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Players take time before game to visit local school

BURIEN, Wash. -- On a bright Tuesday afternoon in south King County, about 630 students at Burien's Hilltop Elementary School piled into the gym and sat, row-by-row on grey carpet floors for the Seattle Mariners' 17th Annual D.R.E.A.M. Team Assembly.

The buzz had been building all day.

The kids, grades K-6, knew the Mariners were coming, but had no idea what players would appear. The gym doors were closed beforehand, but some students tried to peek through the windows. A girl handed principal Kathy Emerick a note and asked her to "give it to the Mariners."

It read: "Go Felix"

A little after 1:30 p.m., Felix Hernandez was introduced along with $240-million second baseman Robinson Cano, top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, shortstop Brad Miller, outfielder Stefen Romero and catcher Mike Zunino.

For the ensuing half-hour, one-by-one, the players outlined for their young audience basic, but important, guidelines for what it takes to be successful:

(D)rug-Free (R)espect for yourself and others (E)ducation through reading (A)ttitude (M)otivation

The assembly, which included Hernandez challenging each student to read two books a week, was one of five taking place at Seattle-area elementary schools before Tuesday night's game against the Angels at Safeco Field.

What was the message? Cano grew up in the Caribbean city of San Pedro de Macoris, where MLB players periodically came and spoke before his Little League games. Cano said his father, Jose, who had a brief stint with the Astros in 1989, was one of them.

"I was the only one where my dad was a big leaguer," he said. "To see your dad be around the other kids -- that was something pretty amazing."

Cano spent seventh to ninth grade in Newark, N.J., in a school system, he said, where Major League players never visited.

"In Jersey nobody went to our school. Nobody. It was a good school but they didn't bring anybody -- not when I was there," he said. "Back in the day, that was about '96 -- it was a tough town. It was a tough one, but still we didn't get anybody."

Walker attended high school in Yucaipa, Calif., a little more than hour away from Los Angeles, a place where nobody from the Dodgers or Angels visited while he was growing up.

"I don't think they were going to drive all the way to my little town to say something," he said.

Miller acknowledged the difference between seeing fans at the park and meeting students, calling the experience "pretty sweet."

"We're out there in the real world and there's people that want to be you and look up to you -- maybe little kids or something -- that's really special and kind of puts it in perspective that we can influence people in other ways," he said. "It's kind of cool and you don't take that lightly. It was a great experience."

The assembly began with the Mariners' emcee asking students what they wanted to be when they grew up. A few answered "baseball player." A few said "police officer." Another said "firefighter." "Artist" was an answer. So was "teacher."

"It makes it more real that everybody has their own individual dream," said Emerick. "The Mariners are a good representation of how if you do these things, you can achieve your own dreams."

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Brad Miller, Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Stefen Romero, Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino