It felt like a day at the ball park at the Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) USO Warrior and Family Center Aug. 4 as service members and their families gathered to meet a few professional athletes and enjoy some hotdogs, pretzels and popcorn.
About a dozen players from Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles converged at the USO to sign autographs, give away baseball cards and shake hands with their fans. Earlier in the day, they had visited wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s (WRNMMC) Military Advanced Training Center (MATC).
Army CW3 Brian Haas and his wife, Jolyne, were decked out in orange and black Orioles attire hoping to meet their favorite Baltimore pitcher, Bud Norris, who played with Brain’s favorite team, the Houston Astros, before Norris was traded to the Orioles in 2013.
“We are huge baseball fans,” Brian said. “We just went to an Orioles game last week.”
Brian has been a patient at WRNMMC since December 2013, when a serious back injury led to his medical evacuation from Afghanistan. He was grateful for the chance to interact with the players and connect with other fans of the game to talk some baseball.
“It’s a good opportunity for the service members to get out and meet some new people,” Brian continued. “(The USO) always fills up when professional athletes come.”
As the players arrived, they were welcomed by NSAB Commander Capt. David Bitonti, who thanked the players for making a stop at NSAB while in town for a game against the Washington Nationals.
Orioles pitcher Brad Brach has family ties to the U.S. Navy and the military since his grandfather was a World War II Navy veteran and his uncle served during the Vietnam War.
“Any time we can come out and help support the military and everything they do, I’ll jump at the opportunity,” Brach said.
His sentiments were echoed by teammate Andrew Miller, a pitcher traded to the Orioles by the Boston Red Sox on July 31. Miller had already visited with service members in April at WRNMMC with his old team, but that didn’t make the visit to the medical center and USO any less meaningful for him.
“It’s rewarding for us,” Miller explained. “We see guys or girls that are injured and if they’re excited to see us, I’ll show up anytime. It’s easy to do.”