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02/16/09 8:55 PM EST

First-round pick Fields signs

Reliever to join big league Spring Training until Minors camp opens

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A signature the Mariners have wanted for the past nine months finally was written Monday, when first-round Draft choice Josh Fields signed a Minor League contract.

"I just want to say I am super-excited to be here," the 23-year-old Fields said at the Peoria Sports Complex. "I'm excited that we finally got it done. I am ready to start my career."

Liftoff comes Tuesday morning when he walks into the big league clubhouse as a non-roster invitee, joining 32 other pitchers in camp.

Fields' stay on that side of the complex will last about three weeks. Then, on March 8, when the Minor League players report, he will move to the other side of the complex.

Contract details were not announced, but it has been reported that the two parties split the difference between the $1.5 million Seattle offered and the $2 million Fields wanted.

General manager Jack Zduriencik, who introduced Fields to the media, said the breakthrough was "two-fold."

"Our desire to get him into camp was important, and his desire to get going also was important," Zduriencik said. "He realized the time he lost last summer and realized to get to big leagues you have to sign. We hashed some things out and worked on a few things, but most importantly, I think he wanted to play."

Fields agreed.

"It's a big relief to finally have it done," he said. "It's huge. It feels like a burden has been lifted."

Fields helped the University of Georgia reach the NCAA College World Series last season and was selected as the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year. He earned All-America and other post-season awards.

He was so good that the Mariners, who selected him with the 20th overall selection, expected the strong-armed Fields to reach the Major Leagues quickly, perhaps as early as last September.

But the holdout delayed his anticipated journey to the big leagues.

"We talked about this and we don't think there should be any false expectations here," Zduriencik said. "This is a young man who hasn't thrown in live competition since the College World Series. I think [being on the Mariners Opening Day roster] is extremely unlikely. But you never know what might happen.

"Our goal is to have him ready to pitch in the Minors this season. We need to get him in the Minor Leagues and get him some innings."

As a senior and out of college eligibility, Fields was not required to sign before the Aug. 15 deadline that affects underclassmen.

If he had not signed prior to the week before this June's Draft, he would have re-entered the process -- and probably not been a first-round selection. The Mariners would have received compensation -- the 22nd overall pick in this year's Draft.

But that is all moot now.

He will spend the next three weeks getting his feet wet in the Major League camp and get to know manager Don Wakamatsu and the coaching staff.

What else does it mean to be in the big league camp?

"The meal money is real good here," Zduriencik said.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.