By Brian Price
Our nation’s “Patriot Six” culminates this July 4th weekend, but appreciation for our troops and their families will continue throughout the baseball season. The Washington Nationals, in conjunction with the USO of Metropolitan Washington, have started a new program that provides military kids free tickets to Sunday’s game when star pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, takes the mound. The Nationals will provide free tickets to thousands of young fans throughout the rest of the season.
USO Vice President Kevin Wensing is especially pleased that the Nationals have taken this initiative. “We hope this is just the beginning and that other pro teams take a page out of the Nationals’ book and get involved with military family and friends across the country,”
In anticipation of Sunday’s festivities, Nationals players and their manager, Jim Riggleman, offered their thoughts on the meaning of the holiday and the military families who will be coming out to the ballpark.
BP: What does the “Me & a Friend” Program mean to you?
Jim Riggleman: “I’m so proud of every soldier for defending us. I think what the troops do is the most important thing that anybody can do for his country. Playing baseball pales in comparison to what the troops do. We provide entertainment. However, I’m honored that we can be the first team to get ‘Me and a Friend’ started. For a young person to have a loved one in combat is an unimaginably difficult thing. If baseball can give them a few moments of comfort than that’s more satisfying than anything I can think of. I’m excited for them to come out to the ballpark.”
BP: What’s special about playing in our nation’s capital?
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, #11: “Washington D.C. is a great patriotic city to live in and play baseball in, especially during July 4th weekend. We play within view of the capital building, which is a special thing. We’re always trying to do things to stay connected to the troops and to show our appreciation. I know the whole club is really excited to kick off the ‘Me and a Friend’ program. Everyday we’re thankful for what our troops do. We live in a great country.”
J.D. Martin, SP, #51: “One of my favorite moments each home game is when we welcome home troops [in the 3rd inning]. They get put up on the jumbo screen and they always receive a standing ovation. It’s great getting a chance to acknowledge them.”
BP: What does this holiday mean to you?
Craig Stammen, SP, #35: “The only reason I’m able to do what I do is because of the troops. For most Americans July 4th means fireworks and barbeques, but it’s like any other day for a soldier in that they’re still risking their lives for the independence that we civilians are celebrating. I appreciate all soldiers and can’t thank them enough.”
BP: Do you have any friends in the service?
Riggleman: “I just returned a letter to a veteran who was a ball boy for me when I was managing in the minors. He served in the U.S. Marines for 20 years. His first passion in life was serving this country. His second is baseball, so after having served he’s back and I’m trying to help find him a job in baseball.”
Stammen: “My college roommate enlisted in Officer Candidate School about two years ago. After, he spent a year in Afghanistan and now he’s at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. I try to speak with him as often as I can and keep him close to my heart.”
“The thing about him, and really any soldier, is that they’ll never let on to how tough it is in combat. We’ll play on a hot day and the first thing we do after the game is shower. He’s in combat, it’s 40 degrees hotter and he might not be able to shower for days at a time.”
Martin: “A good family friend, Mike Hill, was in Iraq and he was responding to a roadside bomb. He was helping to pick up a wounded soldier on a stretcher when a landmine went off. It killed several troops around him and he was seriously injured. I’m from a small town, so that’s something that everybody heard about. We were just glad he made it out alive.”
Jim Riggleman summed up perfectly: “Our troops provide safety for us and some of them don’t come back. As Americans, that’s something we need to always appreciate especially when we’re celebrating our independence. Freedom’s not free and they’re the ones paying the price.”
The Washington Nationals and the USO of Metropolitan Washington have teamed up to give military kids the opportunity to enjoy a baseball game with their friends through the “Me and a Friend” program, which formally kicks off on July 4 when the Nationals host the New York Mets in Washington, D.C at 1:35 p.m..
Tickets for the July 4th game are available on a first come first serve basis through USO-Metro’s TicketLine program and must be picked up at the USO office at 228 McNair Road Bldg 405 Fort Myer, VA 22211. Military families can also visit http://www.usometro.org/tickets to check on availability.