Sgt. Andrew Lester, middle right, visits with Mariners relief pitcher Stephen Pryor after participating in the Armed Forces first pitch ceremony before the game.

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners and their fans honored JBLM and the U.S. military by inviting members of each branch to their 11th annual Salute to Armed Forces ceremony Saturday at Safeco Field.

The Mariners provided a list of events to honor past and current service members during a pregame ceremony, as well as throughout their match against the visiting Texas Rangers.

"Our Soldiers are huge fans of the teams here in the Pacific Northwest and for the athletes and the organization to recognize them means a lot," said Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, I Corps commanding general at JBLM. "Seattle sports teams do it better than anyone else."

Even before the ceremony, Howard Lincoln, Mariners' chairman and chief executive officer, and Chuck Armstrong, team president and chief operating officer, were on the field speaking with members of the armed forces. Players and coaches could also be seen talking with service members before the game's first pitch.

Col. Bruce Bowers Jr., 446th Airlift Wing commander at McChord Field, said the ceremony was a great opportunity for all of the service members from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard and Reserves.

"It just shows the community support," Bowers said.

The pregame ceremony started with service members lined up on the first and third base lines along with players and coaches from both teams. A large U.S. flag was spread out in center field as the Joint Service Honor Guard marched onto the field.

"It's good for the Honor Guard to come out during military appreciation night," said Staff Sgt. Brian Hall Jr., I Corps Honor Guard at JBLM.

Airman First Class Timothy Pippenger of McChord Field's 62nd Airlift Wing, also represented JBLM in the Joint Service Honor Guard.

Taps was performed by Army Spc. Adam Buell, while the Navy Band Northwest performed the national anthem. Five service members threw out a simultaneous first pitch to members of the Seattle Mariners. Senior Airman Anthony Haupert, 62nd Airlift Wing, represented the Air Force as he threw to Mariners' pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen. Haupert said he wasn't nervous prior to going onto the field.

"As long as I got (the ball) there, that's all that matters," Haupert said.

Representing the Army in the first pitch, Sgt. Andrew Lester, 520th Area Support Medical Company, 62nd Medical Brigade, was a little bit more worried throwing to Mariners' Stephen Pryor.

"This uniform is a little restrictive in the arm motion," Lester said.

Both were able to get their balls to their respective catchers without any bounces or reaches.

At the end of the ceremony, retired Staff Sgt. Joe Ogren delivered the ceremonial game ball to the pitchers' mound after being nominated during a local radio station contest. The 100-year-old World War II vet enjoyed his Safeco Field experience as the crowd cheered his trip to the mound.

"I haven't been (at Safeco) in a long time," Ogren said, who also received four tickets to the game.

But military appreciation didn't end at the ceremony, as 1st Lt. Nathan Rings, 5th Air Support Operation Squadron, at JBLM was selected by the team to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Having been a part of several choir groups since he was 12 years old, Rings never sang solo before last Saturday's game.

"I didn't think I'd be nervous and then today came around," Rings said. "Mostly I'm excited because this is a cool opportunity."

Several Soldiers and Airmen were honored to be invited to enjoy the game, despite the Mariners falling 3-1 to their American League West Division rivals. But the result, nor the rain outside, hampered the shining spirits as both the teams and fans honored the nation's armed forces.

"I think for us, the biggest thing is this is a way to say thank you for supporting everyone here," said Elizabeth McCloskey, group and suite sales account executive for the Mariners. "I think it's a great opportunity for our fans to recognize those folks."

Dean Siemon: dean.siemon@nwguardian.com

Page last updated Mon April 22nd, 2013 at 16:06