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Baseball coach lives out childhood dream

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Kevin Fennell donned the uniform of the Seattle Mariners for a week in January to live out a childhood dream as a professional baseball pitcher.

As a boy, Kevin Fennell dreamed of one day playing professional baseball, but life's road took the Sunnyside man into a different direction.

"Playing pro baseball is just a fantasy I've always had," Fennell told the Sunnyside Noon Rotary Club during its Monday meeting.

While the dream of playing pro ball was set on the back burner, Fennell has satisfied his itch to play baseball as a high school coach for the Sunnyside Christian High School Knights baseball team.

But this past January, the athletic young man made his childhood fantasy come true when he showed up for spring training at the Seattle Mariners' 2004 Fantasy Baseball Camp.

Fennell shared the highlights of his fantasy come true with the Rotarians, giving them a behind-the-scenes look at the professional baseball players' spring practice routines.

Fennell flew to the Seattle Mariners' spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz. in mid-January, where he spent seven days, eating, sleeping and playing baseball under the tutelage of professional Mariners coaches and players.

He had the opportunity to work with such pros as Mariners Norm "The Sheriff" Charlton, Gary Wheelock, Jim Presley, Dave Heaverlo and Shooty Babbitt.

"We played ball every day I was there," Fennell said.

"The first couple days we were pretty sore after practice, but the upside was that we got to use the Mariners' whirlpool," said the tall man.

Fennell thought the whirlpool water would be warm, but it was a shocking, cool 60 degrees. "That was an adjustment, but it made sense," he said, noting it didn't take long for his muscles to adjust to the spring training regimen.

"They made me feel like a real pro ball player," Fennell said.

"The camp is definitely designed for those folks who grew up dreaming of being a professional baseball player," Fennell said,

Days at the camp started at 6:30 a.m., and each day the campers played ball, attended skills clinics, and took batting instruction. Fennell said he arrived each morning at the clubhouse thrilled to see his very own Mariners' baseball uniform, complete with his name and number, hanging in his own locker.

"I was flabbergasted at the training complex," he said. "We had access to everything the pro players get to use."

Fennell said as part of the experience, the campers were divided into competitive teams. "My team was called the Flyers and we were coached by Mike Moore and Presley," he said.

Fennell, who is left-handed, had the satisfaction of pitching to Charlton and Wheelock, who "popped out," he smiled.

Fennell's team made it to the camp's championship playoffs and were the eventual camp champs. The Flyers claimed a 7-2 victory in the title game.

"I got to pitch three of the nine innings, helping to hold the other team to just two runs," said Fennell, who finished his fantasy with a 0.88 ERA and a batting average of .391.

"What impressed me was that not just guys attended the fantasy camp," he said.

"There were a lot of women there and some older guys," he said. He told of one 87-year-old baseball addict, who returns year after year to attend the week-long camp. "Burt was great," he said of the older man.

"You have to be at least 30 years-old to attend the Mariners Fantasy camp. It costs a quite a bit, but it was worth it," he said.

Fennell, who will begin his own spring baseball training next week with the Christian Knights, can hardly wait to begin sharing what he learned at Mariners camp.

"They won't know what hit them," he smiled.

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