Josh Wege, normally the Wounded Warriors first baseman, tonight will be on the mound due to an illness to the regular starter. (Michelle Higginbotham / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:55 PM
The softball team that will play in Sulphur today knows all about sacrifice.
The players for the Wounded Warriors literally gave an arm or a leg, in many cases two of them, while defending this country and keeping it safe, free and red, white and blue.
Usually it was a road mine — IEDs, they call them — in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Boom! You look down and your lower leg, maybe both of them, or perhaps an arm, is missing or dangling helplessly.
So they came home, got some store-bought, government-issue replacements, went through long months of rehab and didn’t whine about it.
They tour the country now, much like a professional team, as a symbol of good, old-fashioned American courage, perseverance, sacrifice, dedication, patriotism, honor, duty, all of it.
So feel free to boo them out there today.
“Actually, that would be kind of cool,” said Josh Wege, normally the Wounded Warriors first baseman but who tonight will be on the mound due to an illness to the regular starter. “It would mean we were rubbing their face in it.”
He knows it will never happen, the boos, that is. Not in America anyway. And he understands why.
But road teams normally get a few cat calls and jeers when taking on the locals, and the Warriors are decidedly a road team.
At its heart, that’s what the Wounded Warriors are — a bunch of guys playing ball. Serious ball.
“We think of ourselves as athletes,” said Wege, who was a high school football and baseball player in Wisconsin before joining the Marines. “We’re intense competitors.”
Don’t mention the word “exhibition” to these guys.
That was evident during the Major League All-Star weekend when the Warriors’ third baseman, Matt Kinsey, was invited to play in the celebrity softball game that was part of the festivities.
Kinsey played college baseball before doing two tours of duty in Afghanistan, the latter of which was down to days before going home when he stepped on a land mind, blowing off the bottom of his right leg.
How seriously the celebrities took the celebrity all-star game in Kansas City was debatable. But Kinsey, if you saw it on TV, was playing for keeps, like it was Game 7 of the World Series. And it when it was over, he was named the game’s MVP after capping a 3-for-3 night with a three-run homer.
"We play to win,” Wege said. “Nobody wants to step on the field and lose. We’re military so we also have that little chip on our shoulder.”
Translation: The assortment of local former NFL and Major Leaguers gathered to provide today’s opposition, along with face-of-the-sport pitcher Jennie Finch and a few perhaps misplaced politicos, better bring their 'A' game.
“We want to win,” said Kyle Earl, easily the fastest man on the Warriors, a former high school all-state sprinter in Michigan.
He gave his right arm for this country in Iraq, another IED incident. But, Thursday at a local restaurant he was putting his state-of-the-art prosthetic through its paces, with high-tech fingers nimbly grasping the salt shaker.
“We’ll be ready to play,” Earl said.
Wege has seen it before.
The opposing team doesn’t really know how to react at first, and the first couple of innings can be awkward competition.
But, when it becomes obvious that the Wounded Warriors are ready to kick their butts, the competitive juices kick in and it’s game on.
If the locals are looking for a little friendly competition, they picked the wrong unit to mess with.
“When I step on the field, I’m doing everything I can to help my team win,” Wege said.
But, yes, it’s more than that. They know who they are and what they represent.
Wege is one of the stars of the team, with his share of big moments. But, the most fulfilling game for him as a Wounded Warrior wasn’t really game performance-related.
When the Warriors visit a town for their games, they try to find a local youngster in a similar situation to be their bat boy.
At a game at George Mason University there was a young boy who, like Wege, had two steel legs.
The kid evidently was self-conscious about it and trying to hide the prosthetics.
“I’m sure the kids at his school were curious about it,” Wege said. “You know how kids can be. He might have been picked on.”
But the youngster hung around the Warriors all day, shy at first, but eventually smiling and having a blast as he dutifully fetched their bats during the game.
And when it was over, he told his mom “I’m not afraid anymore. I think I’m ready to wear short pants now.”