Mariners pitchers pitch in with H.O.M.E.
We see it on the board when we return from the road:
“Pitchers 5:35 Home Project.”
Pitchers meetings at the start of a series are not uncommon, but this meeting that is scheduled once a homestand is.
At 5:35 the 12 starters and relievers along with pitching coach Carl Willis file into the back interview room and take one of the chairs that are lined up against the walls.
“Where’s Felix? Felix is always late,” someone says.
“I’m here! What are you talking about?” answers Felix, who was actually the second to enter the room.
“Doug, do you have the envelope?” Shawn Kelley asks.
“Are you the treasurer this year?” asks Marianne Short, Mariners Vice President of Human Recourses.
“Yes ma’am,” answers Fister. “I have the envelope so just find me and I will get it to Marianne.”
And with that the Home Project meeting begins.
Helping Other Mariners Employees.
Home Project is the brainchild of former Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair, who once gave a portion of his bonus check to a team employee in need. He looked around and realized that there must be others in the same situation and decided that he wanted to do something to help.
“His vision was he wanted to pick a person, a day of game staff member, someone from the front office, a minor leaguer, someone who is in need of some money,” said Short, who went on to note that there are over 1,500 who work for the Mariners in those capacities.
“It seems like a lot of the time you are looking on the outside communities to help and, in turn, sometimes you forget about the people who work in the same place you do,” said David Pauley. “We see them every day: the guys in the parking lot, ushers, the guys who work out by us in the pen. You see their faces, you get to know them and it is that much more gratifying to help them out when they need it.
“Everyone at some point of their life gets into a bad a situation and they need a little bit of help. To have a program like this where we can step in, it may not be much, but it is enough to them that it makes a big difference.”
What makes Home Project special is the involvement of the pitchers. Rather than just pass a hat around once a homestand, they meet and they listen to the story of team employees that they are helping. Short, because of her position, hears the stories first-hand and then brings them downstairs to the clubhouse.
The stories cover a wide range of trials and tribulations: illness in the family, medical bills that aren’t quite covered, families who suffer a loss and need something to help take their minds off of their situations. There’s one story that Short relayed in this meeting that moved everyone.
“One longtime employee’s daughter drowned in an accident in Puerto Rico and her son was saved,” Short said. “He was in the process of trying to adopt his grandson and the legal bills were quite costly. When he received the money, he was overwhelmed. His grandson wrote the thank you note. What it meant to him, losing his mother, but as a 12-year-old, knowing that this money came from the Mariners pitchers? It was just overwhelming to him.”
At the meeting, Willis, who along with Shawn Kelley, David Aardsma and Jason Vargas, made sure the program was continued after the departure of Adair. He told his pitchers to always take care of their families first, but then to give what they felt comfortable giving.
“Remember that we are very fortunate to be in the situation we are in,” he told them. “And remember the effect that you have on other people. It doesn’t take a lot to go a long way for people who aren’t as fortunate as we are. It is something to feel good about.”
“It’s important to us,” said Kelley. “We have got a great group of pitchers that are good people, not just good baseball players, but a good core of guys who care about each other and care about other people. Sometimes guys get a little emotional in the meetings when we hear the stories. We love to help.”
The involvement is important to Kelley.
“It’s one thing if everyone says, ‘hey put in such and such amount and they are going to take it and do whatever.’ People are putting in money for the wrong reason. You are just doing it because everyone else is doing it or because some older guy said ‘hey do it,'” Kelley said. “When we go into these meetings and hear the stories about somebody, it puts a face or a situation to what we are doing and it is nice to know that. We don’t do it to make us feel better about ourselves or to get karma points or everyone in the media knows that we are good people. We don’t care about that. It is really cool to know that we are helping someone.
“When she comes back and tells us the reaction of the people or someone writes a letter, it is really neat.”
Jamey Wright echoed Kelley’s feelings.
“If it is guys just passing around a hat and saying, ‘we will take care of the rest’ you are not really involved. When you get to hear the story of what is going on, the trials and tribulations these people are going through, it makes you that much more aware of what is going on and it drives it home as to what you are doing to help people out.”
The meeting lasted only about 10 minutes, but in that time the pitchers heard the story of the person they would be helping this homestand and of one that they had helped before. One pitcher asked for details on how the money would be spent, wanting to make sure that no expense was spared. Brandon League pointed out that they did not meet in the first homestand and asked Short if she could bring two stories to the next meeting.
Then something special happened. Short pulled out a $100 bill and informed the group that the money was from someone they helped last year. That person wanted to pay it forward. The pitchers inspired him to do that and hopefully it can inspire others as well.
Last week I caught up with Adair, who is now the bullpen coach in Baltimore. We chatted a little and when he turned to leave I told him about the story.
“They are still doing that?” he asked with a smile. “All of them?”
He was thrilled to hear that indeed they were. He then got a little choked up and said, “It’s a great thing. There are so many stories out there.”
The Mariners are the only team to have such a program, but that could change some day soon. The pitchers that I talked to said that they wanted to carry this on as long as they could. This included if they were to go to another team.
“If I were traded today, I would definitely talk to the veteran guys and say this was something we did in Seattle and it was really cool. I want to keep it going forever,” said Kelley.