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Mariner for a day

Crook County Middle School student Katie Morris gets her wish thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Mariners and ESPN

by: Photos courtesy of Ben VanHouten - Katie Morris with Jeremy Reed, left, and Adrian Beltre, at Safeco Field with her name in lights in the background. Katie also had the opportunity to run the bases. Her special uniform says “Morris” and “1” on the back.

Katie Morris has achieved her wish.
   The Crook County Middle School student, who is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, and her former Oregon City Pioneers baseball team members traveled to Seattle in late May to watch the Seattle Mariners play against the Baltimore Orioles.
   The Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Mariners and ESPN cooperated to grant Morris her wish, but Morris wanted to make sure her other teammates got to watch the game as well. She was the only girl on the boys' team.
   "Because of all of the other great times they have shared through the years, Katie really wanted them to be a part of this unforgettable experience for her," said her mother, Terri.
   Katie suffers from Astrocytoma Stage 4 cancer. This is a real aggressive cancer that cannot be removed surgically without permanent brain damage.
   Katie and several of her teammates played four seasons on teams coached by her father, Frank, in the Oregon City Youth Sports league. Katie batted first and played shortstop and pitched for the team.
   The Morris family moved from Oregon City to Powell Butte last summer after the baseball season ended. Katie was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November.
   The players had their pictures taken with pitcher Jamie Moyer, infielder Adrian Beltre, Jeremy Reed and pitcher Gil Meche on the field. Mariners first base coach Mike Goff walked with Morris around the field and she kept some infield dirt as a souvenir.
   In what was a wonderful day for Morris, Mariners relief pitcher Eddie Guardado invited the Pioneers to race around the bases, with him and Katie leading the way. Several Mariners players signed Katie's personalized Mariners jersey with "Morris" and number one on the back and her head.
   Katie and her family also met with Mariners star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in the clubhouse, and also met outfielder Raul Ibanez and infielder Richie Sexson.
   Before Katie and her family left the Mariners dugout to watch the game, Ibanez presented Katie with a personalized Louisville Slugger bat signed by the Mariners team. The bat was inscribed with "Katie Morris 5/24/06" to commemorate her wish.
   In the baseball tunnel, they were able to get autographs and photos with Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno, who threw out the first pitch.
   After the third inning, Katie was a bit of a star herself, as she was televised on a giant screen at Safeco Field and waved to the crowd of 21,991.
   "She was really excited about it," said her mother. She had two wishes and the family had worked with Make-A-Wish Foundation. There were several great times for Katie on May 24 at the game. One was surprising her with Bryce Aberg, whom ESPN had flown in from Tennessee.
   "He's a friend of hers that she has known since kindergarten," Terri said, adding that she had not seen her childhood friend for two years. "It was a very touching moment. It made her cry. I think that's the only time she cried. I think it surprised her."
   Aberg had served as catcher for the Oregon City Pioneers.
   Also, meeting Suzuki was another high point for little Katie.
   "He is humble," Terri said. "There is nothing arrogant about the man. He spent quite a few minutes, like 10, with us."
   Suzuki, who has received nationwide attention for his baseball skill, asked TV news crews not to come in to the meeting and that this was strictly a private meeting with the family.
   The news of the cancer has impacted not only Katie and her family, but also her former teammates.
   Profound changes
   "It's changed all of them," Terri said. "It's a profound change in all of them at 12 years old. I don't think any one of them will ever be the same."
   Terri also commented about the fact that Katie invited her former teammates to join her in Seattle.
   "I would like to say that the one thing about my daughter that makes her special is how thoughtful she is," the mother said. "She said, in her own words, 'What fun is it if it's just you by yourself?'"
   "I think what she got out of it as a kid is that she could be a kid for one day and forget about her cancer," Terri added.
   Katie's prognosis is still the same. Doctors predict she has between six months and two years to live, but Terri said she has survived the first six months.
   "She's a lot more tired," Terri said. "She doesn't have the energy level that she used to."
   For example, when the family goes grocery shopping, she will sit down because she is so tired.
   "She never used to do that," Terri said.
   "Her tumor has not grown since last January," her mother said. "That is the good news."
   Terri would like the brain tumor to shrink, but the problem with this type of cancer is that it affects and gets into all of her brain cells, and that in turn, shrinkage will cause brain damage. The family cannot risk having doctors operate to remove the tumor, given how much it has infested her daughter's brain cells. To do so would mean removing part of her brain and causing her to be a vegetable.
   While Terri is optimistic her daughter will live at least another six months, she's realistic.
   "You can't count on anything. Nothing is certain," Terri said, adding that this is a very aggressive form of cancer and if it fights the chemotherapy treatments, "it could go very quickly."
   "You take it with that kind of knowledge," her mom said. "Nothing is for sure for you or me. We could get hit by a car and not be here tomorrow."
   Katie will be a seventh-grader this fall at CCMS.
   "Katie's school year right now is up in the air," Terri said. "I'm not sure how we'll handle it."
   Perhaps she will go to school a couple of days per week for a few hours at a time, but if the cancer progresses, Terri said the family will not worry about school.
   Appreciative of the support
   During all of this ordeal, Crook County Middle School staff and students have helped Katie and her family.
   "Crook County - I really want to commend those children down there," Terri said, adding that her two daughters had only attended CCMS for two months when the news of the tumor came. Students raised more than $8,000 to help her out, plus at least $37,000 was raised at an Oregon City auction, where her two daughters were born. Students also dedicated a page in the CCMS yearbook to Katie.
   "You know, they're just awesome people," she said of CCMS students and staff. "I've only known them a short period in my life, but I'm going to love them forever. When you find people like that, they're worth holding onto. Long after my daughter is gone."
   "That's compassion," Terri said. "That's the definition of it - is not hardly knowing a person and throwing your heart out."