Seattle Mariners Caravan visits patients at Kadlec - courtesy of Tri-City Herald


Shawn O’Malley was part of the Seattle Mariners Caravan that visited Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Columbia Basin College on Friday.

The former Southridge High School standout visited with kids and parents alike, even a set of twins who soon will be heading home.

“This is a blast,” O’Malley said. “You get to visit, meet new people, and I get to come home and see a lot of familiar faces and fans. It’s nice to come home every once in a while.”

Joining O’Malley on the caravan were pitcher Dan Altavilla, longtime Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs and, of course, the Mariner Moose.

The Mariners Caravan made stops in Yakima, Wenatchee, Walla Walla and Spokane before landing in the Tri-Cities. O’Malley was part of the final three stops.

While the caravan crew changes from city to city, there is one constant — the Moose.

“He really is the star of the show,” O’Malley said. “You walk in and say hi, and the next thing you know, everyone is shouting, ‘Moose, Moose.’ We are just the sidekicks along for the ride. He takes care of the rest.”

And while O’Malley can swing a bat, run the bases and turn double plays, the Moose entertains with backflips, like he did a couple of days ago.

“He is cute and fuzzy and very athletic,” O’Malley said. “I tried to do backflips when I was younger. After about three or four, I shut it down. Gymnastics is not my forte.”

Rizzs, who just finished his 31st year year with Seattle, is the team’s primary play-by-play announcer on the Mariners Radio Network. He embraces the caravan.

“We have the best time,” Rizzs said. “We go to 24 different communities in three weeks. We get the players out to meet the the fans, especially the kids. Coming to the hospital here and meeting the families and the kids is so much fun. We bring the Mariners out into the community. If they don’t a chance to come to the ballpark, we bring the players to them. We have as much fun as the kids do.”

A couple years ago, O’Malley, 29, thought about hanging up his cleats, but his wife Samantha, who is scheduled to deliver the couple’s first child April 23 — a daughter named Millie Jeen — convinced him to give it one more year.

He’s happy he took her advice.

“I’m glad I stuck it out,” he said. “Patience pays off. I’m looking forward to this year and hopefully getting to the playoffs. We got close last year, but close doesn’t cut it.”

O’Malley started last season in Tacoma but was promoted May 15 and stuck with the Mariners the rest of the season. He appeared in 89 games with 232 plate appearances. He batted .229 with 48 hits, including nine doubles, two triples, two home runs and 17 RBIs. He also had six stolen bases.

Defensively, he played every position except pitcher, catcher and first base. He committed just three errors and saw considerable time at shortstop (36 games) when Ketel Marte was battling mono.

“I’m versatile,” O’Malley said. “I think that’s what attracted them to begin with. I hit from both sides of the plate. I’m OK doing whatever I need to do. I will play right, left, center. I will catch, pitch or play first. Whatever I have to do to help this team win, I will. Hopefully they see that.”

O’Malley will have to have a strong spring training to hold on to his job as a utility infielder with competition against newcomer Taylor Motter and Mike Freeman, who was called up late last season from Tacoma. Seattle picked up Freeman in August after the Diamondbacks put him on waivers.

“I’m not worried,” O’Malley said. “Like every year, I go in and fight for a job. This year, I’m not going to take it any different. There are good ball players out there. I will go in and do my thing. At the end of the day, I hope it’s good enough and they like what they see.”

Rizzs believes O’Malley has the tools to help the Mariners.

“To be able to do what he does, it is a difficult thing to do,” Rizzs said. “He does it very, very well. We are fortunate to have him. He can run, he can put down a bunt. He can do all the little things right. He can spell the starters and give them a day off. The season is a marathon. To have a guy like Shawn O’Malley to help out in that type of role is huge for a ball club. He helps you win a lot of ball games.”

With more than 30 years in the business, Rizzs has seen some of the best players in the sport come through the Mariners program, and each year he is just as excited to get the season started.

“The one thing about baseball, no matter if you are 19 like Ken Griffey Jr., or 29 like Shawn O’Malley, or 40 years old like some guys, you are a kid again,” Rizzs said. “You put on the uniform and you are playing a kids’ game at the highest level. You just feel that youthfulness playing baseball. It is so much fun to watch them. They keep me young. I am 63, (and) I still feel like a kid again watching them. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and they make it fun.”

Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574, @TCHIceQueen