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Moose highlights M's annual tour

RICHLAND -- Aliyah Salas is not so much a baseball fan.

The 7-year-old Mesa native is, however, partial to big, fuzzy moose.

Salas, who was recovering at Kadlec Medical Center in Richland after an appendectomy Tuesday, was all smiles Thursday in anticipation of a special visit from the Seattle Mariners Caravan.

"She kept asking me, 'What time are they coming?' " said Salas' mother, Adriana Camacho.

Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims, part of a group that included pitcher Doug Fister, first baseman Mike Carp and the Mariner Moose, didn't take it personally.

Sims, a two-time Emmy Award winner, was fully prepared to take second billing to the popular M's mascot.

"The Moose is really the star of the show," said Sims, who in April will begin his fourth season doing Mariners' television play-by-play. "People bring us into their homes for 162 games a year. This is their opportunity for them to see us in person."

The Caravan stopped at several rooms in the Don and Lori Watts Pediatric Center at Kadlec, including the room occupied by Meghan and Donnie Watts -- son and daughter-in-law of the Center's namesake. The Kennewick couple was grateful for the visit after the birth of their first child, daughter Sofia Grace, on Tuesday.

"It's so special for them to visit the kids," said Donnie, who played some baseball of his own, pitching at UNLV from 2000-03.

"It puts life in perspective," Fister said. "It's an honor to come to a facility like this. To be able to put a smile on kids' faces makes it all worthwhile."

Fister made 10 starts for Seattle last season and finished with a 3-4 record and a 4.13 ERA. The 6-foot-8 right-hander hopes to make a big enough impression on M's manager Don Wakamatsu to grab a spot in what promises to be a strong starting rotation.

"I'm going to come in ready to go," said Fister, who picked up his first major-league victory in a 10-3 win over the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees on Aug. 16. "Hopefully, I can get into the starting rotation."

Carp, a 6-2 right-hander who bats lefty, hit .315 in 21 games for Seattle last year in his first major league season. He finished 2009 on an offensive tear, hitting 7-for-17 (.412) over the M's final six games.

With all the moves Seattle has made during the past six weeks -- signing Chone Figgins and trading for pitcher Cliff Lee, outfielder Milton Bradley and first baseman Casey Kotchman -- Carp is eager to see what the Mariners can accomplish this year.

"It's definitely exciting looking at the turnaround," said Carp, who is expected to serve in a backup role to Kotchman. "We won 85 games last year, and (general manager) Jack Zduriencik has done an incredible job."

The tour continued to the Gjerde Center at Columbia Basin College, where the group capped the day by signing autographs for hundreds of fans young and old while a video screen showed replays of Mariners highlights.

The caravan will continue today from 4:15-5:45 p.m. at the Yakima SunDome before its next appearance in Tacoma on Jan. 20.