NEWCASTLE, Wash. -- Seattle Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez says that driving is the best part of his golf game. Driving the golf cart, that is. Ibanez got to do some of both Thursday afternoon, as he and other Mariners gathered with many other supporters to participate in the annual Mariners Care Golf Tournament to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, held at the Golf Club at Newcastle.
"The cause is extremely important to me, especially knowing that ... most of the funding that comes from this tournament goes directly to research that really helps," Ibanez said before teeing off. "It's helping people who are afflicted with this disease live longer -- it's a huge deal when you really think about it." The tournament originally started in 1986 and thanks to the more than $190,000 collected this year, it has raised $4.2 million so far for cystic fibrosis research. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of those who have it. Approximately 30,000 children and adults in the United States suffer from the disease, and around 70,000 worldwide. "They're heroes on the field, but they're also heroes in the hearts of all the CF kids and young adults," said Dottie Moore, executive director for the Washington chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. "And what's exciting is this tournament is about 20-something years old, and 20 years ago the life expectancy was about 18, 19 for cystic fibrosis. And now it's over 38, so that just shows that the money that they're helping to raise really does improve the medicines and the research to increase the quality of life." Retired Mariners Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were among the many notable people participating. Buhner -- whose trademark goatee is still going strong -- inherited the event from some teammates during his time with the club and became the face of the tournament. But he made sure to decline when asked to say a few words Thursday before tee-off, pointing out that he's passed the tournament on to current players -- like Ibanez. "Seeing it evolve over the last 15 years, and to be able to pass off the baton to some other guys and see it continue to just get bigger and better, I think that in itself is an awesome feeling," Buhner said. "Because it's for such a great cause." The tournament provides an opportunity for professional athletes, who make a living with their athletic gifts, to give back to those less physically fortunate. "It certainly helps you to appreciate how blessed you are to be healthy, and live a ... normal life," Ibanez said. "These kids that are afflicted with this are so courageous. The stuff that they have to go through every day just on a regular basis just to live a semi-normal life is tremendous. And they're inspiring to all of us." Thursday also provided some relaxing entertainment for manager John McLaren and his players coming off a series win against the Boston Red Sox, along with a chance to mingle with some Mariners fans. "[The fans] see us on the field, sometimes they're surprised that we're normal people and we live normal lives away from the field," McLaren said. On the golf side of things, the Mariners had some chilly conditions to cope with, and J.J. Putz paid Ibanez a compliment on his stylish beanie cap before the tournament started. Ibanez also mentioned how narrow the course was and confessed that he had nearly run out of balls last time. Ibanez obviously hadn't dropped that hint to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who Adrian Beltre said didn't have much golf experience. Betancourt was spotted walking to his cart with a large box of brand-new golf balls -- no word on how many survived. Out on the scenic course, the left-handed-swinging Jeremy Reed impressed with a low, boring drive down the middle of the fairway on the 11th hole and a solid tee shot near the green on the par 3 12th. And the general carefree atmosphere of the play went right along with McLaren's reason for showing up in the first place. "It's something I've always looked forward to and [I'm] just happy to participate and be part of it."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.