PASCO -- Fans attending the Seattle Mariners Caravan on Friday at Columbia Basin College went home with autographs, photos, a hug from Mariner Moose and a pocket schedule featuring pitcher Michael Pineda.
By the time fans got home, Pineda had been traded to the New York Yankees, leaving the door open for starting pitcher Blake Beavan and reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, who met with more than 200 fans at CBC.
After introductions, the players and former Mariners catcher turned broadcaster Dave Valle did a question-and-answer segment with the crowd.
One question asked: What was your best moment in baseball?
Wilhelmsen, 28, fielded that one first.
"My dad is a huge Yankees fan," he said. "We were playing the Yankees, and I was facing Derek Jeter. All I could think was, 'Don't hit this guy.' I was so nervous I was shaking. I served him three balls in a row, then three strikes and struck him out."
It was a big accomplishment for Wilhelmsen, a 2002 seventh-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. He played in the minors in 2003, but at the end of the season, he tested positive for marijuana several times and was suspended for the 2004 season. He left the game in 2005.
He returned in 2010, signing a minor league contract with the Mariners.
"Everyone has to overcome certain things," he said. "(Life) isn't easy for anybody. Now, I have more of an appreciation of life. Before, it was strictly baseball, and I wanted more. The only way to make that happen was to quit playing ball. When I got that appreciation of life, I realized the opportunity I could have if I worked hard."
In his years away from baseball, he backpacked through Europe and was a bartender at The Hut in his hometown of Tucson, Ariz.
"The Hut was fun, but it wore on you," Wilhelmsen said. "I haven't had this much fun playing ball since I was 9-10 years old. The fire is back."
Wilhelmsen's wife, Cassie, has been a big supporter in his return to baseball.
"When I first told her I wanted to play baseball, she was like, 'Go have fun with your friends.' She thought I meant down at the park. She helped me get serious about life. She was encouraging."
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Wilhelmsen pitched 32 2/3 innings last season, striking out 30 and posting a 3.31 ERA.
Beavan, 22, can one day tell his grandkids he was traded for Cliff Lee. He doesn't have to tell them he was part of a package deal sent to the Mariners for the 2008 American League Cy Young award winner.
"I think that was one of the biggest trades in baseball," said Beavan, a first-round pick (17th overall) of the Texas Rangers in 2007. "I had gotten called up to Triple A, and we were headed to Round Rock (Texas). I was going to make my first start. Then I got a call. They told me they made a trade for Cliff Lee and I was part of it. Then I got a call from Seattle welcoming me."
That was July 9, 2010. A year later, the 6-foot-7 Beavan made his first big league start July 3 against the San Diego Padres -- and picked up the win. He made 15 starts last season, finishing 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA.
"I think you are going to see a lot of improvement from all of the rookies -- defensively, with their bat and pitching," Beavan said. "We've got more experience this year with a full year in the big leagues.
Unlike some rookies, the large crowds don't faze Beavan.
"My first start, there were more than 20,000 fans." he said. "I thrive off big ballparks and lots of fans. I played high school football in Texas (Irving High School). You are used to that. Getting that first inning out of the way was huge."
Valle could be living the life of retirement, but he said golf wasn't for him.
"Your life has to have a sense of purpose," he said. "I have an opportunity to be a part of something that is hard to be a part of. These two young men, I have been so impressed with their passion and their excitement for spring training. They have some exciting things to look forward to."
Valle, a native of Bayside, N.Y., was drafted by the Mariners in the second round of the 1978 draft. He played in the minor leagues for seven years before making his big league debut Sept. 7, 1984. He retired in 1996 as a Texas Ranger.
Before arriving at CBC, Valle, Beavan, Wilhelmsen and the Moose visited patients at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
The players said they have enjoyed the hospital and school visits and meeting the fans, but that the Moose is the main attraction.
"The Moose is the best," Wilhelmsen said. "The other day we went and saw a little girl. He reached out and rubbed her hand. Her mom said it was the first time she'd smiled in three days. That's the power of the Moose."