JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. -- The Washington Nationals Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team returned to the nation's capital Tuesday night to take part in the second annual Celebrity Softball Classic at Nationals Park against Washington, D.C. area celebrities and former professional players from Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
In a game filled with competitive personalities on both sides of the diamond, everyone participating agreed the score was least important on this occasion. That's a good thing for the celebrity team, as the Wounded Warrior amputees cruised to a 17-4 victory.
Darrell Green, former Washington Redskins cornerback and NFL hall of famer, was one of many former players on hand who donned a uniform for the celebrity team. He participated in last year's inaugural softball classic and was ecstatic to be in the lineup again this year.
“It's super important for the Washington Nationals to have this outreach with the military community. Corporate leadership in the community means good citizenship,” Green said. “Tonight is more than a game. This is a showcase of the heartbeat of America. It's because of people like this that we have the opportunity to play under these friendly skies. To acknowledge our military and what they stand for is big.”
Joining Green was former Washington Redskins linebacker and current 106.7 The Fan sports radio host LaVar Arrington. Being able to participate in this year's game meant a lot to Arrington, whose father is a Wounded Warrior having lost both of his legs in combat.
“It's an honor, pleasure and joy to be out here with these guys. Growing up in a home with a Wounded Warrior, I saw the reality of what these guys face,” Arrington said. “They've had to battle through life altering tragedies. It really puts our own lives in perspective. They are no doubt heroes and examples to all of us.”
The celebrity team not only consisted of former athletes, but television and local government officials like Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Prior to taking the field, Gray joked that he expected the game to be competitive for only an inning. As it turns out, he was right.
“The score means nothing to us. That's good because I'm guessing the Wounded Warriors will score at will against us,” Gray said. “It's inspirational to be out here supporting something like this. We've had too many instances in the past where folks have gone off, risked their lives and not felt appreciated. This is a way of appreciating those who have risked their lives to preserve our freedom in this country.”
Tony Reali, of ESPN's Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption, also spoke on the importance of showing appreciation to our nation's military. According to him, a special occasion like this is an opportunity to learn what pride, inner-strength, fortitude, courage and respect is all about.
“The Wounded Warrior program has given them a place to show they are still athletes and that they're the best at what they do,” Reali said. “Resiliency is the first thing you notice when you see what they've been through. We're proud to call them our own. They're the best we have and we wouldn't want anyone else serving us.”
Dave Jageler, radio play-by-play announcer for the Washington Nationals, was another that stepped away from the microphone and onto the field as a player. It was his second time participating in the softball classic and was honored to do so again.
“My team has no chance of winning, but it doesn't make it any less fun. The Washington Nationals have done a great job of honoring our military and this is another example of that all-important initiative,” Jageler said. “The Nationals adopted this team and brought them down to spring training. They gave them uniforms and a chance to play on a big league field. That really speaks volumes to the organization's commitment to our military. This kind of outreach is just fantastic.”
The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team is the brainchild of head coach David Van Sleet, who created the team in 2011 as a way of bringing attention to the sacrifice and resiliency of military service members. The team is comprised of veterans and active-duty military members from across the U.S. Van Sleet said they travel across the country playing only able-bodied teams.
“Some of these guys didn't even think they were going to live let alone walk or play a sport together,” Van Sleet said. “This means the world to them. This is their stage. This is the new normal for them.”
U.S. Marine veteran Josh Wege lost both his legs to roadside bomb in Afgh-anistan. He said being a part of the Wounded Warrior team means more than anyone can imagine.
“A positive attitude is key in therapy and in any recovery,” Wege said. “I was driven to get myself back to this game because I love it so much. It means so much to me to be out here with my teammates.”
A teammate of Wege is U.S. Army veteran Greg Reynolds, who learned to catch and throw with only one arm. According to him, the word disability is not in his vocabulary.
“The only limitations you have in life are the ones you make for yourself,” Reynolds said. “And I don't make any.”
All season long, Washington Nationals fans are encouraged to show their support for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team by purchasing tickets at www.nationals.com/wwast. A portion of the proceeds from each ticket purchased will be donated to the Wounded Warrior program.
For more information about the team, visit www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org.