Wounded warriorsWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
On June 1, I awoke with a sore left knee and a right hamstring that protested even the slightest movement. I do not believe I will ever be so grateful to be strained and in low-grade pain.
The day before, I shared a field with the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, armed forces veterans who sacrificed arms, legs, hands, feet and untold other elements of their lives in the service of our country. Aching muscles were an embarrassing complaint compared to the prosthetics those men must use every day.
The Wounded Warriors played three games May 31 at Ned Skeldon Stadium, raising more than $18,000 during their time here.
The group’s core effort consists of three missions: “To raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured service members aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.” These are men like Zachary “Beef” Briseno, a Marine who lost both legs below the knee in Iraq and yet still plays softball, hunts, lifts weights and coaches his son’s baseball team. Men like Kyle Earl, a Marine whose right hand was amputated during service in Iraq but who still plays hockey, football and softball. Men like Matias Ferreira, a Marine who lost both legs below the knee in Iraq and yet skydives, dances, snowboards and bikes.
These are men who redefine concepts like toughness, perseverance and grace.
I never played organized baseball or softball growing up. I did play on the NASA softball team during a summer in Washington, D.C., but was smart enough to not swing for the fences when playing against the IRS and Department of the Treasury teams.
But when Newsradio 1370 WSPD’s Fred LeFebvre asked for volunteers to form a media team to play the Wounded Warriors, there was no way I was going to say no. We all knew going in we were signing up for a probable ass-kicking, and not one of us hesitated.
The Wounded Warriors beat the Metro Police/Firefighters team in extra innings but then lost to the Allshred Services/Pacesetter Property Management tournament team, which left them tired but determined to whoop on some local “celebrities.” Close to 30 of us assembled, with no practice, to form our team, managed by Al Seeger. There were a number of former Detroit Tigers serving as our ringers (Stan Clarke, Tom Matchick, Mickey Stanley, Dave Rozema, Jon Worden, Milt Wilcox and Willie Horton as well as former Cleveland Indian and 1980 American League Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau), but I was most excited to meet football legend Chuck Ealey, the University of Toledo and Canadian Football League quarterback who never lost a football game during his career. Ealey was friendly and accommodating, a true pleasure to meet. I was less impressed with some of the former pros, a couple of whom spoke about the women on our team like we were in a 1972 locker room.
Among the many media people on the team were WSPD morning show producers Don Zellers and Adam Ragle, and Joe Thompson and Tori Carmen of NBC 24. Ragle and I had been talking for weeks about our relative lack of softball skills and how we just wanted to get through the game without major injury to body or pride.
The pregame ceremonies included a home run hitting demonstration, an appearance by veteran Matthew Drake, an honor guard and a medley of military anthems danced to by the Off Broadway Dance Company, decked out in red-white-and-blue-spangled vests. The national anthem was beautifully performed by Yvonne Ramos, who contributed to our 2012 Make-A-Wish holiday CD; her rendition was so powerful and moving, each of the Wounded Warriors lined up to hug her with thanks, even as the last echoes of her vocals faded from the stadium.
The game started with the first few innings played by our Tigers ringers, who jumped out to a several-run lead. But any illusions we had of competing were dashed when the media members and celebrities took over. I had carefully watched the first few innings, during which not one hit came anywhere near third base, so that was the position I covered. The umpire there greeted me with, “Taking the hot corner, are you?” to which I responded, “No, I am third base. If I had known they called it the hot corner, I’d have stayed in the dugout.”
The Wounded Warriors did things on prosthetics I would not have dreamed of doing in my athletic prime. As an offensive lineman for the Libbey High School Cowboys in the mid-1980s, I was about force, not finesse. These men ran, rolled and hustled with a purpose that inspired awe and respect in vast measures.
Nothing came my way that inning, though I did manage to catch one ball Zellers threw my way. It was actually kind of rolling to a stop in front of me as I set my borrowed glove down before it. I was still excited enough to show the umpire, as if I had made a deciding catch in a World Series Game 7, prompting someone in the stands to heckle my glee, but I did not care; of all the possible embarrassing fielding outcomes, none transpired.
“Hammer” Ragle led off the next inning and slapped a single into right field, so there was a man on first as I approached the plate. I took a few quick swings and tried to remember coaching advice I had seen in baseball movies. The only thing I could think of was Kevin Costner’s line in “Bull Durham” about “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days,” which wasn’t relevant and didn’t help. The first pitch arced in low and hit the dirt right in front of me, an obvious ball. I stepped out of the batter’s box and then took my “stance” waiting for the next pitch.
I swung, connected, and the ball sailed over the pitcher’s head, a line drive single to center field. I did my best imitation of running to first base, absolutely soaring to get a hit.
It was one of the three greatest athletic moments of my life, the others being a 1985 senior high school football game against St. John’s (no Jesuit in the name then) and the session that led to the conception of my first son.
The joy lasted until I realized just how far away second base looked. Radio personality Sid Siddall was up next, and he hit a single that scored Ragle and allowed me to lumber to second base. It was then that I first thought I might actually have a chance to score a run. With my little boys and wife in the stands cheering me on, it was a tantalizing and previously unconsidered chance at glory. But Zellers took the plate and his contact with the ball sent it straight toward third base. I tried, though, barreling as fast as I could, pushing my protesting legs.
Predictably, I was outplayed by a catcher with one arm and a baseman with two prosthetic legs.
I went back to the dugout happy and fist-bumped Ragle on our achievement, which I know, in the presence of the Wounded Warriors, was pathetic, but we were still happy. In fact, when Zellers asked me if I was going back on the field, I declined, ostensibly so someone else could take a turn, but primarily because why mess up a .1000 career batting average? Zellers, by the way, took the hot corner and played like an all-star, making catches and throws so good that the Warriors-supporting crowd booed him.
The Wounded Warriors beat us 19-11, and as we lined up for the postgame attaboys, I thanked every one of them for their service. The games raised $18,000 and some much-needed attention for a tremendously compelling cause. Plus, I got a hit!
So, yes, I was sore the next morning, but I have legs to be sore, and after seeing what the Wounded Warriors have sacrificed for you and me, that soreness was a blessing of perspective to be treasured.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and news director of Newsradio 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.
Tags: Adam Ragle, Al Seeger, Allshred Services, Armed forces, Canadian Football League, Chuck Ealey, Dave Rozema, Detroit Tigers, Don Zellers, Fred LeFebvre, Joe Charboneau, Joe Thompson, Jon Worden, Kyle Earl, Matias Ferreira, Michael Miller, Mickey Stanley, Milt Wilcox, NBC 24, Ned Skeldon Stadium, Newsradio 1370 WSPD, Pacesetter Property Management, prosthetics, Softball, Stan Clarke, Tom Matchick, Tori Carmen, University of Toledo, veterans, Willie Horton, Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, Wounded Warriors, Yvonne Ramos, Zachary Briseno