JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Joint Base Lewis-McChord was well represented April 17 at the Seattle Mariners' eighth Salute to the Armed Forces Night before their game against the Detroit Tigers.

The annual event commemorates the importance of the military community in the Pacific Northwest, and gives the Seattle Major League baseball franchise a chance to thank the men and women in uniform, along with veterans and their families, for their daily sacrifices to keep the nation secure.

Members from all branches of U.S. Armed Services lined the first- and third-base lines of Safeco Field during pre-game ceremonies while the 56th Army Band from JBLM played military marches.

A mixed-service honor guard marched the national colors to center field and rendered military courtesies. After a moment of silence to honor the fallen, Staff Sgt. John Hendricks of the 56th played "Taps" and Air Force Staff Sgt. Frances Kness sang an a cappella version of the National Anthem.

Leading the JBLM delegation onto the field for five ceremonial "first pitches" were Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis III, the I Corps deputy commanding general, and Col. William Flanigan, commander of 446th Airlift Wing from McChord Field.

Detroit manager, Jim Leyland, came out of the dugout to shake hands and talk with several military members and representatives on the field. Future Hall-of-Fame Mariner outfielder, Ken Griffey Jr., also came from the dugout to sign autographs and talk to a group of Soldiers gathered around first base.

Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard members took their turns with ceremonial first pitches. Sergeant 1st Class Garth Newell of 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade threw a fast ball to Mariner relief pitcher Sean White, an experience neither will likely forget.

Newell, a linguist who speaks Dutch, Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese, will soon take the first sergeant job in a consolidated rear-detachment company until the brigade returns from Iraq in the fall.

White's eyes widened when the ball loudly smacked his glove, and the crowd roared in reaction to Newell's throwing heat instead of what is normally a polite toss.

"I guess I threw it harder than I intended to, because I heard everybody cheer," Newell said.

Born and raised in McCleary, west of Olympia, Newell is widely known among his fellow 201st BfSB Soldiers as a diehard Mariners fan. He didn't hesitate when his command sergeant major offered him the opportunity to throw a pitch at Safeco.

Muscle memory took over for the 1989 Elma High School graduate - the year Griffey Jr. broke into the league with the Mariners, he pointed out. Newell predominately played catcher in school, but pitched a little, also. Performing on a Major League field so close to home, he brought a large cheering section from home: His mother, Annette Curran, his wife Julie and their six boys, Kesley, 15, Dallin, 14, Josiah, 11, Elijah, 10, Ammon, 7, and Nathaniel, 5, all applauded from Section 116, Row 20 along the first-base line.

Josiah shows the most interest in baseball, his father said.

"He's a pitcher, and a good one, on an Elma Little League team," Newell said.

The only mild disappointment was that Newell didn't meet his heroes, Griffey or retired catcher, Dan Wilson. He brought a ball signed by the entire Newell family to the game just in case, but gave it to White, instead.

Otherwise, the combat veteran couldn't stop grinning Saturday evening.

"I expected to be more nervous, but once I got out there, I wasn't," Newell said. "I was like 'Wow, this is pretty cool.'"

Don Kramer is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.