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'Sweet Lou' is a big hit in return to Seattle

SEATTLE -- Lou Piniella can still light up Seattle.

He might be looking tanned, well-rested and stress-free while luxuriating in semi-retirement from his days as an irascible, dirt-kicking baseball manager, but Sweet Lou works a room like no other, especially one in a city he once called his Major League home.

Piniella, who managed the Mariners from 1993-2002 and was at the helm for the franchise's greatest seasons, returned to the Emerald City this week to serve at the keynote speaker at Wednesday's luncheon for the 48th Hutch Award, a national honor presented by the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that recognizes a Major League player who has demonstrated outstanding community service.

The Hutch Award has been given every year since 1965 in honor of Major League player and manager Fred Hutchinson, who died of cancer a year earlier at the age of 45, and its list of past honorees includes Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Joe Torre, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, George Brett and Johnny Bench.

Piniella and this year's winner, San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito, were the honored guests at the luncheon, and, as Piniella often does when he comes back to Seattle, he seemed to enjoy reconnecting with fans and familiar faces.

His speech honored some of the best players he had the privilege to manage while with the Mariners, including John Olerud and Jamie Moyer, who were both at the luncheon. Piniella, who was greeted with a familiar "Loooooou" when he took the podium, got the biggest cheers when the talked about fan-favorite Edgar Martinez.

"I know he was a DH, but he belongs in the Hall of Fame," Piniella said.

Piniella, as always, also found time to tell a few stories. One was when he first showed up at Spring Training with the Yankees in 1974 and was greeted by owner George Steinbrenner, whose first words to Piniella were that his hair was too long. Piniella cracked that long hair never seemed to be a problem for Jesus Christ, who was just about the best man who ever lived, so Steinbrenner took him across the street to a swimming pool in the Yankees' old spring stomping grounds of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"'If you can walk across that water,'" Piniella said Steinbrenner told him, "'you can wear your hair any way you want.'"

Another story involved a run-in with an umpire -- not surprising to anyone who watched Piniella manage.

Piniella, along with Zito, had taken a tour of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's labs in the morning, after which, he and Zito donned white coats and helped the scientists with some routine lab work. Piniella's biggest takeaway? They taught him how to properly wash his hands.

He also said he always appreciates coming back to Seattle, especially when it's for such a good cause.

"Really, the only regret is that we never got an opportunity to bring a World Series here," he said before wishing luck to current Mariners manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik. "Truthfully, these fans here in Seattle are as good of fans as there are in baseball. And if you win, you play hard on the field and you pour your heart into it, they'll come out and support you."