Mariners visit Walter Reed Medical Center

Mariners visit Walter Reed Medical Center

WASHINGTON -- Several Mariners met reality face-to-face on Tuesday, and it put the eight-game losing streak that ended on Sunday at Safeco Field in perspective.

This was a "real-life" experience as eight players, four coaches, team broadcasters and others with the team for a three-game series in Baltimore against the Orioles spent nearly two hours at the United States Army Walter Reed Medical Center.

It was a visit that will last a lifetime.

"I was honored to be there and get a chance to meet real heroes," shortstop Jack Wilson said on the bus ride back to Baltimore. "It was an awesome experience, one that blew me away. It definitely puts things in perspective."

Ron Spellecy, the Mariners' director of travel, said the hospital visit was the idea of Gen. Peter Chiarelli, a Seattle University graduate, a devoted Mariners fan and the No. 2 general in the U.S. Army.

"When we were in Oakland to start the season, I was talking to the general about coming to Baltimore, and he asked if we might want to go to the White House, Pentagon or Walter Reed Hospital," Spellecy said. "I told him I thought the guys would like to go to Walter Reed."

The Mariners' visit was delayed a little more than an hour because the president of Afghanistan also was visiting the wounded warriors on Tuesday. When his entourage departed, the Mariners went in.

They were divided into groups and escorted through three wards and a rehab center, for some the final stop before re-entering the world minus one or two legs.

Everyone in the Mariners' party was taken aback by how upbeat the patients were.

"There is a lot of positivity from the guys here," left-handed pitcher and Australia native Ryan Rowland-Smith said. "Sometimes you think things are not going your way with your career, and then you see guys like this and it puts everything in perspective."

Some of the patients were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan within the past few weeks.

Receiving handshakes and various Mariners paraphernalia brought smiles and lifted spirits.

"It means a lot to a lot of guys for [the Mariners] to come here," said Nick Edinger from Central Point, Ore. "I wasn't even in [the exercise room] when the Mariners came in today, but I heard they were here and I wanted to come in and meet them.

"It is really cool. Some of these [soldiers] have watched these players on TV, and they are larger than life. A lot of us feel like we're at the bottom of the totem pole, just another guy that got blown up.

"To have these players come in and talk to us, just be regular people, means a lot. The ones you think are way up high come down to your level, and you think, 'Maybe you are not as low as you thought.'

"It helps the morale more than you can imagine."

"This is absolutely fantastic," Gen. Chiarelli said. "I know what kind of schedule they are on and how difficult it is living on the West Coast, flying across country the previous day and taking a couple of hours of their time to come here -- it means the world to these kids. We had one ward, 65, that specifically asked for the Mariners to come in there."

They came, they saw and they left with strong impressions of the "real" world.

"You don't often get to meet people that have sacrificed themselves the way these guys have for their country so the rest of us can live in freedom," Wilson said. "You only see it on television, and to be able to come here and thank them for their dedication and to see how good their spirits are is really awesome."

Cameras were allowed in the reception area where the visitors were taken before going to the hospital, but not in the hospital itself.

"If we put a smile on a soldier's face who has sacrificed so much miles away from their families, it's a great thing," Mike Sweeney said.

During a briefing before entering the 100-year-old facility, the visitors were told: "You can ask them anything about their injuries, but do not say, 'I'm sorry.'"

It was OK to say, "Thank you," and that was the operative word of the day.

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