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Originally published Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 8:31 PM

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Eastside Catholic baseball team turns ceremonial first pitch into a special moment

On Saturday at Safeco Field, the honor of a lifetime wasn't about the Crusaders baseball team, which declined throwing the first pitch in order to provide a thrill for a developmentally disabled classmate.

Times staff columnist

Sunday

Texas @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports

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As an ECHS alum, I couldn't be more proud of the decision made by the baseball team... MORE
What an amazing story. It's incredible to see how great kids can be to each other. We... MORE
Great article Jerry, thanks. MORE

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Before Jane Dickison commenced with the honor of a lifetime, she gave a thumbs up to her catcher. Alex Foley nodded, pounded his glove one time and waited for Dickison to do what they had practiced.

Hit me in the forehead. That is what Foley, an all-state left-hander at Eastside Catholic, had taught Dickison to do. In just four practice sessions, Dickison became so adept at hitting her spot that Foley considered her a natural. For certain, she wouldn't have any problem replacing the Eastside Catholic baseball team and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a Mariners game.

On Saturday, in this big stadium, on this big night, the honor of a lifetime was best explained by their bond. It was all about Jane throwing to Alex. It wasn't about the Crusaders baseball team, which declined this opportunity to provide a thrill for a developmentally disabled classmate. It was about a student, an unexpected mentor and an unforgettable moment.

After her thumbs up, Jane lofted her pitch right at Alex's forehead. The Safeco Field crowd cheered. Alex trotted toward the mound, handed Jane the baseball and posed for a picture.

It is an inspiring image: A star athlete in his letterman's jacket embracing his new friend in the orange Eastside Catholic T-shirt.

Daydreaming about the moment on Friday, Foley said: "A lot of what's going to be special revolves around Jane, how special being there with her will be. She's awesome. It's something I'll never forget."

If they were like the rest of us, the players on the Eastside Catholic baseball team would've been shoving each other out of the way to throw out that first pitch. There would've been plenty of blackmailing, a mystery injury or two and perhaps even a voodoo doll.

The Crusaders, the defending Metro League champion and a legitimate Class 3A state title contender (they were runners-up last season), had been invited by the Mariners because they had helped to sell more than 1,000 tickets for the Mariners High School Baseball Classic and fundraiser. The Crusaders will play Newport High at 4 p.m. at Safeco Field next Saturday.

When asked who should throw out the first pitch, the team came to a quick consensus that it should be one of the students in Eastside Catholic's Options Program, which provides instruction for students with developmental disabilities. The Crusaders' four captains have all been Options peer tutors or worked closely with the Special Olympics, and it was an easy decision to bypass team glory for the Options students.

The Options selection process came down to two students, but one of the candidates broke his leg. Jane, an athletic girl who competes in many Special Olympics sports, was the obvious choice.

Over the last few weeks, Jane would come home from school talking about strategy sessions with Alex. The pitcher wanted to make sure Jane understood everything that would happen on her big day. He wanted to make sure she wouldn't be nervous, right down to guaranteeing that he would be the one to catch her ceremonial pitch.

"Alex, he's the nicest one of all, and I look up to him, too," Jane said, smiling.

Before the baseball team left school early for a road game Friday, Foley and teammate Hayden Meier gave Jane high-fives. Why would a baseball team bypass its time to shine? For moments like that.

"I feel like this really brings our community together," Meier said.

Second-year coach Kyle Larsen continues to be amazed by his players. He knew he inherited a program with great potential, but now he understands that his team embodies the generosity, selflessness and commitment to service that defines Eastside Catholic.

It is an inclusive school on a beautiful campus in Sammamish. Like all good schools, there is a tremendous sense of community.

"It's great for our school and great for our baseball program to have these young men so committed to the Eastside Catholic family," Larsen said. "It's just a great group. Their team chemistry is unbelievable. Their pride in this school is, too."

Said Options coordinator Anita Florence: "The spotlight could've been on them. And they didn't need that. They are truly loving and compassionate and caring young men. They're so impressive."

Terry Dickison, Jane's mother, can spend several minutes remembering some of the countless acts of kindness that assured her that Eastside Catholic was the right place for her daughter. Jane came here from a small Montessori school, so the change was intimidating.

But the mother has witnessed students escorting her daughter on the uphill walk to campus. She has witnessed students showing up and cheering for Jane at her Special Olympics events. She has even seen Options peer tutors come to Jane's dance performances and give her flowers afterward.

"It's overwhelming how beautiful this place is," Terry Dickison said. "It's very, very special. Jane has grown emotionally, with her self-esteem, and she's continued to grow academically."

The beauty was apparent Saturday night as Jane and Alex hugged. You couldn't tell who was happier.

And in this big stadium, on this big night, the honor of a lifetime yielded to a bond that won't easily be broken.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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