SEATTLE — Despite a larger-than-usual Sunday crowd due to Mother’s Day and the perfect sun-soaked environment, the nearly 20 guests of George Kirby who made a cross-country trek to T-Mobile Park for his MLB debut could be heard well above the 32,501 on hand.
“Hip hip, Jorge!” they shouted after each of his seven strikeouts, which helped propel the Mariners to a 2-1 win that snapped a six-game losing streak.
“Jorge” isn’t exactly a novel nickname for somebody named “George” — it’s the Spanish translation — yet it stood out in Spring Training when teammates, coaches and manager Scott Servais began regularly using the moniker when talking about Kirby, ranked as the club’s No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline.
Yet the chants from his close clan from back home outside New York and Elon University in North Carolina proved that “Jorge” has been a longstanding nickname. One day after his debut, Kirby laughed when asked where it originated.
“My older cousin, Kendall, used to call me that when I was little,” Kirby said. “I’m telling you, it’s been around a while.”
At each stop along his baseball journey, from Little League to Rye (N.Y.) High School to Elon to the Mariners, “Jorge” has organically made its way into the vernacular of those close to Kirby.
“I’ve been hearing it every year,” Kirby said. “It just sticks with me. Up here with the Mariners, a lot of my buddies from the 2019 Draft class would call me ‘Jorge.’ My aunts, uncles, guys I used to play with growing up, I’ve just been hearing it all the time.”
Kirby has no Latin or Hispanic roots that he’s aware of, either. More than anything, it’s just fun.
“It was fun to be around him in Spring Training,” Servais said. “Everybody always says, ‘Ah, Spring Training doesn’t matter.’ This and that. What really matters is the camaraderie, and you get a feel for the player. But he also gets a feel for the team, what goes on at the big league level around the team and the things that we do to kind of incorporate and get those young guys to loosen up. That helps. It helps when they show up here for the first time. He looked very comfortable and I hope it continues.”
Kirby isn’t the loudest or most boisterous personality, but his raw stuff is. He regularly blew his fastball by the Rays over six shutout innings, with just four hits allowed. That kind of production could lead to even more “Jorge” chants, perhaps beyond those he’s known most of his life.
For a fanbase that loves its high-caliber pitchers — think the King’s Court for Félix Hernández and the Maple Grove for James Paxton — “Jorge” could be the next that it falls for if he regularly pitches like he did on Sunday.
“He was as calm as you could imagine, and he enjoyed it,” Servais said.
“Oftentimes, when you think, ‘When I get to the big leagues, I’m just going to sit back and relax.’ No. Guys are intense, very nervous. They want to compete, but he really did look like he just enjoyed it.”