SEATTLE — Major General Thomas James Jr., 7th Infantry Division commanding general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, represented the U.S. Army and the installation at Safeco Field Saturday at the Seattle Mariners’ Salute to Armed Forces Night.
It was the second consecutive year James joined other service members representing all branches of the U.S. armed forces for the event. As a big fan of all sports, including baseball, James said he was honored to be one of the local senior leaders to accept a special plaque from Kevin Mather, the Mariners team president.
“It’s really neat how they honor all services in a joint effort,” James said. “It’s an honor to represent all of the Soldiers and Airmen at JBLM.”
It was the 15th year the Mariners hosted the Salute to Armed Forces Night with service members and veterans taking the field along with the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers.
As fans filled the seats, pregame festivities featured service members and veterans lining first and third baselines with the players. The colors were brought out by a Joint Service Honor Guard, headed up by members of the I Corps Command Honor Guard.
One service member was chosen to be one of the honorary starting nine to stand at a position on the field, Spc. Khalil Smith of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 47th Combat Support Hospital, was genuinely excited to learn he was asked to stand at the shortstop position to greet Seattle’s Taylor Motter.
Having grown up in Spanaway, Smith said he attended games with his father at age 5 at Safeco Field.
“As a Mariners fan, to be able to step on the field is amazing,” Smith said. “It’s a dream come true. It makes this that much more special.”
Senior Airman Christopher LaCour, of the 225th Support Squadron, Western Air Defense Sector, was also an honorary Mariner who stood at third base with All-Star Kyle Seager.
“There are so many others who deserve to be here, so I feel very honored to be on the field,” LaCour said.
After the national anthem was played by the Navy Band Northwest, six service members took part in a ceremonial first pitch. The first to throw was Staff Sgt. Joshua Urtz of Headquarters Support Company, 7th Inf. Div.
Urtz said he didn’t practice in the weeks before the game; instead, he relied on his high school experience for Kempsville High School, in Virginia.
Like his military peers, Urtz said he felt honored to be chosen to throw out a first pitch.
“I never thought I would get to throw out a first pitch,” Urtz said. “From pitching in high school to throwing at a major league stadium is amazing.”
Senior Airman Shane Key, of the 225th Support Squadron, Western Air Defense Sector also threw out a first pitch. Key also grew up a Mariners fan in Spanaway. There was never enough money available to attend a game as a child he said. But he finally went to a game last season after arriving at his first duty station — Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Like Smith, Key said he was honored to be selected to stand on the field in front of 34,927 fans for the Saturday night game that the Mariners won 5-0.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” Key said. “But I was really looking forward to it.”