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Seattle Mariners Go to Bat for Kids and Pets

By: Ranny Green

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The Seattle Mariners have been big winners on the field this year. The AL West team leads the division by a comfortable margin. No wonder they are setting records with sellout crowds.

But sometimes it's the off-the-field contributions of a major-league team that make a rock-solid fan out of you – contributions such as those made during the Seattle-Minnesota game on Friday, July 27.

While Edgar Martinez collector pins were given away, it was a popular souvenir team calendar, a project of the Mariners' wives and Mariners Care, that proved a bigger hit. The 4-color calendar features Mariner players, service dogs from Canine Companions for Independence, and children.

The calendar serves a dual purpose: to raise money to help CCI place dogs with children suffering from debilitating disease, and to raise awareness of those conditions. The ailments are showcased each month.

Appropriately enough, it was Martinez's wife, Holli, who stepped up to the plate. She helped organize and supervise the calendar's production. For the second consecutive year, the team produced the colorful calendar in conjunction with CCI, of Santa Rosa, Calif. The calendar was introduced by two spirited soul mates at Safeco Field in pre-game ceremonies before a sellout crowd of 45,000-plus for the Mariners-Minnesota Twins American League game.

Maryann Mutsaka, 15, of Lynnwood, Wash., threw out the ceremonial first pitch. When it landed between the pitcher's mound and home plate, her CCI service dog, Fisher, plucked it up off the ground and delivered it to a Mariners player standing behind home plate, as the big crowd cheered.

"This calendar is all about creating an awareness of the disorders and bringing attention to the nonprofit organizations that support research and provide assistance to individuals and families affected," says Holli Martinez. "It's a win-win for everyone. It's a chance to educate the public about the disorders and let everyone know how a CCI-trained dog can be of assistance to these people. Many are unaware how these dogs can bring an improved quality of life for individuals with these ailments."

Last year's calendar proceeds earned $125,000 for CCI, enabling the agency to place service dogs with 10 Northwest children, who are featured on this year's calendar. But this year's product, fashioned by talented Terri Smith of Redmond, Wash., head of Puget Sound Champions chapter of CCI, promises to far surpass that total. Smith shot all the featured player photos in six days at Safeco Field in May.

Holli Martinez came up with the idea of featuring a different major ailment each month and getting sponsors for that page. "She was on the phone for hours obtaining commitments," said Smith. "And it had to be done quickly to keep up with the production schedule."

Because many players have a favorite project to which they donate funds or time, the calendar became a catalyst, enabling all to be showcased. Each player selected a disability or organization (15 altogether) with which he wanted to be featured.

The monthly photo shows that player (with his simulated autograph, a CCI puppy or adult dog and an individual suffering from that disability. "The players were great," Smith says. "Many took extra time to sit and visit with the individual after I was done shooting."

Sponsors paid $125,000 collectively to have their names attached. Some of those featured are Nissan, Bank of America, IOF Foresters, Outback Steakhouse, Chevron, AT&T Broadband, Eddie Bauer, Nintendo, Alaska Airlines, US Bank and a host of Seattle area firms. Each company donated a minimum of $1,000 to the organization chosen by the player on that page, and in return, its logo was placed on the bottom of that page.

Here's a rundown of what's included:

The cover features Kazihiro Suzuki and Edgar Martinez sitting on the outfield grass with three CCI puppies on their laps.

January: Designated hitter Edgar Martinez and pitcher Aaron Sele; Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is highlighted.
February: Pitchers Jose Paniagua and Kazuhiro Sasaki; autism.
March: Catcher Dan Wilson; neurofibromatosis.
April: Second baseman Bret Boone; spina bifida.
May: Manager Lou Piniella; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). Piniella's father-in-law died of the disease this spring.
June: Relief pitchers Arthur Rhodes and Ryan Franklin, pediatric oncology.
July: Outfielder Jay Buhner; cystic fibrosis. Buhner has co-chaired the Mariners Cystic Fibrosis Golf Tournament since 1992.
August: First baseman John Olerud; brain injuries. In 1989, at Washington State University, Olerud suffered a brain seizure, underwent surgery and was playing baseball a few months later.
September: Third baseman David Bell; Down's syndrome.
October: Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki; cerebral palsy.
November: Pitcher Jamie Moyer; Marfan syndrome.
December: Relief pitcher Jeff Nelson; chromosome disorders.
January 2003: Relief pitcher Norm Charlton; spinal-cord injury.
February 2003: Pitcher John Halama; multiple sclerosis.
March 2003: Outfielder Stan Javier, pitcher Paul Abbott and Mariners video photographer Carl Hamilton; organ donation.

CCI provides service dogs for people with disabilities; hearing dogs for those who are deaf or hearing impaired; skilled companion dogs for children with disabilities and adults with developmental disabilities; facility canines to work with professional caregivers in hospitals, hospices, nursing facilities and other programs.

For those in the Seattle area with questions about any of the disorders or wishing to contact one of the organizations, a resource guide at the end of the calendar will answer those questions.

On the Martinez Home Turf

The Martinez household knows the benefits of CCI well. They own a golden retriever named Rae that fell just short of qualifying as a CCI assistance dog. Rae had the perfect training and temperament to go along with their son, Alex. "She's been perfect for our family," explained Holli. "Our son Alex adores Rae, but if I had to admit it, she's really Edgar's dog."

"We had a larger dog, Swing, which we rescued from the humane society in our first year of marriage," Edgar explains. "Swing was our child and slept with us. Even Holli's parents called him their grandchild." But Swing was not tolerant of Alex. They didn't want to take any risks, so they found Swing a good home without any children.

"This brought us to Canine Companions," Edgar says. "We knew they placed released dogs from their program to families. We were interested in getting a dog that was mature, trained and personality tested. Rae has been wonderful. She is incredibly patient with Alex, now 6, and has fit right in with the family."

Rae is more than a companion for Alex. She's an alarm clock for Edgar. "Rae wakes me up every morning with her nose, nudging me under the arm. And she can't wait for me to get home from road trips."

To purchase a calendar, check out the Seattle Mariners or Canine Companions for Independence Web sites: www.seattlemariners.com or www.caninecompanions.org or phone 800-MY-MARINERS or 800-572-BARK. In the Seattle area, they are available at kiosks in Safeco Field and Mariners team stores.

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