see Corey and Kyle play. It certainly made up for all of Jody's figurines that had been broken over the years in the living room when the three brothers violated the cardinal rule of all mothers -- playing ball in the house. "We've always been very competitive, all three of us," Kyle Seager said with a smile.
That's not surprising, though, considering that Jeff Seager played college baseball at Fairleigh Dickinson and Jody is a physical education teacher in Concord, N.C. It was as if the three brothers were born to be athletes.
"All three [of us] have got to thank our dad," Kyle Seager said. "He taught us how to play the game the right way from the time we were little. He taught us how to work hard, not only during the season but in the offseason, too, so we would always be prepared.
"Baseball has been 24/7 in our family ever since I was little and we've all loved it. All three of us dreamed of making it to the major leagues. I've been fortunate to have made it already, because I'm six years older than Corey and four years older than Justin, but I really believe they have the talent to make it, too."
Kyle Seager was selected in the third round of the 2009 amateur draft by the Mariners out of the University of North Carolina and was in the major leagues two years later. He hit .259 with 20 home runs and 86 RBIs in 155 games in 2012, his first full season in the big leagues, then batted .260 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs in 160 games last year.
This year, the 26-year-old is having his best season yet, with a .273 batting average, 15 home runs and 63 RBIs in 93 games. He's the home run and RBI leader for a Mariners team that's 51-45 and second in the American League wild-card standings. Seattle is attempting to make the postseason for the first time since 2001. Seager's 3.9 WAR also ranks eighth in the AL.
However, Seager isn't the type to take much credit for being a large part of the Mariners' unexpected success. "Being picked to the All-Star Game is something that's extremely exciting but, as far I'm concerned, with personal accolades, you can either take them or leave them," Seager said. "It's nice that people recognize what I've been doing this season, but what I'm most happy about is that we've played good baseball and we're in contention."
The Mariners' offense has been challenged seemingly ever since 2001, when Seattle tied the major league record with 116 regular-season victories behind Ichiro Suzuki, Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud. This season, the Mariners rank just 12th of the 15 AL teams in runs scored with an average of 3.96 a game. Even so, Seager and second baseman Robinson Cano, who was signed to a 10-year, $240 million contract in the offseason as a free agent, became the first Seattle infielders to be selected to an All-Star Game since Jose Lopez in 2006.
"Robby has made a big impact," Seager said of Cano, who's hitting .340 with seven homers and 57 RBIs in 92 games. "He's one of the best hitters in the game and he's come in and taken a little bit off pressure off all the rest of us. Signing him made a big impact in the clubhouse. The attitude changed once we signed him. We felt we could win."
Seager has succeeded when other high draft picks, such as shortstops Nick Franklin and Brad Miller and leftfielder Dustin Ackley have yet to break out at the major league level.
ESPN analyst Eric Wedge, who was the Mariners' manager the past three seasons before being replaced by Lloyd McClendon over the winter, believes Seager has succeeded because of his consistent approach to the game.
"He has a great routine, really takes good care of himself," Wedge said. "He wants to play every day, which deserves respect in and of itself. But the reason he can play every day is because of how he goes about his business and the consistency of his play. You've got to have that. As a manger, you want guys you can pencil in every day. He's proven to be one of those guys. He's someone who understands what it takes to be successful."
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John Perrotto has covered professional baseball since 1988 for such outlets as USA Today, USA Today Sports Weekly, The Sports Xchange, Baseball America and the Beaver County (Pa.) Times. You can find more of his work on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.