Make-A-Wish moments highlight for Hasson
Players, team staff go all-in to make day special for child, family
For Gina Hasson, Opening Day with the Mariners carries a growing tradition that touches the heart of everyone who watches the club's pregame ceremony at Safeco Field.
As the team's director of community relations, Hasson is responsible for coordinating with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a child with a life-threatening medical condition the chance to run around the bases just before the first pitch of the season's first home game.
It's a special moment for the chosen child and their family, to be sure. But it's also a scene that is celebrated by Mariners players who greet the Make-A-Wish child at home plate with open arms, and by fans who stand and cheer what has become an integral part of every Opening Day at Safeco.
"It's become a wonderful moment," said Hasson, who is starting her 22nd season with the Mariners. "It's hard not to get teary-eyed when you see the families, especially, when they see 45,000 people cheering for their kid and then greeted by two or three players at home plate. It's just hard to imagine that as a parent."
Hasson coordinates a five-person staff that handles all the team's charitable efforts in the community, working with players and their wives -- and yes, the Mariner Moose -- to put people in the right places. This season, her department is also responsible for a fundraising effort throughout the opening homestand to bring in money for Japan's Red Cross program to help earthquake victims.
"This year there's more than usual going on due to the Japan relief efforts. It'll be a busy first homestand," Hasson said.
But without question, the highlight will be when Kamrin Cramer, an 11-year-old boy from Gig Harbor, Wash., circles the bases. Cramer has a kidney problem that will require a transplant as soon as a donor is found. He's had seven surgeries already in his young life, but all that will be forgotten for a bit as he lives out his dream of meeting the Mariners on Opening Night.
Kamrin and his family will first come to Safeco Field on Wednesday morning for a couple of trial runs. That way, they can get used to the surroundings and the sight of the big stadium. Hasson and her crew will actually time the youngster's practice trips around the bases to get a sense for how much time to allot in the pregame ceremony.
Some kids get nervous and sprint around the paths on Opening Night, others have frozen up a bit and gone slowly. But always the Moose is there to help ease the pressure. And at the end of the journey, there's the welcome leap into the arms of a Felix Hernandez or Ken Griffey Jr. or Ichiro Suzuki.
"We don't tell the family what players are going to be at home plate, so when they do see who comes out, that's always a special moment," Hasson said.
Donna Verretto, vice president of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, said Hasson and the Mariners have been incredible partners and often keep in touch with kids long after their initial meetings.
"[Mariners general manager] Jack Zduriencik made special friends with a Wish child two years ago that he met at a game and kept in touch with to the point where, when the child passed away this past November, Jack came to his funeral," Verretto said. "And I know that wouldn't have happened without Gina's involvement. She must have called me five times asking for contact information because Jack wanted to keep in touch.
"They just do so much to reach out that it's just not something you'd ever expect."
Most of the Opening Day Make-A-Wish baserunners are from the Pacific Northwest, but there have been Wish kids from Japan who've flown out to meet Ichiro during regular-season games. Chone Figgins arranged for a child he'd worked with last year in Seattle to meet up again this spring in Peoria, Ariz.
Hasson said Mariners players always jump on board with charitable efforts, but the Make-A-Wish program has been one of the favorites for everyone involved since Griffey set a tone with the program during his early playing days.
"When a child with a life-threatening issue has a wish to meet you as a player, I can't imagine how that might feel," Hasson said. "The players take it very seriously and are really great about taking their time and making it a special day here.
"Word gets out quickly in the clubhouse that there's a Make-A-Wish kid at the park and they're all right there, signing stuff and taking them into the clubhouse and giving them tours and whatever they can do. They're all on board."
For the Opening Day event, the Make-A-Wish family gets a limo ride to the ballpark, hotel accommodations if they're from out of town, a custom-made uniform with the child's favorite number on the back and the chance to meet and hang out with their favorite players.
From Veretto's point of view, Hasson and her team have made the event a terrific tradition for all the right reasons.
"I work with lots of people and you could do it differently," she said. "It could be all about what feels good for the Mariners. But they make it about what is good for the child."