Wounded Warrior softball team arrives today

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJuly 17, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
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    On Twitter: @modestobeek
    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

— Almost two years ago, the HBO series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel produced a segment on the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team, a squad made up of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have lost limbs during their service.

Once those kinds of reports air, it's never known how much of an impact they will make, or even who is watching.

Joe Savage watched the soldier/athletes playing softball on prosthetic limbs. It made a big impact.

The Modesto resident's first thought was how nice it would be to bring the Wounded Warriors to Modesto for a fund-raising event, and he went about putting together a local committee to make it happen.

All that work will come together on Saturday, when the Wounded Warriors softball team will meet a team made up of Stanislaus Senior Softball Association players in a 4:45 p.m. start at John Thurman Field prior to the Modesto Nuts' game against Rancho Cucamonga.

It will be the first Northern California appearance for the Wounded Warriors, who come from spots all over the country.

"We played our first game in March 2011," said team founder David Van Sleet. "We're half-Marines, half-Army and just picked up our first Navy guy. We're also half-Iraq and half-Afghanistan. We have 20 guys on the team and we take about a dozen on every trip.

"We've played in major league stadiums and at every level of the minor leagues and even on community softball fields. We'll play local teams, police and fire departments. Anybody, really. Our only rule is that we only play able-bodied teams."

It was up to Savage's group to come up with the sponsors and coordinate the dates between schedules of the the Wounded Warriors and the Modesto Nuts.

So far, Savage said his committee has rounded up more than 80 sponsors and has sold around 2,000 tickets for the event, which will result in a substantial donation to the Wounded Warriors cause.

"The committee I put together has done a heck of a job," Savage said.

If this were only a softball game to raise money, it might be enough. But the committee wanted to make certain every member of the Wounded Warriors team would remember the experience.

So they'll be greeted at Sacramento International Airport, whisked to a waiting bannered bus (donated by Storer Transportation,) and will have a motorcycle escort for their trip to Modesto (by the Patriot Guard.)

Springhill Suites is providing the lodging, and the team will be well-fed while in Modesto. A workout at Rainbow Fields is scheduled for Saturday morning, and the team will be arriving at Thurman Field just ahead of their 4 p.m. game,

At the stadium, they'll come onto the field through a color guard gauntlet, with Modesto's Brian Hyde — father of Army Lt. Daniel Hyde, who died in Iraq on March 7, 2009 — singing the national anthem.

The festivities won't end with the softball game. Savage's group has procured both press box level party decks and both VIP suites for the game, with the suites to be filled by Gold Star families from the area.

Just prior to the opening pitch of the Nuts-Quakes game, there will be a stadium flyover from a World War II T34 trainer.

Normally, when exhibition softball games are staged prior to Nuts' contests, the stands are nearly empty. But Nuts' vice president and general manager Mike Gorrasi expects an early-arriving crowd, with the gates opening at 4 p.m. and team introductions starting at 4:20.

"We do think people will be here early," Gorrasi said. "I know the senior softball people are pushing that. I know that the number of calls for tickets to this game has been one of our highest this season."

The Nuts have arranged through CenCal Beverage to have a donation to the Wounded Warriors made from every sale of Miller High Life during the afternoon and evening.

And as far as the game itself, well, there will be two very competitive teams on the field and a score will be kept.

"Our team has already won," Van Sleet said. "We've won by still be alive, and walking, and still being able to play softball."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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