(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Softball legend Jennie Finch-Daigle. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, July 15, 2012 9:37 PM
SULPHUR — The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team wasn’t supposed to come to Sulphur this summer.
Their schedule was originally full, but the team and head coach David Van Sleet made an exception. Little did they know, they would be in for quite a treat during their excursion to Southwest Louisiana.
The community welcomed the Wounded Warriors with open arms, collectively donating $202,000 and drawing 5,700 fans to the Battle on the Bayou Friday and Saturday nights against Jennie Finch-Daigle’s Bayou All-Stars.
Van Sleet said the support was unbelievable, more than they could have imagined. In fact, the money raised by fans at McMurry Park and the community this weekend will cover the team’s expenses for a whole year, he added.
“It was probably the most hospitable and generous trip we’ve ever been on,” Van Sleet said. “Obviously it shows there’s a lot of patriotism, military support and just overall good kindness for people with disabilities in this area. We don’t ever expect something like this to happen.”
Van Sleet was also complimentary of the McMurry Park venue to host the games.
The area endured several thunderstorms all week leading up to the games, but the field was up to the challenge.
“To have a beautiful facility like this in not a very large populated area is amazing,” Van Sleet said. “We have gone to major cities that don’t have facilities that even compare to this. The outfield had some of the most unbelievable drainage … it was perfect.”
Wounded Warrior pitcher and double amputee Josh Wege made multiple trips to Sulphur to promote the event, and he said the great weather and enthusiastic crowd made the Battle on the Bayou an “awesome” experience.
And it didn’t hurt that the Wounded Warriors swept both games against Finch-Daigle and company.
“They had people in bleachers in the outfield too, so we were surrounded, you just feel like a little kid,” Wege said. “Everybody came out; I didn’t really see any empty spots.
“It was just fun … we got to share the field with some pretty awesome people. It’s important to come out here and play a sport we all love.”
And one amputee player, Monroe native Randall Rugg, got to play in his home state for the weekend.
He might be a little biased, but Rugg said Louisiana is at the top of his list of stops on the Wounded Warrior softball tour.
“It’s great everywhere we go to be with the people and get to interact, but there ain’t no place like home,” Rugg said. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
The Wounded Warriors’ next stop is Indiana on July 21 for games against the Goshen City and Elkhart City Firefighters. They’ll play twice a month through the end of the year and pick up again in 2014, as they’re an “every-other-year team,” Van Sleet said.
Now with their trip to Sulphur complete, Van Sleet said Southwest Louisiana left an indelible mark on the team.
“We’d come back for nothing, that’s how much we enjoyed our stay here,” Van Sleet said. “It made a big impression on all the guys on our team … We’d love to come back.”
It’s safe to say the community wouldn’t object.