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Originally published May 27, 2014 at 6:49 PM | Page modified May 27, 2014 at 10:35 PM

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Mariners deliver life lessons to elementary students

Six Mariners players, including Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, spoke Tuesday to students at Hilltop Elementary in Burien.

Seattle Times columnist

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Plenty of important messages were delivered on Tuesday by Mariners players to the receptive students of Hilltop Elementary School in Burien.

Stay off drugs. Respect yourself and others. Chase your dreams. Study hard.

Here’s another message I gleaned from the annual Mariners pilgrimage to five area schools for D.R.E.A.M. Team assemblies that mix life lessons with a little celebrity gawking by the youngsters:

No matter how much star-caliber talent you bring — and this was the Mariners’ dream team, with Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano among the six players on hand at Hilltop — nothing, and I mean nothing, excites the kids like video of the Mariner Moose doing back flips.

That’s an inaccurate statement. I quickly discovered that there was indeed one thing that raised the squeal level to an even higher decibel: Video of the Mariner Moose bouncing on his head.

Hilltop principal Kathy Emerick said the buzz built all day among the 631 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. They knew some Mariners were coming, but not which ones. Poignantly, one student handed Emerick a note that said, “Go, Felix,” and asked her to deliver it to the Mariners, not knowing that the King himself would soon be right in front of her.

His primary role was to issue the Felix Hernandez Reading Challenge, urging students to read two books a week. But Hernandez seemed to have the most fun while the Mariners highlight video was running. He dropped onto the floor to sit with a group of kids, who naturally peppered him with questions. A father of two young children, he was fully at ease as he interacted with the delighted students.

“We were just talking about baseball,’’ Hernandez said afterward. “They asked me if I was the best player. I said, ‘No, we’re all the best.’ Another one asked me if I could teach them to play baseball. I said, for sure.

“It was cool. It’s always fun to go there and make them happy. We are like a model for those guys.”

Hernandez is a veteran of these school visits, and always a coveted draw. For Taijuan Walker, Stefen Romero, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino, it was the first time out, and they all seemed to get as much of a kick out of it as the kids.

“It’s awesome to be able to go to elementary schools and hopefully make an impact,’’ Zunino said. “It’s a time where they can learn a lot. To see guys like us come down, hopefully it opens their eyes and lets them realize they can achieve some stuff.”

The fun began even before the assembly, when to kill time the players shot hoops in the still-empty gym. Walker did some beat-box action on the live microphone, but once the kids filed in (very orderly and well-mannered, much to the pleasure of Emerick), he was psyched to be able to offer an anti-drug message. Each of the Mariners focused on one brief lesson.

“I think the kids listen more when you do it one player at a time,’’ said Walker.

Besides Felix, the showstopper was Cano, who became an old hand at school visits while with the Yankees. His topic was “attitude,” and he spoke about the need to keep a positive one.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t reach your dreams,’’ he told the students. “I had a lot of people tell me I’d never be a big-leaguer, but I always heard from my dad a positive attitude. Whether you play sports, or with your family, or your education — just be positive and you’ll have good results.”

Not a revolutionary message, but coming from their sports heroes, the hope is that these homilies might resonate a little bit more. As Miller said, “People kind of look up to us in the position we’re in.”

When the students were asked what they dreamed to be, only a handful said baseball player. The rest ran the gamut from police officer to zookeeper.

“I think it gives them a nice idea there are people to look up to in the world about how to achieve their own goals,’’ Emerick said of the assembly. “Actually, I was really pleased not everyone said baseball players. It makes it more real that everyone has their own individual dreams.”

Pretty heady stuff, and something the kids will hopefully draw from as they navigate their way through life.

But not as much fun as the headfirst Moose.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146


On Twitter @StoneLarry

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