Watching Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Kip Wells interact with injured soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital Friday, I couldn’t help but admire these different sets of warriors as they spent time together and shared personal moments under difficult circumstances.
These Nationals graciously gave of their time on a game day to spread baseball goodwill and thank brave young men and women who are fighting, and getting seriously hurt, for our freedom.
It was a rehab room full of adrenaline, testosterone and heroism, but also sensitivity and gratitude. The soldiers were touched, and so were our Nats.
Manny Acta led a contingent of coaches including Randy St. Claire, Pat Listach, Rick Eckstein and Jim Riggleman.
I was accompanied by fellow broadcasters Rob Dibble, Debbi Taylor and Dave Jageler, and Nats executives Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo made the drive up Georgia Avenue.
Dave Trembley brought several of his Orioles players and coaches, on their way to Nationals Park for the Battle of the Beltway.
We would all end up feeling that it was time well spent.
The room was full of heroes, and the Nationals and Orioles who were there know who the real ones are.
I spent extended time with fellow Missouri native Derick Hunt from the tiny town of Greenfield. His squad was ambushed in Mosul, Northern Iraq in 2003. A grenade went off between his feet as he drove a Hummer on patrol, and he lost his right leg below the knee. He tried for five years to keep his left leg intact, but it too had to be amputated below the knee a few months ago.
Derick told me how he had been deep sea fishing and wanted his prosthetics, as soon as he’s strong enough, to fit into ski boots so he can go downhill skiing.
“After what I went through in Iraq, I’m not afraid of any tree on a ski slope,” he joked. We talked baseball and his love for the Cardinals, and I told him all baseball players are so proud of him and thankful for his sacrifice.
Most of his life is still ahead of him, and I saw in his eyes the courage to carry on with that life and make the most of it.
As Derick and I discussed a nearby Army soldier who had lost both legs above the knee, Derick said matter-of-factly, “I am blessed to have my knees.”
That hit me hard, as I’ve never had to look at life, or my body, that way. These guys do it every day, and their spirit is amazing.
In the end, we were the blessed ones, for getting to know those soldiers as we shared time with them.
Maybe our baseball heroes can win a few games this week for the new heroes they met Friday afternoon.