Safeco Field offers a very special day to Federal Way Special Olympians

Federal Way Thunder 2 leadoff hitter Nathanial Hoffa fouls off a pitch during Wednesday’s Special Olympics of Washington Day at the Mariners at Safeco Field. Hoffa was one of 22 Federal Way Special Olympians to play a softball game before the Mariners played the Texas Rangers.   - Casey Olson/staff photo
Federal Way Thunder 2 leadoff hitter Nathanial Hoffa fouls off a pitch during Wednesday’s Special Olympics of Washington Day at the Mariners at Safeco Field. Hoffa was one of 22 Federal Way Special Olympians to play a softball game before the Mariners played the Texas Rangers.
— image credit: Casey Olson/staff photo

Laura Gorgen got quite the early birthday present Wednesday afternoon.

Gorgen celebrated her 14th birthday a day early on the mound at the mecca of baseball in the Pacific Northwest — Safeco Field. She actually turned 14 on Thursday.

Gorgen was selected by the Seattle Mariners to throw out the first pitch before Wednesday’s Mariners-Texas Rangers game. She fired in a perfect strike that drew cheers from the thousands of fans in the stadium on Special Olympics of Washington’s Day at the Mariners.

“It was really cool,” Laura said. “It was neat.”

Gorgen threw the ceremonial pitch to her father, Greg, and not to the normal professional baseball player that usually sits behind the plate.

“They were afraid,” Greg Gorgen joked. “This is a pretty good birthday gift. It’s one to remember.”

The first pitch was just the final straw in an amazing day for Gorgen and 21 other Federal Way Special Olympians at Safeco Field. Gorgen and the rest of her teammates also played an exhibition softball game before the Mariners and Rangers took to the field Wednesday afternoon.

“It kind of just came about last week,” said Sharon Boyle, who coaches the Federal Way Special Olympics softball teams and works with the city’s parks and recreation department, along with the Federal Way School District. “And I really don’t know how. All I know is I got a call from somebody at Special Olympics Washington and they told me that Fox Sports Northwest wanted to have an exhibition game with some athletes. The Mariners agreed to it.”

The Federal Way Special Olympians were able to change into their uniforms inside a locker room underneath Safeco Field and were given free tickets in the center field bleachers to watch the Major League game, which the Mariners won 8-7 over the Rangers.

“All I got was a phone call,” Boyle said. “It was fabulous. The athletes were so ecstatic.”

Ecstatic is putting it mildly.

The exhibition game, featuring the Federal Way Thunder 1 team against Federal Way Thunder 2, was sponsored by Fox Sports Northwest and emceed by Angie Mentink, wife of former Todd Beamer High School basketball coach Jarrett Mentink. Mentink did play-by-play of the one-inning game, along with current Mariners Jamie Burke, Brandon Morrow and Bryan Lahair.

“They are living in the limelight,” Boyle said.

The two Thunder softball teams were introduced by the Mariners’ public address announcer and all 22 members got to hit one time through their batting order. The players’ also had their names displayed on Safeco Field’s huge big screen television above center field.

“I was nervous first off,” said Federal Way Thunder 1 pitcher Joey Murchison. “It was awesome, great, totally everything else.”

Murchison and the rest of the Federal Way Special Olympians had thought their summer season was over when they were knocked out of the regional tournament last month in Issaquah, falling short of the Special Olympics State Softball Tournament.

“Sharon rounded up all the players and asked them if they wanted to play one last game at Safeco Field,” said Kelsey Martin, the inclusion coordinator for the Federal Way Parks and Recreation Department, who assists with Special Olympics. “Their season kind of ended on a bad note. But they were really excited to get back together.”

“My coach told me at my job at Albertson’s,” Muchison said. “It was so cool.”

The two Federal Way Thunder softball teams are not separated in age groups like most other cities, according to Martin. The Thunder program includes pre-teens to players over 30 years old.

“It’s because there is a lack of support for Special Olympics teams in Federal Way,” Martin said. “We don’t have enough coaches or enough players to separate into youth and adult teams.”

Special Olympics Washington has a huge community impact in the state. There are currently over 7,000 registered athletes in Washington with 8,000 volunteers and 1,500 volunteer coaches. Athletes range in age from 8 to 85 years old and Special Olympics offers 16 different sports and doesn’t charge athletes any money to participate.

Boyle has been the stalwart for Special Olympics in Federal Way since getting involved with the organization over 20 years ago.

“Back then King County had a program for special needs’ kids and I was at a point where I just needed to do something different in my life and I started to volunteer. It kind of snowballed from there. It started off slow ans just kept rolling.”

Boyle went to work for the Federal Way school district in 1990 as their special populations director and moved to the city of Federal Way recently in the same position. Over the years, Boyle has organized, coached and supervised soccer, track and field, bowling and basketball teams, as well as softball.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

Federal Way Thunder 1

Cory Dempsey

Timothy Dempsey

John Emmett

Chris Ellis

Marcel Foster

Kyle Jorgenson

Nichelle Cruz

Joe Murchison

John Steinmetz

Kori Fitzpatrick

Federal Way Thunder 2

Nathanial Hoffa

Loren Kodimer

Destiny Todd

Laura Gorgen

Paul Warren

Kimberly Bench

Courtney Alton

Trevor Vaughan

Andy Peterson

Bradley Gorgen

Ariana Turchaino

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